Medical Science Liaison: A Dead-End Job?

I met a few MSLs when I gave a keynote for a PhD career symposium held jointly by postdoc associations of two research institutions. We chatted about what’s happening in the “MSL industry.”

On the one hand, it’s gratifying for me to see how many people continue to see the MSL career as one of the most interesting and challenging “alternative” careers for healthcare professionals.

On the other hand, I hear from MSLs who want to stay MSLs and not be a manager but some see this as a “dead-end job.”

I’m not talking about new, ambitious MSLs itching for a boost up the management ranks: these are very experienced (think 10+ years) MSLs feeling stagnated and disengaged.

This is a very real concern: not every MSL can (and should) aim for the management tier.

But if you don’t aim for a MSL manager position, how else can you grow as a medical science liaison in the long term?

When I started MSL Institute in 2004 I wrote an article asking MSL directors, “Whose job is this, anyway?” — Whose job is it to keep MSLs engaged in their roles, so that the ones who work best as MSLs will remain challenged and satisfied in their position?

Is this the medical directors’ job, to carve out a better defined career path for these MSLs?

Is it the MSL managers’ job, to engage in constructive dialog about special projects that can pique senior MSLs’ interest?

Is it the MSLs’ job to figure out for themselves what will keep them engaged and take responsibility for their own career engagement? But I’ll hear statements from MSLs like, “that’s giving me more work without giving me a pay raise, why would I want that?”

It’s eerie how the more things change the more they stay the same: we still haven’t figured out MSL career paths in the long term.

We also haven’t figured out demonstrating MSL value but then we’ll enter a major treatise on measuring intangibles.

My personal bias has always been, “It’s up to me to figure out what I want to do with my life when I grow up,” but being a field-based professional comes with its own set of challenges. Being field-based and therefore out of the loop with corporate headquarters means MSLs must have open and frequent communication with people who are supposed to be the “leaders” – MSL managers and MSL directors.

I think MSL career development is a shared responsibility — between MSLs, their managers/directors, and the companies’ executives. But sharing responsibility of this kind takes trust.

Ah, trust between MSLs and management. That’s another soap box.

Is the MSL Job a dead-end job to you?
Jane Chin, Ph.D.