Contract MSL is a 2.5 Full-Time Job

In this article, I’ll talk about how the contract MSL market has changed, and what this means to you as an
aspiring MSL.

In the old days, contract MSL jobs were the low hanging fruits to break into the MSL position. Aspiring MSLs – and even many companies – viewed contract MSL agencies as providers of “entry level” MSLs.

There really is no such thing as an “entry level” MSL, it was a way to describe industry-naive MSLs or professionals who have had industry experience but had never worked as MSLs.

In the recent years, however, more pharmaceutical companies are increasingly using contract MSLs as 1 year “temps”.

Pharmaceutical companies that have compounds in development may not always want to spend money hiring full time MSLs to support a developing product: if the product fails in clinical development, companies now had an additional worry about headcount.

So companies get contract MSLs to save on the cost of headcount, and reduce their commitment to you as an employee. As a contract MSL, your paycheck will not come from the pharmaceutical company that you’re representing. It comes from the contract company that has hired you.

What’s more, companies are now asking contract agencies to get experienced MSLs. It’s an employers’ market right now, where many experienced MSLs have been laid off in 2008 and 2009 and are floating between contract jobs.

What this means for you as an aspiring medical science liaison:

1. You may face the same kind of challenges with contract companies as you do applying through MSL recruiters or directly with MSL employers.

For example, I recently worked with a recruiter from a contract MSL agency, who specifically asked for MSLs with at least 3 years of experience (at first she said 4 years, but she decided that would narrow the net so much that she may not get anyone she wanted).

Many of the MSLs in the United States who do not have an advanced degree (PhD, PharmD, MD) are beginning to sign up with contract agencies because they are having a tough time being hired directly by big pharmaceutical companies that absolutely require a doctorate degree. These experienced, non-doctorate level MSLs may work in special pharmaceutical companies or start-up biotech companies.

2. You will be signing up for 2.5 full time jobs.

If you get hired as a contract MSL, you will spend the first year a) learning how to work as a MSL and b) learning the ropes around the contract company and c) learning how to work as a contract MSL straddling the company that’s paying you and the company you’re supposed to represent. That is no easy task even for people who have worked as MSLs before. It counts as 1.5 jobs based on your learning curve.

The other “full time job” you’ll end up doing almost immediately, is finding another job. I know you just got this job, but it lasts a year. Even if they tell it’s a 2 year contract, it is not guaranteed to you to even last 1 full year. A contract team was axed after only 4 months because of stalls in the client company’s drug development, and newly hired MSLs were all on their own to find a new job; the contract company had nothing else for them.

Contract MSL agencies – like recruiters – work for the client companies, and their interests are naturally aligned with the side that pays them.

When you look to contract agencies as an entry route, know that it comes with certain risks. Then make plans to manage those risks, so you’ll be prepared if you should ever have to use them.