What Does a Medical Science Liaison Do? The Role, Duties, Salary and How To Become One

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated July 23, 2021 | Published February 25, 2020

Updated July 23, 2021

Published February 25, 2020

Medical science liaisons act as a bridge between healthcare companies and physicians. You can often find medical science liaisons in medical device companies, pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology firms. In this article, we discuss what a medical science liaison is, what their responsibilities are, what they earn on average and how to become one.

What is a medical science liaison?

Medical science liaisons are scientific professionals who provide information about their employer's products, such as medical devices, drugs and treatments. They typically represent their employer to decision-makers in the medical community, also known as "key opinion leaders" (KOLs), as well as to investors and government regulatory agencies. They are primarily employed by medical device companies, biotechnology firms and pharmaceutical companies, but some of them also work for consumer products manufacturers, such as cosmetic companies.

The medical science liaison role was first established in 1967 by Upjohn Pharmaceuticals as a response to the need for scientifically-trained employees that would be able to establish relationships with KOLs in many therapeutic areas of research. While initially called medical science liaisons by Upjohn Pharmaceuticals, these roles have, over the years, assumed a variety of names, including scientific affairs managers, clinical liaisons, regional scientific managers, medical managers and medical liaisons.

The first medical science liaisons were selected from experienced sales reps that had strong scientific backgrounds to bring a higher degree of educational and clinical expertise to the medical professionals they were working with. Today, MSL teams are composed of individuals with various scientific backgrounds, including sales representatives, nurses and physicians. However, the required scientific and educational background, as well as the purpose of the medical liaison role, has progressively changed over the years.

What does a medical science liaison do?

Medical science liaisons establish and maintain rapport with decision-makers. As a member of a company's medical affairs department, they may be assigned an area or territory to cover, which often requires extensive travel. They may conduct meetings with physicians and other medical professionals, participate in panel discussions or speak in front of large crowds.

Other duties and responsibilities of medical science liaisons include:

  • Designing and conducting studies that investigate both medical conditions and methods to prevent or treat them

  • Preparing and analyzing medical samples and data to investigate the causes and treatment of chronic diseases, pathogens and toxicity

  • Standardizing drug potency, methods and doses to allow for the mass production and distribution of drugs and medicinal compounds

  • Creating and testing medical devices

  • Developing programs that improve health outcomes, in partnership with physicians, industry personnel and health departments

  • Writing research grant proposals and applying for funding from private funding sources and government agencies

  • Following procedures to maintain safety and avoid contamination

The average salary for a medical science liaison

Medical science liaisons earn an average salary of $169,541 per year. Their salary varies depending on several factors, including their employer, geographic location and level of experience. Medical science liaisons who work for large biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies usually earn higher annual salaries, as do those who have several years of experience.

Related: 20 Part-Time Jobs That Pay Well

The work environment for medical science liaisons

Medical science liaisons may be assigned to a geographic area or region, so extensive travel is common for them. Due to the amount of travel required to liaise and consult with other medical professionals, medical science liaisons may or may not be based in their employer's physical office. They usually spend time in meetings where they need to deliver complex information concisely and clearly. Most medical science liaisons work full-time, but they have the freedom to set their own schedule with the option to work from home.

Skills to become a successful medical science liaison

To be successful in this role, aspiring medical science liaisons generally need the following qualities:

Communication skills

For any medical science liaison to be successful, he or she has to be able to communicate well with all levels of the company to ensure that they are aware of their duties and responsibilities.

Integrity

Medical science liaisons must stick to their moral and clinical ethics and do what is best for patient care. That is, if they don't feel comfortable in forcing an unqualified or questionable issue, they will refuse and support that with clinical integrity.

Flexibility

Medical science liaisons must be versatile, be able to anticipate customer needs and be well spoken both with clinical knowledge and everyday knowledge. They must also be able to speak at various levels, to pharmacists, nurses, specialists and physicians.

Adaptability

Medical science liaisons must be able to adapt to change and handle ambiguity. What was a company directive today, may be something completely different tomorrow. Good medical science liaisons must be able to recognize this, work smart and start working in a new direction.

Listening skills

Effective medical science liaisons must have strong listening skills to understand what their clients are truly asking for. They should not pre-assess a situation or an individual and think that they have all the answers. They should also be able to determine what the client or community-based physician is interested in and be able to speak about it intelligently.

Interpersonal skills

Since medical science liaisons act as consultants for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, imparting information gathered from thought leaders in the field of biotechnology, they must have excellent interpersonal skills.

Related: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

How to become a medical science liaison

The journey to becoming a medical science liaison begins in college, so you must complete high school or obtain your GED certificate before anything else. From there, the steps are as follows:

Choose your area of expertise

Most medical science liaisons hold a doctorate and many have PharmD education. However, there are many different routes that you can choose within your pharmacological studies to become a medical science liaison. It really depends on what area you want to concentrate and specialize in. There are several therapeutic areas to choose from as you advance through your pharmacy or medical school education.

Obtain an advanced degree

While it's theoretically possible to transition from a career as a pharmaceutical sales rep or an unrelated job to the role of a medical science liaison, it is very uncommon. Most medical science liaisons hold an advanced degree, such as a Medical Doctor degree, Doctor of Pharmacy degree, or Ph.D. in a Research Science, along with extensive experience as clinical researchers, pharmacists and medical doctors. Some medical science liaisons hold Registered Nurse (RN) or Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees and have several years of experience in a particular therapeutic field, including cardiovascular, metabolism, oncology and pain management.

Related: When a Professional Degree Will Help You Advance in Your Career

Complete a training program

You should consider completing an internship with a biotechnology firm or pharmaceutical company to acquire expertise in the industry. You should also keep abreast of clinical trials for new medications or 'off-label' applications of established medications. Develop your speaking skills by making presentations at conferences that highlight the relationship between promoting human health and prescribing medications.

There are many organizations today that offer training programs for medical professionals who want to become a medical science liaison. One of them is the CMR Institute and Scientific Advantage, which offers a training program for medical professionals already working in the field. The program, which can be completed online, includes 24 self-guided modules, each of which requires about 30 to 45 minutes to complete. The program covers areas such as business planning, drug development, American medical regulations and managed care. Once you have completed the 24 modules, you earn the Medical Science Liaison Certificate of Professional Competency.

Biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies also offer extensive training to newly-hired medical science liaisons. This training often includes instruction in their own product lines as well as discussions about medical regulations relating to the pharmaceutical industry.

Related: Definitive Guide to Internships

Bolster your work experience

Consider bolstering your work experience by having the right connections. It helps to know someone in the industry who can then get you started. If you do not have that relevant connection, then you have to focus on improving your job prospects. Sharpen your expertise and increase your future chances by always pursuing MSL roles that match your expertise. Many medical science liaisons come from backgrounds such as academic research, pharmaceutical sales or even practitioners.

You may also join medical groups specific to becoming a medical science liaison to help you network within the medical community. While participating in training can get you so far, making the right connections can help you achieve your professional goals.

Related: 7 Networking Tips for Getting a Job

Career outlook

While this career is still somewhat unknown, it will continue to grow as the demand for new therapeutic solutions increases. Due to the relative novelty of the field, an unsaturated market should result in good job prospects for individuals who want to become medical science liaisons. Employment for all surgeons and physicians is projected to grow 7% from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Jobs similar to medical science liaisons

If you're considering a career as a medical science liaison, you may also consider the following career paths:

1. Biomedical engineer

2. Healthcare consultant

3. Pharmaceutical consultant

4. Care manager

5. Medical sales associate

6. Medical advisor

7. Biotechnologist

8. Clinical specialist

9. Clinical trial consultant

10. Pharmacist

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