The Typical Medical Science Liaison

We have been writing about Medical Science Liaisons, their jobs, responsibilities, typical job descriptions, scientific background, challenges – regulatory and otherwise – and rewards, about the key opinion leaders (KOLs) they work with and the internal team members they interact with on a regular basis.

Today we are going to answer the questions:

  1. What does the typical Medical Science Liaison (MSL) look like?
  2. What is their career outlook?
  3. What medical specialties are the most promising?

It Takes a Lot of Studying to Be a Medical Science Liaison

The first thing you notice when looking at MSLs is that they are highly educated. A postgraduate degree, while not an absolute “must have” requirement, is very common. According to a 2018 survey, 38% of MSLs have PhDs, 36% are PharmDs, a surprisingly low 8% have an MD, MBBS or equivalent doctorate degree, and 3% have other doctorates, e.g. PsyDs – for a total of 85% doctorate level degrees.

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Two-thirds of the rest of medical liaisons have a Master’s degree, 4% a Bachelor’s degree and then there is the “others” category to round out the field.

How Much Does It Pay to Be an MSL?

The same survey also provides some insight into MSL compensation. The range is broad ranging from approx. $120K to $185K depending on experience and company type. Unsurprisingly, 15+ years of experience and a big pharma employer make for the highest salaries, while new MSLs in diagnostics companies, contract MSL organizations and medical device companies make the least.

The average compensation, based on a 2017 survey by the MSL Society, was approximately $154K with a sizable gender gap: male MSLs earn on average $157K while female MSLs only bring home $151K.

Other sources quote higher average salaries, e.g. suggests an average salary of almost $170K.

Is MSL a Good Career Choice?

The career outlook for MSLs can be summarized in one word: excellent. Just like many other career paths, the problem is breaking in. Once you are an medical science liaison, finding a new job should be easy given medical science liaison job growth rates are in the double digits. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 13% annual growth in jobs between 2016 and 2026.

But job opportunities for qualified candidates is likely even better: these job numbers and growth rates only considers traditional MSL roles, however, there are additional opportunities in relatively new positions such as Payor Liaisons or Clinical Trial Educators.

Characteristics of a Medical Science Liaison

Despite a great career outlook and good pay, the job of an MSL isn’t for everybody. In addition to medical and scientific expertise, MSLs should enjoy communicating – a lot – and be comfortable with the fact, that they will be on the road a good portion of their time to visit KOLs and attend meetings. Just like their commercial counterparts, the sales reps, MSLs are often road warriors.

Oncology and Immunology Drive MSL Opportunities

Not all medical specialities are created equal when it comes to opportunities, a few therapeutic areas in particular rely more heavily on Medical Science Liaisons to interact with healthcare professionals. Oncology and immunology lead the way with growth rates of 31% and 28%. Given the speed of new developments, new drugs and treatment approaches in these fields this is not surprising. New drugs, esp. in the field of immuno-oncology are increasingly personalized and complex requiring field medical specialists like MSLs to satisfy the increasing demand for medical and scientific information from healthcare providers (HCPs). This creates opportunities for MSLs, while at the same time, the number of sales representatives is declining.

New Opportunities Abound

The changing healthcare landscape also creates new opportunities, roles and responsibilities for MSLs. While most companies are building separate teams to work with payers on health economics and outcomes issues (HEOR/Payer Liaisons), the increasing focus on real-world evidence (RWE) will create additional opportunities for MSLs. In a survey, about half the organizations queried reported that their MSL teams will be in charge of generation and dissemination of RWE. MSLs might also be tasked with managing the company’s engagement with patient advocacy groups and driving the journey toward health equity.

The trend away from fee-for-service and towards outcomes-based healthcare and the increasingly complex science underlying drugs, will continue to drive the demand for a medical field force and with that for people that fit the profile of a Medical Science Liaison.

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