Many PhDs love research based bench work, many PharmDs really enjoy filling prescriptions or running a medical center pharmacy and many MDs are fulfilled as primary care physicians. But, what if you have a doctorate and you’re looking for something different from these traditional roles? The Medical Science Liaison (MSL) position can be a rewarding alternative.

What is a Medical Science Liaison?

MSLs were first established by Upjohn Pharmaceuticals in 1967 as a response to the need for scientifically trained field staff that would build rapport with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs). MSLs work throughout a product’s lifecycle, helping to ensure that products are utilized effectively, serving as scientific peers and resources within the medical community and as scientific experts to internal colleagues at their companies. The first MSLs were selected from experienced sales reps with strong scientific backgrounds but the role is now fully distanced from sales into a trusted scientific exchange. By the late 1980’s MSLs needed a doctorate degree such as an MD, PharmD or Ph.D., and today more than 90% of MSLs hold a doctorate.

Why would I want to be a Medical Science Liaison?

The MSL role has grown an average of 76% since 2005 and is expected to grow another 20% over the next two years according to two studies by the MSL Society. According to a Glassdoor study the MSL was the fourth highest paying job in America for 2016 with a median base salary of $132,842. Job satisfaction among MSLs is high due to the ability to engage regularly in cutting edge discussions on drug therapy and disease states and leading the discussion and strategic decision making as subject matter experts. An in-depth salary analysis and more information about the MSL career can be found through the Medical Science Liaison Society website.

What do I need to be a Medical Science Liaison?

Beyond the education minimum of a doctorate, Yuri Klyachkin on his website accurately details five necessary skills for success:

  • An outgoing and optimistic personality. Maintaining extensive communication networks with KOLs, sales reps and physicians is crucial.
  • The ability to convey scientific information briefly, clearly and precisely. Your job is to know the science intimately and deliver only the most important points.
  • High levels of emotional intelligence or EQ. The ability to adapt your message to your client’s needs and assessing what those needs are in real time will be critical to your success.
  • High levels of internal motivation. While not technically a sales position, most of the people you interact with will be clients of your company. Being a proactive educator means opening doors with diplomacy, integrity and excellent information consistently and perhaps repeatedly.
  • Patience and the ability to listen very carefully to others. The most successful MSLs are not those who talk the most but those who ask the best questions.

Smith Hanley Associates represents candidates at the crossroads of their careers. Quo Vadimus is Latin for, Where are we going? Are you a scientist, pharmacist or physician interested in going to a MSL position? Contact Nihar Parikh, Lead MSL Executive Recruiter, at for help in that transition.

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