Medical Science Liaison (MSL) Necessary Skills
Imagine a Venn diagram with two circles slightly intersecting. The first circle contains all the people with doctorates: PhDs, PharmDs, MDs, etc. These people have spent hours and hours in the lab, the library, reading, writing and researching , all solitary pursuits. The second circle contains people with relationship driven skills. These are soft skills that include collaboration and communication, presentation expertise, emotional intelligence (EQ) and self-awareness. All interpersonal skills needed for leadership. The first circle is necessary but not sufficient to land an MSL role. The second circle is full of people you want to be with but is no good without the technical science skills found in the first circle. That sliver where the two circles intersect is why MSL talent is hard to come by!
Begin with Dr. Samuel Dyer’s book, The MSL Career Guide . Supplement that book with information from The MSL Society website. Always, always, talk and network with anyone connected to the MSL role. This includes current MSLs, MSL Directors, MSL Trainers and Medical Affairs Directors.
A new MSL currently starts with a mean base salary of $132,500 and the average tenured MSL salary is around $165,000. MSL base salaries can vary quite significantly based upon therapeutic area, territory location and the company’s product and pipeline lifecycle. Most MSLs have a yearly target incentive bonus of 15% to 20% of their base salary and many have restrictive stock options or long -term incentives that can be similar to the amount of the incentive bonus but vest over three to four years. Health insurance and matching retirement benefits are also commonplace. The website www.themsls.org has interesting blogs on compensation and if you join, you can download the full salary survey.
How to Find the Right Role
If you have previous MSL experience, then work with a reputable recruiter that specializes in Biopharma Medical Affairs. A good recruiter will understand and document your capabilities and match them to the right role to get you noticed. They can also help with feedback, coaching and offer negotiation assistance throughout the process.
If you do not have previous MSL experience, then your transition could benefit from a networking plan. Part of the MSL role is to be able to reach out to new people (key opinion leaders or KOLS) and engage them in meaningful dialogue. These are the same skills you can use to network into conversations that will present career opportunities. For example, in a previous blog I wrote about using medical conferences to network. Recent MSL Society data of new MSLs with no previous experience in the role shows about 55% having PhDs, 25% with PharmDs and 20% are MDs or have other doctorates.
Typical Interview Process
Step 1: 1-2 half hour phone screens with the hiring manager and maybe someone from human resources. These are exploratory calls where you want to be the best version of yourself and create that spark/connection. Remember it is a two way street, you should listen almost as much as you talk to form the best connection.
Step 2: A fairly new trend is a stand alone in-person interview with the hiring manager for a couple of hours. This will be a more in-depth interview as well as a review of your scientific presentation. The hiring manager may be the lone audience for your 15-20 minute presentation and 10 minute Q&A to critique you and decide if you are ready for Step 3. Your scientific presentation is a critical step in the MSL hiring process and the MSL Society has a three day live course if you want to ensure your skills in this area.
Step 3: A panel meeting. This is usually 3-5 hours where you meet members of the team in half hour increments and then make your scientific presentation to the entire group.
Is an MSL Role Right For You?
Do you enjoy being out in the field at hospitals, clinical research sites, or private practices, working remotely from your home, being on the road, or in the air 60+% of your days? Are you a people person trapped in the body of a scientist? Can you get on the calendars of people you don’t know and build trusting relationships that are mutually beneficial? Are you comfortable presenting information one on one and to small and large groups? Are you able to pull insights back from your KOLs in the field to HQ? Can you keep meticulous records of your interactions each day with people to develop your own territory CRM database? Interesting blog from cheekyscientist.com on knowing if a MSL job is right for you.