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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. If a professional has extensive experience in medicine, a healthcare-related MBA can also be a choice to enter this field.
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.
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Medical Liaison Degree Program Admissions Requirements
According to the Medical Science Liaison Institute, an advanced degree, such as a PharmD, MD, or PhD in research science, is highly recommended 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 master’s, 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 an 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.
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 credits. 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: $60,896 per year
The 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
The PhD in clinical and experimental therapeutics at the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy can be a valuable degree for an aspiring medical science liaison. This program combines therapeutics-related research with basic laboratory science and clinical research. The primary goal of this program is to encourage research in pharmaceutical sciences. Students rotate through several labs allowing them to learn about numerous methods of research, before they decide on their field and dissertation.
While students must complete required coursework, they will spend the majority of their time in the labs performing research for professors and working on their own dissertation. Projects currently underway that students can join include pathogenesis and treatment of stroke, disease mechanism and treatment of optic neuropathy, extracellular matrix remodeling and pulmonary fibrosis, and smooth muscle biology and glucose transporters. Admission to this program is competitive and student must supply GRE scores, three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, a writing, sample, and official transcripts.
- Location: Athens, Georgia
- Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education
- Expected Time to Completion: Three to five years
- Estimated Tuition: $1,050 per credit
The Department of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy offers both a master’s of science and a doctorate in experimental and clinical pharmacology. Graduates of this program are prepared for careers in clinical research. Students in this program will study a wide variety of applications and approaches to pharmacology including neuropharmacology, infectious diseases, pharmacogenomics, and experimental pharmacotherapy.
Master’s degree students must complete 24 credits in core coursework and ten credits of thesis or project credits while PhD students must complete 24 credits of coursework and 24 credits in a thesis or project. Weekly seminars provide students with up to date insights and research from top professionals in the field. To be considered for admission, students must submit GRE scores, a current resume or CV, a description of research experience, a personal statement, a diversity statement, three letters of recommendation, official transcripts, and a completed application.
- Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education
- Expected Time to Completion: Two to five years
- Estimated Tuition: $2,267 per credit
The molecular pharmacology and experimental therapeutics track in the Biomedical Research Training department at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science trains students to perform cutting-edge research on biological mechanisms and then apply those findings to create new therapies. Graduates of this program have an average of six publications to their name by the time they complete this program. This is due to the emphasis on original research, which prepares students for lucrative careers in research.
All students in this program receive a fellowship that not only includes full tuition but provides a living stipend and pays for benefits. This allows students to focus solely on their research without having to worry about incurring loans or working part-time. Students must take a rigorous course load their first two years in the program. The final three years of this program are solely dedicated to research.
- Location: Rochester, Minnesota
- Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Expected Time to Completion: Five years
- Estimated Tuition: All students in this program receive a fellowship that includes tuition, a stipend, and benefits
Online or Hybrid Degree Programs for Medical Science Liaisons
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 credits. 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 $39,5148 each, year four $58,318
The University Of Central Florida offers an online master of science in nursing (MSN) program. The 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 credits 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 evidence-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
While the online healthcare MBA offered at George Washington University School of Business alone isn’t sufficient for a career as a medical science liaison, it can be an asset to someone with a strong medical or research background. Education on the business side of healthcare can provide valuable insight when providing consulting services to healthcare organizations. Additionally, this program offers several graduate certificates that can help professionals stand out in this field including one in regulatory affairs and another in clinical research administration.
The online format of this MBA allows students to complete their studies while continuing to work. Most students take classes part-time, allowing for even greater flexibility. Typically students complete their studies in four to five years. Student can customize their education with electives from the business school or other colleges across campus.
- Location: Washington, DC
- Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- Expected Time to Completion: Four to five years
- Estimated Tuition: $2,215 per credit
The online doctor of health science (DHSc) program at A.T. Still University’s College of Graduate Health Studies trains students to develop solutions to the ongoing issues in healthcare, including costs, quality of care, and access. Students have the opportunity to select one of three concentrations which are global health, leadership and organizational behavior, or fundamentals of education. Graduates are able to effectively evaluate literature, apply research, communicate effectively, and lead teams.
Unlike a PhD program where students are typically strictly immersed in research, this DhSC program prepares graduates to apply their research to real-world scenarios. Admission requirements include official transcripts, already holding a degree from an accredited institution, a resume, a completed essay, and a completed application. International applicants must demonstrate English proficiency.
- Location: Mesa, AZ
- Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
- Expected Time to Completion: Three to five years
- Estimated Tuition: $553 per credit
Duquesne University School of Pharmacy offers a four-year online doctor of pharmacy degree program. There are short required on-campus programs during the first three years of the program as well as clinical experiences each summer. The fourth year is entirely remote. Students in the online program are taught by the same faculty as the on-campus degree. This program boasts a 99 percent placement rate for graduates over the past 25 years.
To be considered for admission, candidates need to hold a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution as well as have completed extensive prerequisite coursework in science and math. Applicants must also take the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT). Once admission is offered, students are subject to a background check prior to matriculation.
- Location: Pittsburg, Pennsylvania
- Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- Expected Time to Completion: Four years
- Estimated Tuition: $1,723 per credit
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 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
How Much Do Medical Science Liaisons Make?
The average salary for a medical science liaison is $129,074 nationally, according to PayScale.com (2021).
- 10th percentile: $96,000
- Median (50th percentile): $137,287
- 90th percentile: $172,000
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, the average pay by experience level for medical science liaisons according to PayScale (2021), is as follows:
- One year or less: $123,000
- One to four years: $134,000
- Five to nine years: $143,000
- Ten to 19 years: $154,000
- 20+ years: $158,000
Medical Science Liaison Career Alternatives
Here are some alternatives to a career as a medical science liaison.
Become a Health Services Manager
Healthcare is a large business, and as such, it needs high-quality managers. Health service managers work at all levels of healthcare providing oversight services to help clinics, hospitals, outpatient centers, and government agencies run smoothly and provide the highest level of patient care. Typical duties including budget management, staffing, implementing best practices, ensuring compliance, and communicating with senior staff
- Typical Education: Master’s degree
- Licensing or Certifying Organization: Professional Association of Healthcare Office Management (PAHCOM)
Become a Healthcare Project Manager
Healthcare businesses have a myriad of ongoing and one-time projects. Often, these projects are overseen by healthcare project managers. Projects can include everything from hiring staff to reducing patient wait times to launching a new research study. Most healthcare project managers have a master’s in business, nursing, public health, or health information systems.
- Typical Education: Master’s degree
- Licensing or Certifying Organization: Project Management Institute (PMI)
Become a Pharmacist
Pharmacists dispense medications according to physician’s orders. They also interact with patients providing education on the medications prescribed and the proper way to take them. Pharmacists also evaluate patients for possible drug interactions and can be key players in ensuring patients take their medicine as prescribed.
- Typical Education: Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD)
- Licensing or Certifying Organization: Board of Pharmacy Specialties
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).