A Survey of Medical Science Liaisons - Pharmaceutical Executive


A Survey of Medical Science Liaisons
Who are those accomplished people hobnobbing with medicine's best and brightest? And what is it they like about their jobs? Besides the fact that they rarely come into the office...

Pharmaceutical Executive

Of those polled, one in five had worked three-to-five years at their present job, while nearly as many had been there longer than five years. However, 28 percent of respondents had been on the job less than a year. But even those that have been on the job for quite a while show no signs of leaving soon. Two in five said they planned to stay five years or more. One in five reported that they would stay one or two years, while 15 percent said they hoped to change jobs in three to five years.

Only three in ten have worked as an MSL for more than one pharma company, according to this year's survey. Data over the four years shows that MSLs tend to stick with one company, although there was somewhat less movement in the first year of the survey, when only 23 percent of MSLs reported that they had changed jobs. Respondents said they left the previous company after a reorganization, downsizing, or merger. Other frequent responses included: corporate culture, the relationship with a manager, too much travel, and lack of trust.

Most MSLs are not looking to change jobs. Two in five are not looking for new employment but would consider other opportunities if they arose, while nearly as many (38 percent) say they are happy right where they are. Seven percent of this year's respondents were actively pursuing other opportunities, while 15 percent were looking, but not aggressively. This year's result for those not seeking new employment continues to be lower than the initial survey year. Although there is variation of individual responses each year, the composite "not looking" response remains approximately 80 percent (see chart).

The survey also asked whether MSLs have a designated thought leader (TL) call panel. Three in five said that they have a formalized panel, a number that has dropped from four in five since the first year's survey. Among those with a TL call panel, 68 percent reported 20 to 50 TLs on their panel. Fifteen percent of MSLs had 50 to 75 TLs on the panel, while 12 percent called on fewer than 20 TLs. These numbers have held steady since the first survey in 2003.

Where do MSLs go from here? One-in-four respondents sees a position as senior MSL as the next step up the career ladder. Sixteen percent said they would like to manage MSLs, while one in ten didn't know what comes next. The high rate of "I don't know" responses may lie in the answer to another question. More than half of all respondents (53 percent) say that their companies do not have a formalized career path for MSL advancement. Among the respondents who say the company does have a career path for MSLs, only one in four reported an advancement path that extended into other parts of the organization.

On the whole, the group surveyed is satisfied with their respective MSL roles. The intellectual challenges, opportunities for personal development, and the option to work from home make MSL a highly attractive job. Based on the survey, professional development is a primary area of opportunity for MSL managers to improve the lot of their employees. Even so, MSLs responding to this survey are surprisingly unclear about where they can go within the organization—whether up the ladder or into a cross-functional role. Offering career-progression discussions and exposure to other areas of the organization would help MSLs develop a better understanding of options open to them. And to retain field-based talent, employers will have to explore job opportunities that allow the MSLs to remain in the home-based setting they so highly value.

Erin L. Albert, PharmD, is president & CEO of Pharm, LLC. Cathleen M. Sass, PharmD is a regional medical liaison at Sanofi-Aventis. They can be reached at


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