MSL Highlights & Challenges

Happy New Year! As our team has recently been reflecting on the past and present, we have been reminded of how grateful we are to work specifically in Medical Affairs. A big thank you first and foremost to everyone who has trusted us with their career journeys. As PharmaFinders moves into 2023, we cannot wait to see what’s in store.   

I have been recruiting in Medical Affairs and the MSL space for over 5 years now. Prior to becoming a recruiter, I was on a pre-PA track and had no clue what an MSL was. When I finally did jump into Medical Affairs, I also realized none of my friends or family really understood the role either and my explanation always elicited more questions and curiosity. I’m sure most MSLs can relate to this whenever anyone ask, “What do you do for a living?”. This is never going to be a quick explanation; It’s just not as common of a profession as others in research and in the pharmaceutical realm. In conjunction, the need for MSLs continue to grow as more and more pharmaceutical and biotech companies continue to have successful pipelines and invest in research. So, we have a growing field with not enough awareness… 

The need to share information is there! I love being able to speak to aspiring MSLs and young professionals alike, explaining what an awesome career path Medical Affairs can offer. However, not everything in this field (or any job for that matter) will be rainbows and sunshine. That is why I want to spread honest awareness surrounding the role. If you or anyone you know is considering a career path as an MSL, check out some highlights and challenges I’ve been able to gather through countless conversations with MSLs, both current and former. Remember, a lot of this can be varied based on your perspectives!  

Highlights of the MSL role: 

  • This is a very social/relationship focused role and networking is a large piece.
  • Being on the cutting edge of product innovation and science.
  • Ability to dig deep on a scientific topic.
  • The opportunity to travel to new places and collaborate with colleagues all over the U.S. (and globally).
  • Patient advocacy and making a true impact on patient care.
  • Flexibility to make your own schedule and work from home on days you are not in the field.
  • Career growth. An MSL can be a starting platform for you and there isn’t one linear path for career growth. You can move into a lot of different roles or stay as a lifer MSL.

Challenges of the MSL role: 

  • Must be self-motivated. You must effectively manage your time and be accountable without someone hovering over you day-to-day.
  • Travel. Expect as an MSL to travel 50% or more for a job, which could also mean less time at home.  Work/life balance can be a struggle for some.
  • There is a lot of admin and documenting that goes into being an MSL that can be time consuming and hard to manage with outside looming project deadlines.  
  • Struggles to find a consistent daily routine. Traveling more often can cause poor eating habits and exercise to slow down.  
  • KOL access. KOLs can be hard to contact or reach, and you must be persistent while minding EQ. 
  • Potential job uncertainty. Layoffs can happen at any moment, whether at a large or small company (drugs/trials could fail, large companies reorg/downsize, etc.).
  • It can be challenging to learn a new or specific disease state that you have not had experience with.  
  • If coming from a clinical setting, missing the hands-on direct patient care work.  

In a couple of weeks, I am headed back to my alma mater, the University of Michigan, to speak with undergrad students in the Department of Psychology regarding my career path, including details on the MSL role. If you are willing to share, I’d love to hear your personal thoughts, both positive and negative, on the industry and MSL position! Share your perspective below or feel free to email me directly!  

Heather