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How to turn a medical science liaison job into a career

Becoming a Medical Science Liaison is a popular career choice for many Doctoral-level candidates seeking a meaningful role within the pharmaceutical industry where they can communicate scientifically and engage with Healthcare Professionals, positively impacting patient outcomes, to drive healthcare forward.

Field medical affairs (usually called Medical Science Liaison, abbreviated to MSL) is a diverse, scientifically focused, well-remunerated, increasingly popular job role that makes it possible for you to follow your professional interests and passions. 

At IQVIA we offer a wide range of MSL opportunities in varied therapeutic specialties for differing sizes of companies; from emerging biotechs where activities predominantly involve pipeline assets in the clinical trials setting; to blue chip pharma, often working with launch phase and commercialized products.

Whilst working as an MSL is a very rewarding career in itself, perhaps you are curious about how you could progress beyond MSL in the future; what are the possible next steps for a medical science liaison to take in their career?

By the nature of the experience you’ll gain as an MSL, you’re likely to be influential, have exceptional people skills, attention to detail, a clear, confident communication style, and outstanding scientific acumen. These traits and soft skills you’ll have learned as an MSL could see you well-positioned for advancement into many desirable roles.

Whether your goal is to travel as a multi-country MSL or to earn the status of a Regional Medical Director, an MSL job can serve as a powerful springboard to launch the progression of your career.

Let’s look at the possible medical science liaison career paths that could be open to you.

Medical science liaison career path and progression

Medical Advisor

MSLs are predominantly field-based, and their activities focus on external scientific communication and engagement with HCPs – often specialising in one specific disease area (i.e. metastatic colorectal cancer); by comparison, Medical Advisors are typically office-based, their stakeholders are mostly internal, and they can be responsible for several indications within the same therapeutic area (i.e. oncology more broadly). 

Medical Advisors are involved with internal governance and compliance (such as approving medical and marketing materials). They contribute to developing their company’s medical and marketing strategy and provide scientific training to sales and other personnel within the organization.

If you aspire to become a Medical Manager or Medical Director longer term, pursuing a position as a Medical Advisor would be the next logical step from being an MSL on your career path to attaining this. 

MSL Manager

If you enjoy being field-based and would like to share the knowledge, skills, and expertise you’ve gained as an MSL, becoming an MSL Manager could be a great option. 

The role of an MSL Manager is to ensure the MSL team effectively supports the company’s scientific and medical goals while maintaining high standards of compliance and stakeholder engagement. As a result, the MSL Manager’s core responsibilities include recruitment, training, and management of the team, strategic planning, engagement with pivotal Key Opinion Leaders, compliance, reporting, and developing future talent.

As conducting field visits with team members is central to evaluating their performance and improving their skills, regular travel is essential – this could be either national or international, depending on the size of the company you are employed by and the location of your MSLs.

International Project Associate Director 

IQVIA works with an enviable range of pharmaceutical, MedTech and biotech companies and when we undertake new projects with these customers focused on Field Medical Affairs, we require an International Project Director (IPAD) to oversee the team.

IPAD’s have a dual role where on the one hand they are responsible for managing and leading the team of MSLs (like an MSL Manager would); on the other hand, they are the main point of contact within IQVIA for the client company and responsible for monitoring team performance against agreed customer metrics, adherence to the project budget, etc. 

As many of these projects are International or pan-European, willingness to travel is a must, and professional-level communication skills in several languages (including English) are highly desirable.

Independent Consultant

For MSLs who love their role but would like the ability to choose when to work during the year - or who crave greater variety - operating on a consultancy basis could be an option.

This kind of role generally works best for MSLs with a significant amount of experience under their belts, who are very well networked, and regarded as experts in their field to warrant the high rates of pay consultants often charge. 

Naturally, with these levels of flexibility come lower job security and higher levels of personal accountability, as you’ll be responsible for generating your own work, marketing your services, ensuring compliance, and single-handedly delivering project outcomes agreed upon with customers. 

As you’d effectively be running your own business, you’d also have all the tasks (and costs) associated with that, such as invoicing and other statutory reporting responsibilities.

For those of you who desire high levels of autonomy in your career, consulting might be right for you.

Your Medical Science Liaison career path starts here

The careers above represent much more than just a job, but rather a lifelong commitment to improving healthcare—and it all begins with the essential experience of working as a Medical Science Liaison first.

At IQVIA, we pride ourselves on providing MSL opportunities that are meaningful, exciting, and inspiring, and that will set you on the right path for a long-term career in medical affairs. 

Now that you have a clearer view of the future career path options available to you once you’ve worked as a Medical Science Liaison, it’s time to explore the medical science liaison jobs and medical affairs jobs currently on offer at IQVIA.

List #1

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