Becoming a medical science liaison is a rewarding and challenging experience. In this article I am going to go through some of the things that aspiring MSLs can do for free to become a medical science liaison. Before we start, I implore you to actually DO the activities listed in this article. If you are really serious about becoming an MSL, it will require a little bit of work and a little bit of consistency in order to get you an MSL job. If you carve out 1-2 hours per week to dedicate to doing the things I discuss in this article, it will have a massive impact on your ability to secure an MSL job.
How do I become a medical Science liaison?
1. Understand the role
2. Network to increase your medical affairs network
3. Become a confident presenter and interpreter of clinical trial data
4. Write a resume focusing on what the position description requires
5. Identify other jobs related to pharma that can help you transition to an MSL role
Step 1: Learn about the medical science liaison role
In order to become an MSL, you must have a clear understanding of what the role entails and the typical activities that an MSL does on a day to day basis.
Identify a few MSL position description in your geographical area and understand what these activities actually mean by reading these articles, listening to the MSL Consultant podcast, listening to the MSL talk podcast and tuning into ASK and Tell with MSLs webinars.
An example of typical MSL activities listed on a position description include:
· Contribute to the development and implementation of strategic planning.
· To identify, develop and maintain credible relationships with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and academic centres.
· Develop and maintain working relationships with the relevant patient organisations in the disease area(s) of interest.
Active learning beats passive learning every day of the week. Therefore, to truly get value from this step, create a document where you can jot down everything you learn from an article, webinar or podcast related to the MSL role. All these nuggets of information over time will enable you to develop a clear understanding of the MSL role.
Step 2: Network
Networking is a crucial aspect of getting your first MSL role. Every week set yourself the challenge of reaching out to 1 MSL or medical affairs professional on Linkedin. This person will ideally be in your geographical area but you can also learn a lot from MSLs working in a different country. This type of networking is a numbers game and not everyone will respond to you, but keep at it. It is a really effective way to learn more about the role and grow your medical affairs network. I recommend developing a spreadsheet to keep track of everyone you have reached out to. If you haven’t heard back from them after 2 weeks, send them a gentle reminder. When you connect with an MSL, ask them about the MSL role and any tips or advice they have about how they got their first MSL job.
Step 3: Upskill
MSLs need to be able to present confidently so find out how to make your presentations more engaging. At your current role, put your hand up for more opportunities to speak. Practice public speaking as much as you possibly can in order to demonstrate that you are a confident speaker. Join a local toastmasters club or a local presentation group in your area to increase your presentation skills.
MSLs also need to learn how to read clinical papers. Research online how to read and interpret clinical data and PRACTICE this skill. Every month, read a new clinical paper and identify the strengths and weakness of the study. Be able to summarise the study in 5 minutes to test yourself and prove that you have a clear understanding of it. This will make presenting during the MSL interview much easier.
Step 4: Resume
When writing your resume for an MSL job it is imperative that you keep in mind that MSL hiring managers don’t care about your lab skills.
Don’t clog up your resume with experience that isn’t relevant to the MSL role. Rewrite your resume and highlight your transferrable skills. This is important. You need to demonstrate your understanding of the MSL role. Use an MSL position description to write your resume and mirror the language of the position description in your resume. For example, if the hiring company talks about EEs instead of KOLs, reflect this wording in your resume. Important skills to highlight in your resume include presentation skills, ability to interpret clinical data and commercial acumen. Keep your resume to approx. 2 pages and be ruthless to cut out anything that isn’t relevant to the MSL role. Additional non-relevant experience will only serve to distract from your applicable skills. Make it easy for hiring managers and recruiters to see you have the required experience to do the job.
Check out our Ecourse to learn how to write your resume for MSL jobs.
Step 5: Think about other jobs
Going straight into an MSL job is the dream, but sometimes you can do another job along the way to make your transition a bit easier. Identify if there are any medical writing jobs with creative agencies (who work with pharma) that are hiring. Google “[Creative health agency]” plus [geographical area]”. Often these companies hire medical writers on a freelance basis and so are much more likely to hire someone without prior experience. Medical writers within healthcare agencies are responsible for reviewing promotional material and this experience is highly sought after in pharma.
Another potential job you can do which will give you skills which are highly transferrable to an MSL role is a job in medical information. Medical information is the department in pharma responsible for responding to unsolicited requests for information from doctors and patients. These jobs will give you a great insight into pharma and how the medical affairs team works. Medical information jobs tend to be easier to get compared to MSL jobs, and offer a great way to transition to an MSL job once you are hired and working within the pharma company.
If you are an aspiring or early career MSL and want more advice on how to become a high performing MSL, sign up to our newsletter. It’s free and every week you will learn something new about how to get an MSL job and excel as an MSL.