Good Pay and Low Barrier to Entry in the Pharma and Medical Device Industries

In today's podcast, John revisits the Medical Science Liaison, a fantastic pharma job, and a popular nonclinical career.

An MSL serves as an educational and feedback link between a pharmaceutical, biotechnology, or medical device company AND healthcare professionals. This role is strictly educational and collaborative in nature. MSLs are not permitted to market or sell.

MSLs leverage their scientific background to learn about their products and communicate with influencers and key opinion leaders (KOLs). They use organizational skills to connect with these stakeholders. They use communication skills to teach, advise, and inform. 

Our Sponsor

We're proud to have the University of Tennessee Physician Executive MBA Program, offered by the Haslam College of Business, as the sponsor of this podcast.

The UT PEMBA is the longest-running, and most highly respected physician-only MBA in the country. It has over 700 graduates. And, the program only takes one year to complete. 

By joining the UT Physician Executive MBA, you will develop the business and management skills you need to find a career that you love. To find out more, contact Dr. Kate Atchley’s office at (865) 974-6526 or go to

Duties of an MSL

Typically, an MSL meets with these KOLs, updates them on scientific studies, reports on their conversations to the employer, and attends both remote and in-person meetings.  Depending n the size of the territory covered, travel requirements may be extensive.

This career is attractive because it does not require any special certification. It is open to physicians at all levels of training, with or without board certification. There are ample jobs and the number of positions is growing.

Once employed as an MSL, it is quite possible to make a lateral job change or advance into more senior positions.

Landing the first MSL job can be challenging. And travel away from home for multiple days can sometimes be required.

Keep in mind, that there is a specific manner to go about getting your first job, and it is prescribed and stated in one of the first topics for which I developed a comprehensive course for my nonclinical vocational academy.

A Fantastic Pharma Job

This is such a good option for physicians for several reasons.

  • Physicians with all levels of education and experience (licensed, unlicensed, board certified or not) have successfully transitioned.
  • No special certification or training is required.
  • Successful MSLs can move into other pharma or medical device jobs and advancement opportunities are common.
  • The salary is commensurate with a primary care physician's salary and increases as experience and expertise grow.


Medical Science Liaison is one of the “iconic” nonclinical careers that is ideally suited to physicians looking to work in the Pharmaceutical or Medical Device Industries. It is open to those with or without residency training. Travel demands can be extensive, but can be minimized by selecting positions at larger companies with smaller territories.

The Nonclinical Career Academy hosts a 6-lesson Medical Science Liaison Course. It provides much greater detail on the requirements and preparation for the job. And it will position you to apply for and land your first MSL job. It normally sells for $397. 

As an incentive to sign up NOW, if you use the Coupon Code HALFOFF you will be able to jump in and be on your way to applying for an MSL job soon, at a reduced cost. Learn more at Build a Rewarding, Lucrative Career as a Medical Science Liaison [Remember Coupon Code HALFOFF]. Or click the image below.

fantastic pharma job

YES – Let me check out the MSL Course NOW!

NOTE: Look below for a transcript of today's episode.

EXCLUSIVE: Get a daily dose of inspiration, information, news, training opportunities, and amusing stories by CLICKING HERE.

Links for Today's Episode:

Download This Episode:

Right Click Here and “Save As” to download this podcast episode to your computer.

If you enjoyed today’s episode, share it on Twitter and Facebook, and leave a review on iTunes.

Podcast Editing & Production Services are provided by Oscar Hamilton

Transcription PNC Podcast Episode 261

Medical Science Liaison Is Still a Fantastic Pharma Job

John: I wanted to revisit one of the most popular nonclinical jobs that physicians tend to pursue - Medical Science Liaison. It's been quite a while since I presented a podcast episode on this topic or had a guest discussing this topic. So, I want to update you on this career option. Let's not waste any time.

Let's start with the definition. An MSL or medical science liaison serves as an educational and feedback link between a pharmaceutical biotechnology or medical device company and healthcare professionals. The reason I put the words "educational" AND "feedback" link in there is because I really want you to distinguish this from a sales position. When we talk about being a liaison or a mediator between let's say the pharma company and a subscriber. Let's just say a prescriber rather. A subscriber is not enough, just subscribing to it, their magazine won't cut it. But being a prescriber, that's important. But if you're selling in your marketing, then you're a salesperson. And MSL does not do any sales. In fact, an MSL is really completely precluded from doing sales and is educational. That's what the role is.

And you, as an MSL, you need to learn this information, get this knowledge and transfer it to the people that you're contacting and reaching out to, which I'll go into more detail in a minute. In fact, some companies will use MSLs to train the sales people on the technical part and the FDA regulated part of promoting the drug or the medical device. But there are companies where they don't even allow an MSL to have conversations with sales because they really want that completely separated.

Given that sort of definition, let's get a little bit into the details of this. So, what does an MSL do? What is an MSL? An MSL in their job has to do five major components of that job. One is they have to learn. They have to learn about the products, or product in some cases, just a single product, that they're going to know inside and out and discuss with the recipients of their education, which again, I'll describe in a minute who those people are.

Number two, they need to connect. So, they need to find these people. They need to probably in most cases develop relationships with let's just say physicians or other prescribers, who they've not known before. That's a big part of it. Connecting, engaging with these people so you can interact with them and help educate them.

And so, that's where the third part comes in, which is teaching and advising them. Once you're connected and you're face to face, you're on a Zoom call or a phone call, or however you're interacting, maybe at a large meeting. Generally, it's going to be in their office or at their workplace. And you have to have the skills and the knowledge necessary to communicate with them in an efficient way and an effective way and get the point across that you're trying to get across. That helps them, helps their patients and at the same time benefits your company, who's producing these products.

And then the other big one though, is listening, because you learn by speaking with these physicians and other prescribers or pharmacists or nurses, and what have you. And you get feedback, you take that in, you digest it, you analyze it and you use it to take back to your company so that they have that kind of feedback and can make adjustments to what they're putting together as educational components or how they're educating or even communicating about the drug in written materials or on computer-based materials, things like that.

And then the last part is to also just inform your company, your supervisor, what you've been doing, how have you been spending your time? What were the outcomes of those things? Do you have any information you can share about the utilization, the adoption of the drugs that you're talking about and educating your contacts about?

Those are kind of the big components of actually what you're doing. Again, you have to learn, you got to connect, you got to educate and teach. You've got to listen and you've got to take that back.

Now how does that happen in a day-to-day basis? What exactly are you doing? Again, without getting into too much detail, a lot of what you're doing is you're meeting face to face. You have time carved out. You've got an appointment with someone who needs this information, who wants this information. They can be going by various types of names, but usually they're called a KOL, which is a key opinion leader. They're a prescriber who's usually a thought leader.

So that's why they're called KOLs, key opinion leaders, because not only are they using these drugs, but they're also perhaps speaking about these drugs or they're telling their contacts or other physicians about these drugs. Or you can imagine someone using a cardiac drug, well, the family doctor might use it. The internist might use it, but then a cardiologist might use it and an anesthesiologist might use it.

And so, your key opinion leader may be a cardiologist who has a very specialized area where this drug works, let's say for physicians that are treating arrhythmias. But the family doctor may also use it, but they may not be a key opinion leader because they're not sharing it with other people. So, you have these influencers, these key opinion leaders, or sometimes just a prescriber for let's say the medication that you're talking about and educating about, especially when they're new, that's when the most activity is occurring.

If you're an MSL, you're going to get the word out about this new drug that treats a new category of patients or treats a new condition or treats it in a better way with fewer side effects, that kind of thing. So, you're meeting with these people, you're sharing the research, you're answering questions. You might be doing just a verbal presentation. You might be handing things out. You might be showing a computer presentation that was put together by either the drug company itself or maybe one of its communication companies.

Then you also have to write reports and follow up to those interactions and visits that you're doing or online calls. And then the other thing you do a lot of, at least probably once a week is attend meetings and activities back at the home office, wherever you're based out of or the company that you're working for. That's kind of what the job entails. If you read between the lines, you kind of got the idea that it entails some travel, which I'm going to talk about in a minute.

What are the basic skill sets? Well, you can base on what I've already described. It's pretty much what you would think. So, the basic core as you have to have a scientific background. An MSL position is one unlike others that are not strictly for physicians. In fact, physicians are probably a smaller percentage of MSLs at most companies. I might say anywhere from 10% to 20%, if that, depending on the size of the company and how much resources they have, how big the drug is, and how sophisticated its use is because in that case, you really want to get people with the most experience and most background. Rather than having, let's say a master's level person, some sort of scientist who's got a master's, it could be an MSL.

But if you have a more complex drug and need that real background, then you're going to need a Pharm.D, a PhD or an MD or equivalent. That could be MD, DO even MBBS and so forth. And it's really that degree in that understanding of pharmacology and pharmacy and medication use and all those things that go into that that's important. It's not necessarily the clinical use, although that can be important. And I'll explain that in a minute. But the basic minimum is that you have a scientific background.

Then what are the other skills you need? You need to be engaging. You need to have good verbal skills. You might say you need to have charisma, maybe have a little background in sales, maybe from before you went into medical school. Although again, this is not a sales type position, but you need to be able to get in, communicate quickly, build rapport and confidence by the people that you're talking to. That you're not just memorizing and spewing things out, but you have a real understanding and you know how to communicate it well.

And that's true, whether you're working in front of a group or individually, or even in your writing. So, you need good presentation skills, need good writing skills, because you're going to probably be writing materials that you might be giving to your KOLs and influencers and in addition to what's produced by the company, but then you also have to report back to the company.

The other thing that you need, the way I put it is you need to be organized and disciplined because there's a lot of flexibility in this job. Others have said that this is something that's called self-management. Typically, you are going to have control over the hours you spend doing this, when you do it, where you do it, how you travel, when you travel, when you set time aside to do your paperwork, do your reports, do your expenses, expense reports. You have to keep track of this because you're not normally sitting in an office 09:00 to 05:00 where you have either direct help or direct supervision. And also, that means you also have to be sure that you're getting back to your employer with the appropriate reports done in a timely fashion or you're going to end up falling behind.

And then you have to have a collaborative mindset. You are working on a team, even though for most of the let's say weekly schedule you're working independently and interacting with people outside the company, you are on a team, you're in the medical affairs department, usually of a pharma or medical device company or you're working for a CRO. But you are part of a team. You might be teaching about one or two or three drugs. Maybe there's a lot of drugs in this therapeutic class. And so, you have others addressing the other drugs in the class. You get together, you share information, then you share feedback. Again, you need to have that collaborative mindset because you are working on a team.

And then the last skillset you could have, that you might not have, that I mentioned earlier, but it can be a bonus. I'll explain how and why. You could already have before you joined as an MSL for your first job, maybe you were in practice and you actually have a panel of key opinion leaders or influencers that you already interact with. Maybe the people you refer for your patients to.

Let's say you're an internist and you have got a lot of patients with heart failure, but you also refer patients to the cardiologists for the end stage heart failure who have a little more knowledge of the drugs that you're using. And so, now you're sort of an expert, could be a cardiologist or could be an internist either way, but now you have an expertise. And when you go to get your first job as an MSL, you might go to a company that has those drugs, which you've been using and in which you're a bit of an expert in, and in which you have a network of other people that you know that use those medications. And so, when you're hired as an MSL for that company, you're actually bringing them your panel of KOLs.

And a couple of good things are going to happen. You're going to make more money in that situation. Most likely they're going to pay you more. If you can find that job, you have to line up with the company that's got the right drugs in the area where you live. Otherwise, you're going to lose that panel. So, you get paid better. And also, your territory tends to be a little smaller, because you're not typically going to have relationships with people that are in another state unless you are the KOL. If you're the physician that's been doing presentations and sort of sharing your knowledge of this drug with someone who's a colleague, well, when you become the MSL, now you can share it with them as one of your key opinion leaders or influencers. So, that can be very useful. That's not applicable to those who never worked clinically. But I do bring up that group as well because this job is open to people that have the MD and don't have any clinical background per se, or never cared for patients beyond in medical school.

Okay. I've tried to give you a lot of information about why an MSL job is such a good one and it's very popular. Again, no special training is required. I will say that there is such a thing as board certification as an MSL, but you have to have at least a year of experience doing this job. I suspect many have had more than one year of experience, but you can't do that before you get your first job or have never worked as an MSL. So, it is still open to a large group of people in multiple disciplines, multiple specialties, and even those that aren't physicians, but we're focusing of course, on the physician component.

Salary is competitive. I've seen entry level $140,000 plus or minus, depending on the state location, drugs that are being used. Now, that's for all MSLs. The physician MSL tends to make $10,000 or $20,000 per year to start more than that. And the average MSL who's been working for a while as close can easily get over $200,000. Again, if you're a physician and you've been doing this for a while, you can easily replace your clinical income.

There seemed to be an apple number of jobs. It's competitive, but it's expected to add another 10,000 of these jobs over the next 10 years or so. There's the flexibility. It's an entry into pharma in general. So, you could move later into other jobs as an MSL. You could be a regional, you could be a MSL manager. You could go and become a medical director in medical affairs potentially, or pharmacovigilance, or other parts of a pharma company or medical device company. And so, there is room for advancement for sure. And it also has all the usual benefits of not being in clinical medicine. No liability, not getting phone calls. You're not on call on the weekends. You get a 401(k) and sick dates, vacation. So, it's less stressful than clinical practice for sure.

What are the challenges with becoming an MSL? Well, there's no school you can go to that tells you what to do to be an MSL. Everyone's in there competing for those jobs. So, it can be competitive. The first job is always the most difficult. Once you get past that, then it's a lot smoother sailing. And then the other big one that people talk about is the travel that's required. Now, if you're someone who doesn't have any clinical experience and you're really competing for that first MSL job, you're probably going to be more likely to work for a smaller company, which tends to have bigger territories. Instead of a territory being one county or one major city, it might be three states. And sometimes it's not even states that are contiguous. And so, that could be a lot of travel.

If you're more experienced as a physician and maybe you've got your own panel, well, now you're going to have a narrower area. If you work for bigger companies in the large metropolitan areas, you can get and really try and focus on the different territories and be careful. Then you can sometimes be in a territory where you're really driving to all your meetings that aren't virtual meetings and you might have a territory where you're home every night. Otherwise, you might be flying and be gone two or three days at a time as you're hitting multiple influencers in an area that's not adjacent to where you're residing. But keep that in mind when you're applying for these jobs. Try to have multiple options, then you can try and leverage the ones that are closer to you and that are again bigger companies, smaller territories and more dense territories so you can see people with less distant travel.

That's basically what I wanted to tell you about MSLs today. It's really just an introduction. It's just a reminder that this is a great job. I've been following this since I started my podcast more than five years ago. I've interviewed multiple MSLs and addition of talk to many more that I didn't interview. And so, I really think it's a career that leverages your medical background and in your experience. So that's good. It builds on your clinical background if you have that. It pays well, it does not require additional certification. It offers opportunities for advancement, and I don't see how you can beat it if nothing else is obvious.

Now, if you're working in a hospital already, we often talk about going into hospital management. But if you've been out there working on your own in a clinic or something, and you don't have any obvious nonclinical jobs to step into and that's what you're looking to do, well, MSL and pharma, which is massive number of jobs for physicians in general is a great option.

But just remember that the first job is the most difficult to get. And actually, that's why this is one of the first areas that I created a complete course for my Nonclinical Career Academy. It's outlined in there that there's a certain way to go about getting that first job. And so, in my course, the six lectures go into much more detail about how to land your first MSL job, where to find the resources to learn what you need to learn so you can interview well, you can create your resume well, and set yourself up for success.

I've had that course on there for a couple of years now. The current price is $397, but as an incentive to sign up now, if you use the coupon code "HALFOFF", [H-A-L-F-O-F-F] as a way to try to get you to think about and pursue this job. Now, again, put the coupon code "HALFOFF" and you're going to purchase the course and you'll have this 50% discount.

And if you start in the next week or so, you'll be able to actually apply for your first job within a few months or so. You've just got to focus and learn everything you can and then put your resumé and prepare for your interviews and start looking for jobs. And you can find that course at That's my Nonclinical Career Academy, medical science liaison course at's it today Nonclinical Nation. I want to give that update on one of the most popular nonclinical full-time, well-paying jobs for physicians. And with that, we'll end today's presentation.


Many of the links that I refer you to are affiliate links. That means that I receive a payment from the seller if you purchase the affiliate item using my link. Doing so has no effect on the price you are charged. And I only promote products and services that I believe are of high quality and will be useful to you.

The opinions expressed here are mine and my guest’s. While the information provided on the podcast is true and accurate to the best of my knowledge, there is no express or implied guarantee that using the methods discussed here will lead to success in your career, life, or business.

The information presented on this blog and related podcast is for entertainment and/or informational purposes only. I do not provide medical, legal, tax, or emotional advice. If you take action on the information provided on the blog or podcast, it is at your own risk. Always consult an attorney, accountant, career counselor, or other professional before making any major decisions about your career.