Discover The Training Your MSLs Need The Most: Here's Our Insights

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In a recent webinar, with over 250 medical and commercial pharmaceutical professionals in rapt attendance, we asked a simple question. What skills and knowledge would MSLs most benefit from developing?  

We were stunned by their answers. 

  • Commercial awareness – 26% 
  • Versatility – 23% 
  • Communication skills – 22% 
  • Leadership skills – 17% 
  • Meeting skills – 12% 


MSLs (Medical Science Liaison) ensure that doctors are fully informed with the latest science and data affecting the treatment of certain conditions. This may include discussions on clinical research or the off-licence use of medicines.  

MSL is a common title although Regional Medical Advisors, Medical Science Managers, Medical Managers and even Scientific Advisors, can all find themselves doing very similar jobs.  

So, what do these medical, customer-facing roles need to know, and what do they need to be able to do, in addition to being an expert in a disease area and their medicines portfolio? 


Commercial Awareness 

Every company has its own rules about how commercial their MSLs can be. The general understanding is “not very”.  

For MSLs to retain the privilege of peer-to-peer conversations, and access to key prescribers and opinion leaders, they have to avoid commercial bias. This usually means no sales targets, no marketing tools and no brand related objectives.  

However, MSLs are an expensive resource, sponsored by industry, and so it makes sense that their activities and energy should be focused in a direction that is aligned with business priorities.  

Whilst MSLs work reactively to the scientific and clinical information needs of prescribers, the majority of their work should fall within the priority therapeutic areas and brands of their employers. Locally they should understand how their commercial colleagues are seeking to improve patient care, so that they can provide relevant scientific data, information and education to help. 



Specifically inter-personal versatility. This is the ability to flex your communication style to better meet the needs of the healthcare professional that you are seeking to educate and inform.  

It is easy to assume that everyone wants to give and receive information just the way you do. But research over the last 50 years has demonstrated very clear, and different communication preferences. Models such as Tracom’s Social Style illustrates this. Some clinicians clearly need more detail than others. Many are very factual whilst others are keen to hear opinions and practical experiences.  

The right training, from specialists such as Excel, can apply these models and develop an MSL’s skills so that they can spot someone’s communication preferences and then adapt their style to best suit.  

Results are greater rapport and clearer communication with more customers, more of the time. And of course, with colleagues, friends and family as well.  


Communication Skills  

When an MSL engages with a healthcare professional face-to-face, by video call or phone there are four things they need to achieve. Firstly they need to Connect with the customer. This combines rapport, credibility and a common interest. If any of these are missing the meeting will fail.  

Connecting creates the trust needed to Understand. To ask questions, respectfully challenge ideas and really listen to what is being said. Or unsaid. 

Understanding provides the insight to Position your relevant science, data or evidence in a versatile way. So that it is understandable and informative.  

And having positioned your research the meeting can successfully conclude with Commitment towards whatever next steps will best help patients and clinicians.  

Focusing training on achieving outcomes, rather than just following a process, is transformational for MSLs.  


Leadership Skills 

MSLs are the hub with links to sales, marketing, clinical and scientific. They need to lead the team to support and inform patients and prescribers. But they usually have to do so without authority or positional power.  

Leadership for MSLs is about being a VIP: Visionary means sharing a clear sense of what needs to be achieved to benefit the management of patients. Informed is knowing the science, the data and the people who can make it happen. Proactive is stepping up to make it happen, rather than waiting for colleagues to make the first move. 

VIPs can be the local leaders, essential to orchestrating resources for disease management.  


Meeting Skills 

MSLs find themselves attending and running a wide variety of meetings from external Advisory Boards to internal training events. Being a versatile and communicative leader will enable MSLs to achieve the 4C’s which every meeting should follow. 

The four phases of every meeting are: Cohesion so that everyone attending knows what they are there to achieve. Communication, ensuring that everyone hears and is heard. Consensus which brings everyone to a single point of agreement. And Commitment towards taking next steps.  


What is crucial is that training is tailored to your MSLs, avoiding any commercial taint in the language or skills addressed. And at the same time recognising the senior, experienced nature of the audience.  

If in doubt reach out to a specialist learning consultancy such as Excel Communications who have specialised in this field for more than 35 years. Just get in touch with us for a no-commitment conversation about how your MSLs can work even more effectively. 

Thank you,


Nic & The Excel Team

P.S. If you would like to discuss any of your other learning & development challenges, book in your discovery call.


About Excel Communications

Excel Communications is a learning and development consultancy based near London in the U.K. For more than 30 years; we have been collaborating with clients across the globe.  

Partnering with Excel empowers you to evolve your people and business by fuelling a love for learning.   

We work with you to create unforgettably, customised learning experiences to achieve your vision of success and growth, with tangible results.   

View our case studies here.