Career options for bioscientists
A Medical Science Liaison is a scientific contact between pharmaceutical companies and their clients, the physicians. Their number has been growing in recent years, which makes this work an option for academic scientists.
Medical Science Liaison Jarkko Soronen just returns from a work trip to the interview and starts telling about his job at Bayer.
— This is so called field based medical work. In my case it means that the work area covers the whole of Finland and 75% of the work is traveling. When I started, I anticipated that much traveling as a heavy load but in fact, it has been nice and very varying.
Soronen tells that a Medical Science Liaison of a pharmaceutical company is meant to maintain customer relations to the leading research physicians in a university hospital, for instance. The purpose of the work is to provide unbiased scientific information about the company products to clients. Typically, a Medical Science Liaison is a doctor of biosciences or a doctor of medicine.
— I discuss scientific data with the physicians and give them the latest information concerning the reseach around the pharmaceutical in question. The idea of this mutual scientific exchange is to find the right target group and to promote the safe use of the product. My job is not at all to sell the drug and it is important to distinguish those two roles from each other. My job is to give scientific support for Bayer products but I also need to know about other drugs, which are used in the same therapeutic area. In general, the non-marketing nature of the work allows me to discuss the related scientific questions more broadly. Moreover, sometimes the customers ask such detailed questions that I have to carry out a literature search to find the answer. That is not so different from the work of a scientist, is it? says Soronen.
— All in all, in my opinion this is one of the best jobs for a PhD from a biomedical field who wants to change career after academic science in the university. Here you do not do the actual research but follow closely the recent results and can sometimes, for example, help in coordinating clinical trials. This gives a good outlook on current pharmaceutical development, states Soronen.
— I work in the medical department of Bayer and in collaboration with our business unit. Due to the nonpromotional nature of my work I usually schedule my meetings with the customers myself. Yearly activities are, however, outlined together. After all, we work with the same products and the same customers.
How to become a Medical Science Liaison?
— Nowadays there is always a huge number of applicants for open vacancies. What I consider to be the most important requirement for the first position in the pharmaceutical industry is a good match between your own research background and the therapeutic area in question, says Soronen. It means it is good if you have been able to orientate towards a certain therapeutic field of medicine.
— What else is important in this work are general oral and written presentation and social skills. It is also worth staying persistent in job hunting. Once you have got the first position things get easier, promises Soronen.
— Although I came from the biomedical field of research there was a lot to study before the actual work started. At Bayer the newcomers go through a three month introductory period, which is completed with an exam. Although I had research experience in vascular diseases and it helped quite a lot, I still had to study a great deal to become familiar with the clinical aspect, Soronen explains. On top of that, I had to read all the clinical trials conducted with the drug I was going to work with. When new drugs will become my responsibility in the future, there will again be a lot of introductory studying.
Positive points and challenges
— As a Medical Science Liaison I can largely customise my own work and I like this very much, says Soronen. I give scientific lectures, follow recent research and results and, for example, participate in national and international conferences.
— These job opportunities are now available more than before. The pharmaceutical companies consider the objective scientific contacts to bring added value to their business and that is why this can be considered a job of the future, states Soronen. The role is at its best in the launching phase of a new pharmaceutical. When a new drug is coming to the market it is most useful to discuss the studies that have been carried out. So, this is where the research background of a scientific liaison is needed, Soronen explains.
The most valuable and challenging part of the work is to create new customer contacts and to maintain the existing ones. The purpose is to create a good customer relationship with mutual scientific exchange.
— When building a new contact the first email must be carefully constructed and attractive. I have to convince the physicians that I offer just the information they need. I either organize the introductory visit to a new hospital myself or go together with a product specialist.
— What can also be considered a challenge is the very dynamic nature of this work. There are many projects going on at the same time and you have to be there for the customers when they have some burning questions. You have to be able to manage timetables and coordinate projects during traveling. Fortunately, a train is a good place to work, says Soronen smiling.
How about career prospects for a Medical Science Liaison?
— Similarly to other specialist positions, a clear career path there is not, says Soronen. However, the pharmaceutical industry offers different kinds of opportunities and working as a Medical Science Liaison is a way to get experience also for other posts in the field. In big international companies there is also the option to move to international positions within the company. In addition, government and EU agencies provide positions that require pharmaceutical expertise and for these, you just have to just keep your eyes open, Soronen recommends.
— Of course, everything depends on your own career goals. Some, also here at Bayer, stay in the same positions for a long time, while others change more frequently. When you have acquired experience in various positions, you can also aim at manager level, if you want to, Soronen concludes.
Text Katri Pajusola