Medical Science Liaison

Medical science liaisons (MSLs) can have various job titles as clinical science liaisons, medical liaisons, medical science managers, regional medical directors, and regional medical scientists. As you may have guessed from the name, a medical science liaison serves as a bridge between leading researchers, clinicians, physicians, and companies. They work as scientific resources and experts, advising their clients on scientific matters, treatments, and relaying scientific data.

Medical science liaisons generally specialize in areas such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and other healthcare-related fields. They can concentrate on a specific disease state or therapeutic areas such as cardiology, oncology, gastroenterology, rheumatology, and infectious diseases.

While MSLs may regularly have to work with marketing and sales teams, it must be noted that their role is not that of a salesperson. Instead, they act as a knowledgeable link between product development and the healthcare industry at large. They are clinical researchers who bring the latest knowledge and research of therapeutic specialties to the people developing therapeutic products.

The nature of an MSL role is such that professionals can expect extensive travelling to meet clients and also to attend industry conferences. The role involves spending time in meetings and delivering complex data in an easy to understand manner. Thus, medical science liaisons must also have excellent interpersonal, analytical, communication, and organizational skills.

Medical Science Liaison Specializations & Degree Types

In order to become a medical science liaison, one generally needs to have a doctorate in life sciences with a focus on human health or medicine, as this is the minimum employers require. Some of the common degrees aspirants can pursue include that of a medical doctorate (MD), a doctorate of philosophy (PhD), or a doctor of pharmacy (PharmD). Some MSLs have registered nurse (RN) or master of science in nursing (MSN) degrees and acquire years of experience in a particular therapeutic field such as pain management, metabolism, cardiovascular, and oncology.

Irrespective of a candidate’s area of concentration, employers do seek professionals who have taken courses in epidemiology and pharmacy. Additionally, because MSLs often interact with regulatory agencies, prospective candidates should also consider taking classes in health economics or health policy. Finally, since the job involves a great deal of communication, a course in public speaking would also be helpful.

Medical Liaison Degree Program Admissions Requirements

According to the Medical Science Liaison Institute, an advanced degree, such as a PharmD, MD, or PhD in a research science, is the minimum requirement to begin a career in the field. (Please note, however, that the minimum educational requirement for the Medical Science Liaison Society—the MSL-BC—is a bachelor’s degree and qualifying work experience.)

Since MSLs act as consultants for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, the candidates must also have interpersonal skills, including the ability to create and to sustain relationships with industry leaders. Candidates must also be skilled at research.

The common admission requirements for degrees such as PhD, MD or PharmD are as follows :

  • A bachelor’s degree is required for all program applicants, and a master’s degree may be required for selected programs
  • Minimum undergraduate grade point average of 3.0
  • GRE (Graduate Record Examination) scores are often required for admittance into PhD programs in the US
  • Students who are from a country where English is not the official language, will have to take the TOEFL (Test of English as Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System)
  • Letters of recommendation from professors or higher education administrators will improve the chances of getting accepted.
  • Official transcripts from all institutions attended
  • A writing sample

While the above constitute general admission requirements for these programs, students must note that each university may also have some other special requirements. In order to increase their chances of getting accepted into a program, students must carefully review each program’s admission requirements.

Medical Liaison Program Accreditation

Before taking up a doctorate or PharmD program, students must look out for programmatic or regional accreditation. Accreditation is a process by which universities are reviewed to ensure that they provide quality education. For students and employers, graduating from an accredited university is a mark of trust and assurance.

Those aspiring to pursue a career as a medical science liaison should look out for accreditation from the following bodies:

  • The American Council on Pharmaceutical Education (ACPE) provides accreditation to doctor of pharmacy degrees to ensure that they meet educational qualifications.
  • The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) is an accrediting body that has been recognized by the US Secretary of Education as an accrediting body at the national level.

Please note that regardless of the type of degree chosen, prospective medical science professionals are encouraged to ensure that their institution of choice is accredited by a body recognized by the Commission for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

On-Campus Degree Programs for Medical Science Liaisons

Please note that there are various types of degrees for aspiring medical science liaisons; it depends on which area or product a person wants to concentrate on.

University of Southern California

The University of Southern California offers a full-time doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) program, providing students with an immersive clinical experience as well as quality science education, so they can come up with innovations and solutions.

Admission requirements for the program include a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, a minimum 3.0 cumulative grade point average, pre-pharmacy courses completed with a grade of C (or higher), one official transcript from each higher education institution attended, and three letters of recommendation.

The program consists of 136 credit-hours. The curriculum includes topics such as pharmaceutics, metabolism and cell biology, pharmacokinetics, the endocrine system, oncology, acute care clinical APPE, and primary care APPE. Through the program, students will learn how to provide healthcare focused on patients, gain therapeutic and medical knowledge, and develop themselves personally as well as professionally.

This PharmD program prepares students for a career in clinical pharmacy practice, community pharmacy, geriatric pharmacy, healthcare, and hospital pharmacy. They can also take up the role of an MLS after completing this program and several years of professional experience.

  • Location: Los Angeles, California
  • Accreditation: The American Council on Pharmaceutical Education (ACPE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $57,216

University of Delaware

University of Delaware offers a PhD program in medical sciences. It prepares students for research in fields such as obesity, diabetes mellitus, immunology, oncology, infectious diseases, and other health conditions.

Applicants to the program must have a bachelor of science, master of science or an equivalent degree, minimum GRE scores (148 on quantitative reasoning and 150 on verbal reasoning), and an undergraduate grade point average of 3.0 or more. Laboratory research experience of one or more years is preferred.

​Made up of 44​ credit-hours, the program includes courses such as preparing research proposals, advanced mammalian physiology, cellular and molecular immunology, data analysis and interpretation in health sciences, and biological data analysis.

The program provides students with practical experience in designing and writing research proposals and get a complete overview of statistics in health sciences research. They also learn about how immunology can affect a person’s response to infection.

With the skills gained in the program, students will be well-equipped to take up a medical science liaison role.

  • Location: Newark, Delaware
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 to 60 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,898 per credit-hour

Online or Hybrid Degree Programs for Medical Science Liaisons

Creighton University

Creighton University offers a doctor of pharmacy distance education program. This program has been recognized as one of the finest PharmD programs available online. This program covers the same material as the traditional on-campus program, but in an online format.

Prior to entering the program, students must have completed at least 63 semester-hours or 95 quarter-hours of college-level coursework. Other admission requirements include official transcripts from each institution attended and two letters of recommendation.

The program is made up of 143 credit-hours. It includes instruction in microbiology and immunology, pharmacology, pharmacotherapeutics, foundations of public health, immunopharmacology and biotechnology, and pharmacy practice management.

Please note that students will be required to complete laboratory activities on campus in the summer for two to four weeks. For the rest of the program, students will get a chance to interact with faculty web conferencing software, email, discussion boards, telephone and other media.

Apart from the theoretical knowledge gained in the program, students develop essential soft skills such as communication, critical thinking, and an empathetic approach. They learn how to use their skills in supporting evidence-based pharmacy practice; collaborate and communicate effectively with caregivers, patients, other healthcare professionals; and participate in interdisciplinary healthcare administrative activities.

At the end of the program, graduates can seek employment in hospitals, clinics, private companies, research and academic institutions, and government organizations.

  • Location: Omaha, Nebraska
  • Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: Years one to three ($37,608 each), year four ($56,412)

University Of Central Florida

The University Of Central Florida offers an online master of science in nursing (MSN) program. Coursework offered in this program is 100 percent online. The degree offers the following three tracks:

  • Nursing Leadership and Management – This is an accredited program preparing experienced and emerging nurse leaders for advanced leadership roles
  • Nurse Educator – This accredited program is designed for nurses who wish to teach in undergraduate nursing or health professions programs.
  • Nursing and Healthcare Simulation – This program is ideal for nurses wanting to pursue an accredited master of science in nursing program with a special focus on simulation. They will be prepared for developing and leading healthcare and nursing simulation programs.

Students who have a bachelor’s degree in nursing and wish to move into a leadership role are ideal for taking up this program.

Major admission requirements for the program include a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree earned from a regionally accredited institution (the program must also hold accreditation from the CCNE or ACEN), official transcripts, an undergraduate statistics course, RN license, an essay, a current resume, and three letters of recommendation.

The program comprises 31 to 36 credit-hours and helps students develop management, teaching, and leadership strategies for improving the quality of healthcare within their institution. Core courses in this program include theory for advanced practice nursing, legal and professional behavior in advanced nursing practice, research methodology for advanced practice nursing, and evidenced-based practice.

Courses in the respective concentrations include:

  • Nurse Educator Track – The pathophysiological bases for advanced nursing practice, curriculum development in nursing education, evaluation in nursing education, teaching strategies for nurse educators
  • Nurse Leadership and Management Track – Organizational dynamics, healthcare informatics, financial management and resource development, nursing leadership and management, nursing environment management
  • Nursing and Healthcare Simulation Track – An introduction to nursing and healthcare simulation, organizational leadership and operations in healthcare simulation, healthcare simulation capstone project, pathophysiological bases for advanced nursing practice

Graduates of the program can take up roles such as director of nursing, chief nursing officer, nurse administrator, healthcare administrator, and nurse educator.

  • Location: Orlando, Florida
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four to seven semesters
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,151.72 per credit-hour

How Long Does it Take to Become a Medical Science Liaison?

A medical science liaison generally has a PhD, which can take around four to five years to complete. Prior to earning a PhD, students must pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry, or a related field. Most bachelor’s degrees take four years of full-time study. One should also take into account two to three years of clinical experience to qualify for medical science liaison jobs.

Thus, it can take around ten postsecondary years to become a medical science liaison.

How To Become a Medical Science Liaison – Step-by-Step Guide

Here’s a step by step guide to becoming a medical science liaison:

Step 1: Graduate From a Bachelor’s Degree Program (Four Years)

Aspiring medical science liaisons are encouraged to study a field in the natural sciences or engineering, depending on their intended career focus.

Step 2: Complete a Graduate Degree Program (Two or More Years, Optional)

Most medical science liaison positions require a minimum of a doctorate degree, while a selected few roles may be available for those with a master’s. At this stage, an aspiring medical science liaison narrows their academic focus.

There are various therapeutic areas they can choose from, detailed in the specialization section above. In order to transition into a medical science liaison role, it is imperative for candidates to have expertise in a specific area.

This step is optional because candidates with a bachelor’s degree and two or more years of qualifying professional experience can apply for the Medical Science Liaison Society board certification (MSL-BC).

Step 3: Get Qualifying Work Experience (Two or More Years)

Students must gain at least two to three years of clinical experience for qualifying for medical science liaison jobs. Students can enhance their expertise and future prospects by pursuing MSL roles that correlate with their expertise. If necessary, students can also join professional associations for medical science liaisons, to help them network within the medical community.

Finally, some medical science liaisons choose to become professionally certified. Read about the MSLS certification and licensure in the section below.

What Do Medical Science Liaisons Do?

A medical science liaison is a scientific, clinical, and drug expert within the medical department of a biotech, pharmaceutical, or related type of company. They answer complex questions about how drugs can be designed, how they work, and disease profiles. Companies generally hire medical science liaisons to help them bring new innovations and drugs to the market. They convey complex information to external stakeholders of a company, often referred to as key opinion leaders.

Typical tasks that a medical science liaison may undertake include:

  • Respond to information requests
  • Train marketing and sales teams in an organization
  • Study clinical practices and trends
  • Host advisory boards
  • Consult with medical professionals and product developers
  • Keep a tab on scientific literature for new developments

Medical Science Liaison Certification & Licensure

The Medical Science Liaison Society (MSLS) has developed a professional certification for MSL professionals: the MSL Board Certification (MSL-BC). This credential is valid for a limited time period and can be earned by meeting criteria set by the certification board.

The main goal of the MSL Board Certification is to set industry standards for the medical science liaison profession. This is done by providing a test-based assessment to peers and employers about a candidate’s industry knowledge. This certification signifies an individual’s industry knowledge and enables career advancement.

Eligibility criteria for this certification include:

  • A background in health sciences
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher from a regionally or nationally accredited educational institution
  • Two years of full-time work experience medical science liaison

Medical Science Liaison Salary

The average salary for a medical science liaison is $129,074 nationally, according to Payscale.com (2019).

  • 10th percentile: $86,000
  • Median (50th percentile): $129,000
  • 90th percentile: $163,000

They work in healthcare and are often employed at biotechnology, pharmaceutical, or medical device companies, as well as in managed care. Not surprisingly, one’s salary varies greatly by region, type of industry, education, and experience. For example, average pay by experience level for medical science liaisons according to Payscale (2019) is as follows:

  • One year or less: $116,000
  • One to four years: $126,000
  • Five to nine years: $135,000
  • Ten to 19 years: $151,000
  • 20+ years: $149,000

Interestingly, there was a slight drop-off after more than two decades in the industry.

Farheen Gani

Farheen Gani

Writer

Farheen is a freelance writer, marketer, and researcher. She writes about technology, education, and marketing. Her work has appeared on websites such as Tech in Asia and Foundr, as well as top SaaS blogs such as Zapier and InVision. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter (@FarheenGani).