They say the only constant is change. No group may understand that more than the pharmaceutical industry—and medical science liaisons (MSLs) have been riding that wave of change since the profession saw its origins in the 1960s. As the stakes have never been higher with the United States leading the world in healthcare innovation, the spotlight has continued to shine on the important role that MSLs play in research and development. This is, no doubt why the profession is enjoying exponential growth—a career choice paying off for U.S. MSLs, in particular.
Last month, the Medical Science Liaison Society was proud to release a first-of-its-kind report in the wake of a global salary and compensation survey which included more than 1,350 MSLs, MSL Managers and medical affairs executives from 65 countries. The study was engineered by the MSL Society—a non-profit organization devoted to the advancement of the MSL profession in pharmaceuticals and other healthcare industries. The survey was conducted with support from society partner, Thought Leader Select, a U.S.-based firm that works with commercial and medical affairs teams in life sciences companies to optimize their collaborations with key opinion leaders (KOLs) in medicine.
It Pays to be American
Among the more significant findings, the report determined the average starting salary of an MSL in the U.S. to be $121,712. The average salary of an MSL with more than 15 years of experience in the U.S. is $168,429. Notably, the team found comparable salaries in other advanced nations to be demonstrably lower. In Canada, average salaries were approximately 10% lower, while compensation for MSLs in Western Europe (home to several of the top global biopharmaceutical and device firms by annual revenue) landed 25% below that of their American counterparts. Salaries in other countries across the world came in at an even larger deficit.
While a number of variables to explain the discrepancies are at play, Dr. Samuel Dyer, Chairman of the Board for the MSL Society, cites both size of the U.S. market relative to others around the globe, as well as the maturity of the profession in the U.S. market. “The United States is far and away the largest commercial market in the world, and those who earn MSL roles in the U.S. are in more lucrative positions,” states Dyer. “MSLs in other countries, with similar credentials and performing similar work, are paid according to the commercial realities of those markets.”
“And with age, the role has evolved so much here in North America,” says Dyer. “Whereas MDs previously dominated the vocation—and still do in other nations—the U.S. in particular has seen a proliferation of MSLs with a range of degrees, including PhDs, PharmDs and RNs. Moreover, diversity isn’t only good for salaries; it’s good for the profession—and the industry. Bringing more perspectives to the table ultimately benefits patient outcomes and public health.”
The salary report was compiled using an infographic-style with more than 250 pages of data representing six distinct regions: The U.S., North America, South America, Europe, Africa/Middle East and Asia/Pacific. The report includes detailed breakdowns across salary ranges, salary by degree type (i.e., MD, PhD, PharmD), salary by role (MSL, Senior MSL), salary by years of experience, and salary by company type (large pharma, small pharma, startup biotech).
“We are very excited to share this important resource with the global MSL community,” says Dyer. “Salary and compensation is clearly one of the most important factors in successfully recruiting and retaining the best MSL talent. It’s crucial for companies to ensure the compensation they offer is competitive by benchmarking against others in their industry and region.” The full report is available free to all members of the MSL Society.