MSL: Providing Scientific Information to Healthcare Professionals

Communicate relevant scientific information about a specific disease or therapeutic area to a healthcare professional


Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) play a vital role in the healthcare industry, most often in a pharmaceutical, biotechnology, or medical device company. They bring advanced scientific training (90% hold doctorates) in a specialized area and build on that body of scientific knowledge to develop key relationships with doctors, healthcare professionals (HCP), and other decision makers within the medical community. These relationships offer the medical community an expert resource on the science behind medical innovations – drugs, devices, other treatments, etc. – being developed and/or already on the market. MSLs are responsible for learning as much as they can about the science of these innovations, communicating the information to decision makers within the medical community, and maintaining relationships with these colleagues to keep open lines of communication between stakeholders. These positions require strong scientific knowledge, curiosity, and people skills.

The Process

The work of a Medical Liaison is to provide relevant scientific information about a specific disease or therapeutic area to a healthcare professional. Their process is often cyclical as maintaining the relationship is central to their work.

  1. Select audience based on the specific drug or therapy area. Audience consists of key opinion leaders who may be physicians, nurses, or other healthcare providers who could be administering the therapy.
  2. Conduct research to learn more about specific providers.
  3. Identify what information the audience would find most valuable
  4. Reach out/visit offices to try to make an appointment. Be able to articulate your value.
  5. Pitch information to a healthcare professional.Design the conversation depending on how much time is available. You may conduct additional research for this step.
    • 5 minutes = Who I am? What I do? How can I help your patients?
    • 15 minutes = ” + Clinical Trial Data
  6. More time = “ +  High level information about disease state mechanism
  7. Schedule follow up discussion. Suggest a topic for the next interaction based on the first conversation (i.e follow up discussion about a paper that might interest them, additional data, etc.)
  8. Maintain relationship serving as the scientific point of contact to discuss ongoing research, treatment protocols, mechanisms, etc. The goal is to become a trusted advisor.
  9. Repeat Steps 3-7

The exercise:

For this exercise, you are a budding MSL who is building a network. Think of someone in your field that is not an expert in what you research, but shares some general knowledge (i.e., mid-career academic researcher, clinical researcher, clinician, book editor, etc.). Imagine you are trying to schedule an appointment with this person to discuss your research.

Task 1: Identify relevant information to an audience (step 3 of the process)

Select a clinician or clinical researcher in your field of study. Conduct research about their interests and work that will help you to persuade him/her that what you are doing is both interesting and potentially beneficial to them. Consider finding information not only about their scientific work but also their educational background to situate yourself within a network that might help your case.

Make a list of 7 facts you think are most relevant.

Task 2: Pitch information (step 5 of the process)

You run into this person in a coffee shop and have 2 minutes to share information that will pique their interest and lay the groundwork for a longer meeting. Draft a 2 minute “elevator pitch” that explains clearly and succinctly how your work can be of value to them.

While an elevator pitch may seem like a one-sided information dump, the best case is a back and forth to determine what is most important to a given healthcare professional at their level of interest and background knowledge. Think of it like assembling something from Legos – you have many pieces that can fit together and build whatever informational package the healthcare professional wants, but you need to find out what that final product looks like so you can provide the right pieces at the right time. Much of this art is dependent on emotional intelligence and needs to be learned through practice.

Task 3: Draft an outline

Congrats! You successfully scheduled a 30 minute meeting. Draft an outline of talking points for a 10 minutes presentation get a meeting started.

Each slide/topic can be covered in 1 min and leave 2 mins for questions per slide (20 min total). This practice of leaving more time for questions than for presentation is increasingly accepted by the medical community and is currently being taught by top communications firms consulting on presenting scientific and business information. It is important to realize the difference between this style and that of academic presentation, where the goal may be to talk the entire time while anticipating and answering possible questions within the presentation. Psychological research has indicated that building in question time is critical because successfully handling audience objections is more critical to gaining trust than merely presenting information.

The Deliverable

Task 1: List of facts about the audience or stakeholder.

Task 2: A written elevator pitch tailored and based on the knowledge level and demeanor of the healthcare professional and specific therapeutic area info as well as whether they sought out your services or if you are introducing yourself for the first time.

Task 3: Ten-slide talk outline on migraine pathophysiology and therapeutics.

Sample Deliverables:

 Task 1 list:

  1. Undergraduate training – location & mentors
  2. Medical/Graduate training – location, mentors, specialty/research
  3. Residency/Fellowship/Postdoc training – location, mentors, specialty/research
  4. Current position – specialty/research, patient population/animal models, grant funding (e.g. NIH Reporter)
  5. Coworkers/collaborators/rivals – peers, direct reports
  6. Conference attendance
  7. Hobbies

Task 2 pitch:

Hi Dr. X, I’m Dr. Smarty with GenetiCorp covering the therapeutic area of Y. If you haven’t had a chance to meet with an MSL before, I’d like to explore how I can help you out. First, I am able to field therapeutic area and specific product inquiries that my commercial colleagues are not allowed to address. For example, I can speak about the company’s clinical research in depth as well address drug mechanism questions. Second, I can act as a research assistant for your scientific questions – I know you are extremely busy; I can research a topic and give you an answer based on the latest research. Third, I can be an educational resource for you, your colleagues, and staff. I can conduct educational presentations over a meal at an outside venue or at the office. [If applicable an approved external resource is available, one may offer it here]

Task 3 outline:

  • Human cost of migraine (quality of life, healthcare utilization)
  • Historical relevance of migraine in medicine
  • Migraine definition and diagnosis
  • Neurovascular theory
  • Trigeminal feedback model of migraine
  • Migraine therapeutics (acute vs preventive)
  • Acute therapeutics and serotonin
  • Preventive therapeutics and CGRP
  • CGRP therapeutics comparisons
  • CGRP clinical trials
  • Future developments in migraine therapeutics


Skills used to perform this task: 

  • Researching topic in depth
  • Communication
  • Curiosity

Skills used in this field:

  • Making connections – people and information
  • Networking
  • Listening
  • Humility and Patience
  • Handling rejection well
  • Self-motivation

You are viewing a job simulation. To get started, set up SMART Goals to perform this simulation in a reasonable timeline. If you have completed the task, fill out the Self-Reflection Sheet.

Simulation author: Sarah Peterson, PhD in collaboration with Emory University and Georgia Tech’s NIH BEST programs

Simulation vetted by a professional in Atlanta