Study reveals average salary and starting salary levels for both Medical Science Liaisons and MSL management in the U.S.
Dr. Samuel Dyer
The Medical Science Liaison Society
Dr. Samuel Dyer
Conflicts of Interest
The author declares no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.
Medical Science Liaison, Compensation, Medical Science Liaison Salary
The Medical Science Liaison Society recently conducted the 2nd annual global survey on Salary and Compensation levels for both Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) and MSL Management. The 2014 survey was the industry’s first global survey conducted on MSL salary and compensation. The primary purpose of the 2015 survey was to gain insights into current global MSL salary and compensation levels across pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical devices, and other healthcare companies.
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. However, prior to the global MSL Salary & Compensation Survey conducted by the MSL Society, there has never been a reliable nor robust source for MSL salary and compensation levels.
The 2015 survey includes 1,259 MSL professionals from 69 countries, and is the largest database of MSL salaries in the world. As a result, it is the most comprehensive and reliable resource on both U.S. and global MSL salary and compensation levels.
However, what follows is a subset of the full report which includes only U.S. data focusing on various specific salary calculations for both MSLs and MSL leadership never revealed previously.
The 2015 MSL Salary & Compensation survey includes 1,259 MSL professionals from 69 countries. The original report and data was made available in multiple versions including the overall global results and 9 individual countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, U.K., and USA.
The online survey was open from November 9th to December 31st, 2015 using Survey Gizmo survey software. Both fully completed and partial surveys were counted in the results. The survey was only open to current MSLs (or equivalent title) and MSL management. Respondents were only allowed to participate one time and duplicate surveys from a single email address were not accepted. The survey results were not weighted.
Respondents were invited to participate in the survey through a range of sources including:
- Announcements in the “Medical Science Liaison & Medical Affairs Networkers” LinkedIn group as well as other LinkedIn groups
- The MSL Society electronic newsletter
- Personal direct LinkedIn contacts of the author
As this was not a probability-based sample, calculating the theoretical margin of sampling error is not applicable. However, as with probability surveys, it is important to keep in mind that results are estimates and typically vary within a narrow range around the actual value that would be calculated by interviewing everyone in a population. Again, as with probability surveys, on occasion the results from a particular question will be completely outside a typical interval of error.
There are many types of survey error that can limit the ability to generalize to a population. Throughout the research process, The MSL Society followed a Total Survey Quality approach designed to minimize error at each stage.
The U.S. data includes 600 MSL professionals consisting of 516 Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) and 84 MSL Leaders. When split by gender for all participants in the U.S., 51% of the respondents were male, and 49% were female. The U.S. data includes MSL professionals across company types (pharmaceutical, biotechnology, clinical research organizations (CRO), diagnostic, and medical device) and various formal educational levels representing a wide range of years of experience. The salary calculations in each figure are for base salaries only and do not include bonuses and other compensation.
The first question of the survey asked if the participant was currently an MSL or MSL management. (See Figure 1) Only those who responded as being currently in one of these two roles were allowed to continue with the survey. In the survey, the majority of respondents from the U.S. reported being an MSL.
As expected there is a difference in salary levels between MSLs and those in MSL management. The average was calculated based on whether a respondent identified themselves as an MSL or MSL manager. (See Figure 2). Salaries for an MSL manager are considerably higher than those for an MSL. In our study MSL managers are are paid 33% more than MSLs.
The survey then asked participants to specify their role based on a number of choices. (See Figure 3) The majority of participants were either MSLs or Sr. MSLs. Interestingly, some that identified themselves as an MSL in the first question, chose “Manager/Director of MSLs” for this question presumably because they are performing dual roles as an MSL while simultaneously managing a team of MSLs.
Presumably the greater amount of responsibility in one’s role will result in a higher salary. The average salary based on current role was calculated to highlight this. (See Figure 4) There is a clear progression of higher salaries correlated with an increasingly amount of responsibility. For example, on average, a Sr. MSL salary is 21% higher than an MSL.
The survey also asked participants to identify their company type. (See Figure 5) Those in the pharmaceutical industry represented 77% of all participants in the survey. Medical Device, CRO, and Diagnostic companies represented a small percentage of participants. However, it is expected that these company types will represent a much larger percentage in future studies due to the growth of the MSL role at these company types.
There are differences in the level of compensation an MSL can expect based on the type of company they work for. (See Figure 6) On average, MSLs can expect the highest salaries when working for either a Biotechnology or Large Pharmaceutical company. For example, when compared to another company type, on average, Biotechnology companies pay 8% more than Medium Pharmaceutical companies.
Interestingly for MSL managers, they can also expect, on average, the highest salaries when working for either a Biotechnology or Large Pharmaceutical company as well. (See Figure 7)
For example when compared to another company type, on average, Biotechnology companies pay 15% more than Medium Pharmaceutical companies.
The survey also asked participants how many years of MSL and/or MSL management experience they had. (See Figure 8) The majority (62%) of MSLs were relatively new to the role with less than 5 years of experience.
Generally, an MSL can expect a sizeable salary increase as they gain years of experience. (See Figure 9) On average, an MSL can expect almost a 33% increase in their base salary across a 15+ year career in the role. With 5-6 years of experience, on average an MSL can expect a 27% increase in their base salary. The average starting salary for an MSL across all company types is $123,000.
In contrast to MSLs, those that identified themselves as a “Manager / Director of MSLs
(or equivalent title)” were more experienced as a group. (See Figure 10) The majority (52%) of MSL managers had 9+ years of experience.
As with MSLs, Manager / Director of MSLs can also expect sizable increases in their base salary with experience. (See Figure 11) On average a Manager / Director of MSLs can expect a 25% increase in their base salary across a 15+ year career in the role. With 5-6 years of experience, on average a Manager / Director can expect a 19% increase in their base salary. In this limited sample size, the average starting salary for a Manager / Director across all company types is $162,000.
Salary and compensation is one of the most important factors in successfully recruiting and retaining the best MSL talent. The results of the MSL Salary and Compensation Survey conducted by the MSL Society provides reliable insights into current MSL salary and compensation levels across pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical devices, and other healthcare companies. Compensation for both MSLs and MSL managers are influenced by several factors including specific role, years of experience, and company type. The strongest factor impacting base salaries for MSLs is years of experience. On average an MSL can expect an almost 33% increase in their base salary across a 15+ year career in the role.
The importance of the survey conducted by the MSL Society is evident by the fact that salary information specific to the MSL role from traditional salary sources such as the Society for Human Resources Management or third-party websites such as PayScale.com, Glassdoor.com, or Salary.com are both very limited and unreliable. The use of this new survey data will assist companies and specifically human resources management professionals to reliably determine the most appropriate salary bands for both MSL and MSL management, by taking into consideration specific factors that impact salary such as years of experience, education, and possibly others. Although The Society for Human Resources Management has very limited specific MSL salary data, they do recommend that human resources professionals regularly evaluate available market data such as the 2015 MSL Salary and Compensation report conducted by The Medical Science Liaison Society to determine fair market value for positions.
It’s crucial for companies to ensure the compensation they offer is competitive by benchmarking against others in their industry and region. The 2015 survey conducted by the MSL Society is the largest and most robust database of MSL salaries in the world. As a result, it is the most comprehensive and reliable resource on both U.S. and global MSL salary and compensation levels. The information gathered from this survey will allow companies to utilize the information to confidently make important business decisions related to MSL and MSL management salary and compensation levels. Furthermore reliable salary information like this survey may ultimately help both recruit and retain top MSL talent.
2015 Global Survey of Medical Science Liaison Salary and Compensation, Medical Science Liaison Society, 2015.
The full Global MSL Salary and Compensation Report and 9 individual country reports, which reveals details of these findings and other insights, is available for free for all members of the MSL Society under the resource section of the society website www.themsls.org.