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 MSL Society conducted the first-ever MSL salary survey in 2014. The 2021 survey includes 2,149 MSL professionals from 69 countries, making it the largest database of MSL salaries, and as a result, it is the most comprehensive and authoritative resource on global MSL salary and compensation levels.
Like previous years, the primary purpose of the survey was to gain insights into current global MSL salary and compensation levels across pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical devices, and other healthcare companies that employ MSLs.
Individual country reports were created for all countries that received a sizeable number of responses. Based on the data gathered data, the 2021 Salary & Compensation Survey is available in 17 versions including the overall global results and 16 individual country reports: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Turkey, U.K., and USA. However, this article will focus only on the U.S. results (all other reports and data is available on the MSL Society website).
The 2021 MSL Salary & Compensation online survey was open from August 24th to November 26th. The survey was only open to current MSLs (or equivalent title), MSL management, MSL operations, and executive 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. Partial responses that included salary data were included in this report as well, meaning that the N value in some tables will not add up to the total report N.
Respondents were invited to participate in the survey through a range of sources including:
- Announcements in the MSL Society LinkedIn group “Medical Science Liaison & Medical Affairs Networkers” as well as other LinkedIn groups
- The MSL Society newsletter
- Personal direct LinkedIn contacts
The U.S. data includes 1,355 current MSL professionals consisting of 1,066 Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs), 196 MSL Managers/Directors, 53 in Executive Management/Vice President of Medical Affairs, 16 in MSL Excellence/Operations, and 24 identifying as Others. When split by gender for all participants in the U.S., 41% of the respondents were male, 58% were female, and less than 1% identified themselves under the category “Other”. The U.S. data includes MSL professionals across all company types (i.e., pharmaceutical, biotechnology, clinical research organizations (CRO), diagnostic, and medical device) and educational backgrounds representing a wide range of years of experience. The salary calculations in each figure represent only base salary and do not include other compensation.
The survey also asked participants to identify their company type. Those in the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industry represented 85% of all U.S. participants in the survey, with 36%, 23%, 26% representing Large, Medium, and Small Pharmaceutical/Biotechnology companies respectively. Medical Device, CRO, Diagnostic companies, and “Other” comprised the remaining 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.
The type of company an MSL or MSL manager works for will be a contributing factor on their base salary and overall compensation. On average, MSLs can expect the highest salaries when working for a Large, Medium, or Small Pharmaceutical/Biotechnology company. For example, an MSL working at a Small Pharmaceutical/Biotechnology company can expect, on average, 15% higher salary than an MSL working at a Diagnostic company (see figure 1).
U.S. MSL/Sr. MSL Salary based on Company Type
Interestingly, Large, Medium, or Small Pharmaceutical/Biotechnology companies also pay higher salaries for MSL managers than other company types as well (see figure 2).
U.S. Manager/Director of MSLs Salary based on Company Type
As has been demonstrated in previous annual salary surveys, the years of experience has a substantial impact on the average base salary as well. While the overall average base salary for an MSL in the U.S. in 2021 is $175,066, there is a considerable range in salaries based on years of experience. For example a new MSL in the U.S. can expect, on average, a starting base salary of $157,482, while those with 11-15 years of experience can expect a base salary of $197,250 (see figure 3).
U.S. MSL/Sr. MSL Salary based on Years of Experience
Years of experience has a substantial impact on the average base salary for MSL managers as well. The overall average base salary for an MSL manager in the U.S. was $221,230 and in general as a manager gains more experience, they can expect increasingly larger base salaries (see figure 4).
U.S. Manager/Director of MSLs Salary based on Years of Experience
It’s crucial for companies to ensure the compensation they offer is competitive and that their MSLs and managers are satisfied with their compensation to ensure retention. The survey revealed that the majority of both U.S. based MSLs (80%) and MSL managers (74%) are “Very Satisfied” or “Satisfied” with their pre-tax annual base salary (see figures 5 & 6).
U.S. MSLs: How satisfied are you with your pre-tax annual base salary?
U.S. Manager/Director of MSLs: How satisfied are you with your pre-tax annual base salary?
The importance of the annual survey conducted by the MSL Society is evident by the fact that 60% of U.S. based Executive Management/Vice President of Medical Affairs and 50% of U.S. based MSL Managers utilize the MSL Society’s annual MSL Salary & Compensation Survey as part of their salary benchmark data (see figure 7).
U.S. Do you utilize the MSL Society’s annual MSL Salary & Compensation Survey as part of your salary benchmark data?
The results of the MSL Salary and Compensation Survey conducted by the MSL Society provide 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 academic background (education), therapeutic area, years of experience, and company type. However, the factor that has the greatest impact on the base salary for MSLs and MSL managers is years of experience.
The 2021 survey conducted by the MSL Society is the largest and most robust database of MSL salaries in the world to date. As a result, it is the most comprehensive and reliable resource on both U.S. and global MSL salary and compensation levels. The use of this data each year assists MSL leaders, HR, and other decision makers make more informed decisions regarding salary and compensation levels.
2021 MSL Salary and Compensation, USA Results, Medical Science Liaison Society, 2021.
The full Global MSL Salary and Compensation Report and 16 individual country reports, which reveal details of these findings and other insights, are available for free for all members of the MSL Society under the resource section of the society website www.themsls.org.
Dr. Samuel Dyer has over 21 years of experience within the International MSL community while working for a number of top global companies. During his career, he has led MSL / Medical Teams in multiple TA’s in over 60 countries throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, Africa, Middle East, Australia, and Asia.
His management experience includes small (2+) to large (240+) MSL teams across multiple TA’s. Throughout his career, Dr. Dyer has worked on MSL and Medical Affairs strategy and has extensive experience in creating strategic MSL utilization and medical communication plans. He has designed and created global MSL training programs that have included: onboarding programs, KOL Medical communication plans, strategic assessments, planning, and execution in geographical locations with diverse cultures /languages. Dr. Dyer has successfully launched both pharmaceutical and medical device MSL teams both in the U.S. and internationally.
Dr. Dyer has also written extensively on the Medical Science Liaison role, including numerous published articles, benchmark studies, and reports. Dr. Dyer is well recognized within the global MSL community and has developed an extensive international network within the Pharmaceutical, CRO, Medical Device, and Biotechnology industries. He is the owner of the largest group on LinkedIn for MSLs and Medical Affairs with over 25,000 members. He has spoken and moderated several international conferences on various MSL topics including KOL management, creating MSL teams, MSL training, international MSL teams, and the value of the MSL role and Medical Affairs. Dr. Dyer is consistently sought out as a resource and consultant for MSL projects that have included diverse companies such as McKinsey Consulting, Bain and Co., and Philips Healthcare.
Dr. Dyer has a Ph.D. in Health Sciences and did medical training in Chicago. He has a Master’s Degree in Tropical Biology (where he studied in the Amazon) and has a B.S. in Biology. Dr. Dyer also completed a certificate program for Executive Leadership and Strategy in Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology at the Harvard Business School.
Dr. Dyer is the author of the Amazon #1 Best Seller “The Medical Science Liaison Career Guide: How to Break into Your First Role” (www.themslbook.com) which is the first book published on how to break into the MSL role.