How to become an MSL without previous experience – 3 industry professionals share their perspectives

Written by Justin Soon, WPP Health Practice
How to become an MSL

The medical scientific liaison (MSL) role is one of the most coveted roles for scientists and healthcare professionals looking to break into medical affairs within the pharmaceutical industry.

Whilst not for everyone, the opportunity to work at the forefront of medical and scientific innovation combined with the independence and autonomy of a remote based role can be highly rewarding.

So too is the industry now looking at MSLs as a key resource for driving the transformation of science to value, and facilitating the evolution of medical affairs as the third strategic pillar of an organisation (alongside R&D and Commercial).

However, employers often want candidates with previous experience, making it difficult to secure that first MSL role, whether you are coming from academia, the health professions or simply transitioning from another function within the industry.

So how can you demonstrate your value as an MSL when you don’t have any experience?

We asked 3 industry professionals to share their perspectives and personal experiences on this question.

  • Dharmesh Patel, a specialist oncology pharmacist with 6 years experience in the NHS.
    Dharmesh recently joined Pierre Fabre as an MSL one year ago.
  • Richard Jones, an ex-commercial industry professional with over 15 years experience in Men’s Health. Richard has been an MSL at Besins Healthcare for the past 5 years.
  • Nadine Chamay, with a research background in academia, has over 10 years experience as an MSL and MSL manager. Nadine is currently a Field Based Medical Advisor for ViiV Healthcare


1. Do your research – Show you understand the challenges.

As a key liaison between the organisation and its external stakeholders, the ability to understand the company’s goals and challenges can really help MSLs drive value for an organisation by transforming information gained from the field into valuable insights that inform company strategies.

Research the company you want to work for. Research their products and educate yourself with regards to the key clinical information that relates to both the products of the organisation but also the therapy area” says Richard, “It’s always impressive when you interview a candidate who is fully aware of the challenges that may be facing an organisation from the clinical landscape”.

Research the role as much as possibleDharmesh agrees, “there is a lot of information on the MSL role out there and it is also a good idea to have conversations with current MSLs in order to gain further advice.

“Employers usually like experience but if you have the right skills you can learn”

Compliance is another important aspect of the MSL role and can be seen as an area of risk when taking on new recruits without previous experience.

Try to become familiar with how the industry is governed and how this is applicable to the MSL role” adds Dharmesh.

MSLs are very independent and are fully accountable for their work” says Nadine, “Employers usually like experience but if you have the rights skills (communication is just as important as the science), you can learn. I had the opportunity to manage 3 new MSLs (post-doc scientists) who came straight from research. They learned very quickly and became absolutely brilliant MSLs”.


2. Leverage the experience you do have – Demonstrate your capability for success.

The MSL is often regarded internally and externally as an expert in the communication of scientific information. Therefore, an MSL must be able to engage at a peer-to-peer level with a variety of stakeholders and build strong professional networks.

Draw out aspects of your experience that help you demonstrate these qualities.

Interpersonal skills are vital for the MSL role” says Dharmesh, “Within the position you meet many different members within the multidisciplinary team, so it is important that you are able to engage and build rapport during these interactions to ensure you are obtaining and relaying information as efficiently as possible.”

Experience is important as this is a job where you will spend most of your time by yourself to plan your visit and talks” adds Nadine, “You need to be able to simplify complicated data into easily digestible data, enjoy communicating science to an audience and be able to adapt the level of your presentations.

“Interpersonal skills are vital for the MSL role”

Understanding the specific role you are applying for can also help you to identify opportunities that align with your previous experience.

Look for unique ways in which your experience might be able to help an organisation achieve their goals.

When I initially met with Besins, they were a new entity in the UK and the MSL job hadn’t been created yet” states Richard. “However, the role was a good fit for me as I’d had over 10 years experience in the Men’s Health arena and was able to utilise my strong relationships and networks to help establish the company in the early days“.


3. Understand your why – You don’t need experience to be passionate

Understanding why you want to be an MSL will help you to identify if the role is really for you.

Projects that MSLs undertake can sometimes take years before you bear the fruit of your labours so you need to maintain motivation and enthusiasm, which is always easier if you are truly passionate about what you are trying to accomplish” says Richard.

Attitude and motivation are important behaviours for the autonomous MSL and being passionate about a role really help make you stand out from the crowd.

Apart from science, you need to enjoy communication, being self-driven and independent” adds Nadine,

“It is the best job in the world for a scientist… if you are made for it”.




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