It can be difficult to get your first position as a Medical Science Liaison (MSL) in a pharmaceutical or biotechnology organization, especially if you’re shy a credential, have no experience in the industry, or you’re missing a few competencies. And, if you can’t adequately explain the function of Medical Affairs and the role the MSL plays within and outside of that business unit, you’ll never land a position on a Medical Affairs team.
Education and Skills to Show-off
- Your education is important. Very few if any Medical Affairs hiring managers will accept an individual with only a bachelor’s degree. Most typically, you’ll be required to have a doctorate degree (MD, PhD, PharmD, DNP, etc.), or master’s degree (MS, MSN with an NP, CNS, PA certification), or another professional terminal and/or clinical-medical degree. If you don’t meet the educational stipulations, consider what you must do to get the required education.
- You must have relevant clinical or related experience!
- This experience is something you’ll want to highlight in a letter and within your resume/CV. Positively present your experience. For example, “As a Clinical Research Associate (CRA), I worked in hospital and clinical settings for 10 years. I wrote medical information letters while I was a health care consultant. As a pharmaceutical sales representative, when speaking with health care professionals I relied on the science and focused discussion on safety and efficacy.”
- Is your clinical experience with a therapeutic area? If the position you’re interested in requires someone with clinical nephrology experience, and if your clinical experience involved any of the following as it relates to the therapeutic area: transplantation, hematology/oncology, infectious disease, hepatology, pediatric/neonate populations, immunology, or devices; then, you’ll want to detail that. If you have a subspecialty, you’ll also want to explain it.
- Highlight skills that will transfer to an MSL position. Do you have bench research experience? If so, you may want to highlight that experience in your CV and say something about it in your letter. For example, “I studied the mechanism of penicillin resistance at the bench and developed training materials about resistance for the clinical staff. I presented the information in Grand Rounds.
- Highlight any writing or scientific reviews you’ve done. Have you prepared or edited manuscripts for publication in a scientific journal? Have you written protocols?
- Have you presented scientific/clinical/medical information at health care industry events? What did you present and to what group did you present to? Highlight your engagements and the material presented on your CV.
- Make sure your CV is impeccable! You may have all the right experience, but if you don’t present it professionally, you’ll hurt your chances to get your foot in the door.
There’s Truth to “It’s Who You Know…”
Your connections may be able to help you land your first job as an MSL.
- If you work in a place that MSLs frequent, such as a cancer center, ask a colleague to introduce you to the MSLs visiting the center. Get to know them and make sure they know you. Pick their brain. Learn about their responsibilities. Making connections can help you later.
- Find a mentor in Medical Affairs. Develop professional relationships with as many industry people as possible. Find a way to meet all the MSLs in your therapeutic area who live near you. Ask them to have coffee with you. Be prepared to learn all about the role of an MSL. Let your MSL connections know you’re interested in becoming one yourself. Sell your skill set to them. They can tell you about vacancies and may be a reference for you in the future.
- Learn which hospitals/clinics/academic centers are focused on your therapeutic area. Find ways to connect with the experts within the therapeutic area. A recommendation from a Key Opinion Leader (KOL) can help you land your first MSL job.
- Look for managerial positions in Medical Affairs that are corporate-based. Once a company knows you, it’s easier to move into an MSL position.
- Use LinkedIn to connect with people who can help you learn about open positions. Use the LinkedIn feature that lets recruiters know you are interested in finding an MSL position.
- Get to know recruiters who search for and place MSLs in pharma, biotech, medical device, and diagnostics companies, and apply for every job you’re qualified for. Don’t get discouraged. It can take time to land your first MSL position.
Other Competencies Necessary for the MSL Job
In addition to clinical and therapeutic expertise, you’ll want to have:
- A firm knowledge of the research process.
- Excellent written and persuasive oral communication skills.
- Strong interpersonal skills to work closely with physicians/scientists and numerous internal and external stakeholders.
- High ethics, moral behavior, and professionalism.
Hopefully, these tips help you. Don’t forget there are books and websites that can help you learn more about Medical Affairs, drug development, and the pharma/biotech industries.
May you have a successful journey!
If you enjoyed this article, you may also like reading “Top 10 Job Search Tips for Medical Science Liaisons.”