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This article is a part of a series of The Many Paths of Pharmacy, which has 48 other pharmacy career paths.
Summary – Pharmacists in Medical Science Liaison
Pharmacists in the “industry” are employed in a variety of positions pertaining to Medical Affairs. Although practice titles, descriptions, and prerequisites differ by company, the educational requirements for these positions are often similar. Most pharmacists in industry work in the following areas: research and development (addressed in a separate profile), all phases of drug product development, sales and marketing, corporate administration, all phases of clinical trials research, drug information, manufacturing, regulatory affairs, health policy, scientific/professional affairs (e.g., professional relations, professional education, medical science liaison, medical information), and quality control.
Responsibilities of a Medical Science Liaison Pharmacist
Medical Science Liaison (MSL) pharmacists could be defined as mobile drug information. An individual role will depend on the company, disease state or drug class, and geography.
MSL pharmacists are mainly responsible for the following:
- Conveying medical information to external stakeholders, clinical providers, internal teams (like sales and marketing)
- Training sales and marketing teams concerning the position’s pharmaceutical area
- Analyzing clinical trends and practices
- Hosting advisory boards
- Consulting with product developers, medical professionals and key opinion leaders (KOL)
- Monitoring the scientific literature for new developments
The MSL Society provides an annual report about MSL activities. The following image explains the majority of MSL activities.
SOURCE: MSL Society
Here is one Pharmacist from our Career Jumpstart Pharmacist group reporting her success in getting into an MSL role!
This Medical Science Liaison Career Description is a part of The Ultimate Guide to Pharmacy Careers, part of our future book, POTENTIAL.
Requirements of an MSL Pharmacist
Pharmacists have the most extensive pharmacology and pharmacotherapeutic training out of all other healthcare professions, thus they are aptly prepared to take on the variety of MSL job requirements. In addition, many pharmacists seek further training and specialization through residencies and fellowships, although these are not typically required for an MSL position. Develop skills in clinical research, data analysis, public speaking, and relationship-building. Gain at least 2 to 3 years of clinical experience to qualify for medical science liaison jobs.
Develop expertise in a particular therapeutic area by conducting bench research as part of a Ph.D. or working on the clinical side as a medical professional. Common undergraduate degrees include biochemistry, biological sciences, chemistry, pharmacy, pharmacology, medicine, and engineering.
Some may enter the field with background expertise in a particular therapeutic area. Those going into the field need a strong scientific background complemented by excellent communication, integrity, flexibility, adaptability, listening skills, and emotional intelligence.
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.
Of course, a great communicator wouldn’t exist without excellent listening skills. Effective MSLs must understand what clients or prospects are truly asking for, they should seek the question behind a question. They should not pre-assess a situation or an individual and think that they have all the answers.
Medical science liaisons must stick to their morals 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. This obviously sets pharmacists apart from other professions due to our high trustworthiness in comparison to other professions.
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. In addition, MSLs need often to adapt to change and handle ambiguity. What was a company directive today, may be something completely different tomorrow? Great MSLs recognize they have to be flexible with new directions.
Salary of a Medical Science Liaison Pharmacist
According to ZipRecruiter.com, the average annual pay for a Medical Science Liaison Pharmacist in the United States is $131,011 per year. The range typically falls between $111,500 and $163,00.
According to MSL Society’s report, the average salary was $167,192 (out of 730 participants).
Salary ranges can vary widely depending on many important factors, including education, certifications, additional skills, the number of years you have spent in the profession.
Pros and Cons of Being a Medical Science Liaison Pharmacist
Those in the field point to a number of common pros, such as flexible schedule, autonomy, interaction with key opinion leaders, interactions with physicians, discussing cutting edge science and using clinical knowledge, opportunity to grow.
Work-life balance varies widely depending on seniority, company, and job expectations. Some MSLs reported excellent schedule flexibility, remote work, and little to no weekend work.
The MSL role is frequently remote and remains highly flexible when not. The MSL role requires a self-driven attitude, and when you’re able to manage your time and projects will, you’ll find time on your side.
“Industry is a sellout”
This belief is a relic of the past, but it lingers on today. The pharmaceutical industry was once viewed in a negative light by academia. The author remembers believing for a time as a student if a pharmacist becomes a “sellout” by joining industry. You won’t find many pharma industry veterans as academics.
Frequent travel is reported as a consistent con of the MSL role. For some, this may be a benefit, but consistent time away from home for most can wear on a person’s life, prohibiting time away from family, friends, and community.
The MSL role is highly sought-after by pharmacists, but also PhDs, medical doctors, RNs, and others. Not only will you compete with other professions, but you’ll likely be competing with people with medical affairs experience.
How to Stand Out as an MSL Pharmacist Candidate
The MSL market is one of the most competitive job markets. Although it is possible to transition into an MSL position without experience, the odds are against you. The best way to transition into a pharmaceutical company is to gain experience in Medical Affairs or develop expertise in a specific drug class/disease state. Medical Affairs is a less competitive field (albeit that many include MSL in Medical Affairs), one where a pharmacist’s skills for education, medical information and communication are more transferable than in an MSL role.
The most successful MSLs pharmacist are those with great communication and presentation skills. Create continuing education programs, attend Toastmasters, and seek any speaking opportunity to improve your communication skills.
Creating a portfolio of publications is an excellent way to stand out as well. Publishing online is not as difficult as it may seem. Pick one field of medicine that interests you, and start writing about it! You can publish content for free on Medium and LinkedIn.
Prepared by: Kingsley Aguebor, PharmD Candidate
Interviewed: Dr. Stephanie Rogers, PharmD; MSL
Edited by: Alex Barker, PharmD
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Alex is the Founder of The Happy PharmD. He loves anime, his family, and video games, but not in that order.