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A guide to hiring future-ready MSLs

4 Minutes

Medical science liaisons (MSLs) are the behind-the-scenes heroes in the life sciences space....

Medical science liaisons (MSLs) are the behind-the-scenes heroes in the life sciences space. Deciphering complex research and make it palatable for clinical applications, and providing an essential link between regulatory, drug safety, commercial and clinical functions, the importance of effective MSL hiring can’t be overstated.

Let’s explore how the MSL landscape is shifting in 2024 and what employers need to do to keep up, and ensure they’re bringing on board the right talent.


The changing role of the MSL

MSLs are in high demand and rightly so. The healthcare industry needs their expertise more than ever, especially given the challenges the world has faced recently and the increased shift to digitization as a result. The pandemic and post-pandemic health scenarios have turned the spotlight on MSLs, positioning them as essential players in linking research and clinical practice. They're not just researchers, they're communicators, educators, and problem-solvers, connecting the dots between lab insights and practical healthcare solutions.

The recent convergence of science and technology is transforming the MSL landscape. Our MSLs are moving out of the labs and stepping into the digital space. We're talking about harnessing digital channels, electronic health records, and AI to optimize healthcare delivery. It's no longer about just adapting, it's about innovating and leading the change in the industry.


Success as an MSL in 2024

The role of MSLs has evolved significantly over the past decade. We've seen them shift from being product-focused specialists to more patient-centric and data-driven. This transformation can be attributed largely to the advent of digital technology, the democratization of data, and the increased emphasis on real-world evidence.

MSLs are moving away from traditional ways of communicating and building relationships. They're no longer stuck in the hallways of ivory towers but are using digital channels to spread influence and make connections. This shift means the MSLs in 2024 has to be tech-savvy, and understand the digital landscape (and how it’s impacting the pharmaceutical lifecycle) in order to improve go-to-market strategies.

The ability to work with data, have proficiency in digital tools, and showcase adaptability are now essential skills for MSLs. They need to master these to effectively navigate the complexities of the modern healthcare landscape and bridge the gap between scientific research and clinical practice—and as an employer, you need to understand how to identify these skills in your current or future MSL workforce.

Interview questions for MSLs

How do you identify these skills when you’re interviewing a new candidate? Here are some interview questions you can deploy when assessing MSLs against modern requirements.

"Describe a situation where you effectively communicated complex scientific data to non-scientists."

This evaluates their ability to bridge the gap between complex science and practical understanding. You'd want to see how they simplify complex terms without losing accuracy.

"How have you used digital tools to streamline your work as an MSL?"

You're looking to assess their tech proficiency here. A good response would highlight their hands-on experience with digital tools, and how they used them to drive efficiency.

"What strategies do you employ to stay updated with the latest advancements in your field?"

This checks for commitment to continuous learning. Good answers might include participating in webinars, attending networking events or conferences, taking up extracurricular learning opportunities—even contributing to discussion from key voices on LinkedIn.

"How would you handle a situation where a stakeholder disagrees with your scientific advice?"

This assesses their soft skills, particularly conflict resolution and communication. Ideal responses should show they can handle criticism, maintain professionalism, and work towards a resolution.

"Share an instance where your adaptability skills were tested and how you responded."

This probes their ability to adapt in fast-changing situations. Good responses should highlight their ability to stay calm, make swift decisions, and turn challenges into opportunities.

"How do you measure your performance as an MSL? What KPIs do you focus on?"

This gives you insight into what they prioritize and how they align their goals with business objectives; particularly insightful for assessing Senior MSLs.

"What is your approach to building relationships with stakeholders in the healthcare space?"

This evaluates their ability to build strong, productive relationships. Look for strategies that show they understand the importance of trust and mutual respect—bonus if digital tools are mentioned as a method for maintaining relationships.

"What’s the most challenging aspect of being an MSL in the digital age and how do you handle it?"

This checks their grasp of modern challenges and resilience. The response should reflect their understanding of digitization's implications and their strategies to stay relevant.

Collaborating across departments

Technical advancements may be streamlining aspects of the role, but a standout MSL in 2024 doesn't operate in a vacuum—they’re at the heart of cross-departmental collaboration.

This ability to work seamlessly across scientific research, clinical practice, commercial, and regulatory affairs is a key trait for a top-tier MSL—and one that should be assessed in the early stages of engaging or bringing on new candidates. In terms of digital, they may also be engaging with tech and digital marketing departments, and providing insight that helps sales teams make more informed, digitally-driven decisions that increase sales and boost HCP and buyer engagement.

The success strategy for hiring MSLs in 2024

As we've seen, the 2024 MSLs juggle a different remit to that we saw a decade ago. Still deeply scientific, yes, but also digital natives and versatile communicators, playing a key role in connecting research, clinical practice, and commercial interests.

In the interview hot seat, we're digging deeper than just qualifications. We're looking for adaptability, problem-solving skills, and relationship-building. The insightful questions we've explored are your guide here. Once onboarded, fostering cross-departmental collaboration becomes paramount.

To wrap it up, hiring the right MSLs—those that are equipped for our evolving landscape—is an investment set to yield significant returns. Dive in, lean into the process, and here's to your success in hiring the best MSLs this year.

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