MSL meaning (Medical Science Liaison)

MSL stands for Medical Science Liaison. An MSL is a professional that serves as a bridge between the Healthcare & Life Sciences industry and research and academic circles.

This article has been reviewed by Ana Codallo, Chief Technology Officer @ KOL — 2023-02-11

MSL sitting at her desk-400

MSL: Is there a degree?

MSLs come from all walks of life; most commonly, they have an advanced degree and academic credentials that typically include a doctorate or a comparable degree (Ph.D., PharmD, MD), specifically in life sciences. However, there is no degree or credentials specific to MSLs.

MSL: How to become a medical science liaison in the USA?

As mentioned above, most Medical Science Liaisons have a doctorate, most commonly a Ph. D., PharmD., or M.D. degree.

Critical skill sets required for these roles are:

  • Ability to establish and foster relationships
  • Ability to keep up with the latest medical developments
  • Analytical skills, and data analytics experience, are desirable
  • Excellent presentation and communication skills

Is it challenging to start a career as an MSL?

The barrier of entry into the MSL profession historically has been high. However, It is not uncommon for professionals already in the Healthcare industry to take on a MSL role at some point.

Access to new technologies makes it easier than ever for people working in other industries to become MSL professionals and be part of this exciting area of specialization.

In the past, to become an MSL, the individual usually needed to have a pre-existing connection to the industry. Sometimes the link happens organically because of their academic background (doctors know other doctors) or because of past employment. For example, medical sales representatives in big pharmaceutical companies have extensive professional networks that could be conducive to taking on an MSL role at some point in their careers.

With access to new technologies, like KOL's topical database of influence scores, anyone with internet access can now slice and dice the concepts for which a given person may have influence in the real world. This technology changes the game by democratizing access to research insights and making KOL mapping and profiling accessible to anyone, even people with no medical training.

How long does it take to become an MSL?

In the old world, it would take, on average, six to seven years of full-time studies (most bachelor's degrees take four years, plus the time to complete an advanced degree compatible with the profession).

As a side note, during our journey of bringing the KOL technology to life, we crossed paths with many MSL professionals that did not have advanced degrees but had learned how to use our technology to be successful in their roles despite not having an advanced degree in medicine or life sciences.

MSL Salary

MSL salaries and compensation vary greatly depending the location of the role, the size of the company, the level of seniority, and the compensation breakdown. With this caveat, we will offer some figures here compiled from prominent job sites:

MSL Salary in the USA

The average MSL salary in the USA is around $170,000 per year or $82 per hour. Entry-level positions start at $125,000 per year, while most senior MSL make up to $600,000 per year.

MSL Salary in the UK

Junior MSLs in the U.K. can earn between £80,000 and £90,000. MSLs progressing to medical director roles can earn over £250,000.

How do MSLs perform KOL Identification, Mapping, and Profiling?

There are three schools of thought on how to perform KOL Identification and Mapping:

A. "Old school" Mapping: The MSL relies on "KOL panels" or "Expert Panels"; this is: A committee or panel of Senior Doctors who recommend names of colleagues they consider prominent for an area. This approach is, of course, subjective.

B. Middle-man + Diluted subjectivity:This approach is implemented by companies that act as "middle-man" and seek to bring "KOL panels" or "Expert Panels" into the "shared economy" model. Think of an "Uber" of KOL Mapping. This approach works as follows:

  • The company sells the KOL Mapping service to companies operating in the medical space.
  • The company creates a survey and sends it to medical students, usually in third-world countries. The survey asks the medical students to identify whom they think are the top KOLs for the condition of interest.
  • The students are incentivized with small payments or, sometimes, gift cards.
  • The company receives the answers, finds the most frequent names, stores them in a database, and then sells the resulting list multiple times.

This approach is still subjective. Ultimately it is the medical students who are selecting the KOLs. It is, in our opinion, less subjective than the "Old school" method because more people are involved, and they take a majority vote which dilutes the subjectivity.

Major drawbacks of this approach are the turnaround time (days or weeks) and the inability to drill down and rank the KOLs for a specific technical concept. For example, imagine the survey was about "Natural Killer Cells," and the company produces a list of KOLs. It is not trivial to further rank those KOLs for a specific type of N.K. Cell therapy, like "CAR T," for example.

C. Data-science-driven approach: This approach relies on a fully automated technology to offer influence scores (per topic) produced using data science instead of humans (Senior Doctors/Medical Students). KOL's technology falls into this category.

Using data science, KOL's Platform ranks Key Opinion Leaders for any concept that the MSL might be looking for, in less than a second.

For the example above for CAR T cells, the MSL can consult this results page: and download the data and scores to their computer and open the data using Excel.