6 Traits of Effective MSLs

Traits for an effective medical science liaison




Handle Change and Ambiguity

Understand the MSL Role

Strong Listening Skills


“There are so many key success factors in the MSL role, however, the one deserving the position at the pinnacle would be integrity. From this all else flows – diplomacy, justice, and self-discipline.” ~ Jane R. Medical Science Liaison (Pharma)

“If I had to pick one that is currently front of mind, it would have to be Patient Focused Integrity. The MSL role and influence is used (and abused) in this industry and is threatening the very reason for its existence. It seems that there is a trend for folks courting a distinct business and sales advantage to direct MSLs into compromising clinical situations. MSLs are being encouraged to persuade practitioners into uses of a drug that is not substantiated by quality clinical data as a means to capture off-label use. As sales quotas and company stakeholders become more demanding, along with the FDA getting more restrictive, this trend will likely continue. With all that said, a quality MSL will stick by his or hers clinical and moral ethics and do what is best for patient care. That is, if they do not feel comfortable in forcing a questionable or unqualified issue, they will refuse and back that up with clinical integrity. The targeted physicians will greater respect that MSLs position and view their stature as a valuable resource to his or her clinical practice. If an MSL goes the way of promotion in lack of sound data, they have cheapened themselves and that of their profession.” ~ B. M., Medical Science Liaison (Biotech).


“Effective and Timely communication to internal and external clients.” ~ New Medical Science Liaison (Pharma).

“Because of the nature of our job, we could be buried by work and out of everybody’s sight for weeks. If we don’t remind ourselves to keep our customers (external or internal) informed, i.e. in the loop, periodically, the customers will think that we had forgotten about them and don’t take them seriously. Needless to say, no MSL could build a relationship with customers that way. A good MSL has to ensure that communication does not get lost.” ~ Nancy H, Medical Science Liaison (Biotech).

“For any medical liaison to be successful, he/she has to be able to communicate with all levels of the organization. Failure to communicate with sales, managed care and marketing colleague to ensure that they are aware of our roles and responsibilities (day to day interactions) creates an unnecessary wall between ourselves and our internal customers” ~ JH, Medical Science Liaison (Pharma).


“You must be versatile, be able to anticipate the needs of your customers (both internal and external), be well spoken both with clinical knowledge as well as everyday knowledge – key opinion leaders aren’t going to want to spend time with you if you’re one dimensional. The liaison must be able to speak at various levels, be it to primary care physicians, specialists, nurses, pharmacists, etc. The liaison must be able to weather the tremulous periods of a shallow pipeline or a product line that is nearing the end of its life cycle. One must be willing to sacrifice at times their personal time with all the travel that may be required over a given period. Understanding family and/or friends are vital to keep the liaison grounded with what is important in their personal life. The liaison must be self motivated and resourceful to work in a home office without the direct supervision of a manager or director. That said, the liaison needs to have good time management skill to juggle all that is requested of them.

While this is not an all inclusive list, I think that the liaison must be open to the idea of working in position that probably never entered their mind while in school. This job function is not for everyone, but those that are willing to open up to new ideas seem to enjoy the freedoms that of being a liaison.” ~ SK. Medical Science Liaison (Pharma).


“Handling change and ambiguity well is important for an MSL. Reality is constantly being pulled out from under the MSL (and their Manager) all the time. What was a company directive today, may be something completely different tomorrow. A good MSL will recognize this, pull themselves up by the boot straps and start walking in a new direction without a glitch.” ~ DC. Medical Science Liaison Manager (Biotech).


“The ability to effectively leverage a KOL relationship to positively position a product along its lifecycle.” ~ Medical Science Liaison (Biotech).

“Ability to merge science and marketing. As an MSL, one has to report to internal and external clients. Internal clients include sales and marketing, and external include physicians, pharmacists, MCO, administrators and CME coordinators. It is important to be able to navigate in both worlds as different as they might be. We as MSL have to remain true to science however we should not forget who pays our bills.” ~ Medical Science Liaison (Pharma).

“I would say that one success factor to being an effective and successful MSL is really understanding the role for the MSL. MSLs, as we all know, are primarily involved in thought leader and advocate development, and in some cases working with investigator initiated trials. I have talked to some MSLs who are totally focused on the science, sometimes to the point that they forget who they work for and who pays them. A successful MSL will be someone who is passionate about the science but can also use that to develop strong relationships for the company they work for.” ~ DW. Biopharmaceutical Executive Recruiter.


“We have seen today that an effective MSL must demonstrate keen listening skills to understand what their clients are truly asking for. This takes a lot of practice regarding knowing when to stop talking and listen. Second we have seen that the successful MSL should not pre-assess an individual or situation and think that he or she has all the answers. We have found that it is best if the MSL can determine what the community based physician or client contact is interested in and be able to speak about that area intelligently. Finally while the MSL must have clinical credibility, an effective MSL needs to understand that there will be commercial ramifications that tie to the clinical strengths of the product and appreciate that aspect.” ~ GC. Biopharmaceutical Executive Recruiter.