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  • Writer's pictureMeg Martin

Evolution of Clinical Educators in Commercial Healthcare

Very little data on Clinical Educators (CEs) in Commercial Healthcare exists. Most publications are on clinical education in the hospital setting. An article from 2011 by Jen Bonsall states that the concept of CEs “originated in the United Kingdom and migrated to the United States in the late 1990’s, a by-product of the pharmaceutical contracted-sales model.” Prior to that, Clinical Education, for products and pharmaceuticals, was mostly delivered by Clinical Liaisons and Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs). They were PharmDs or Medical Doctors who were strictly separated from sales and marketing. MSLs were utilized for peer to peer education.

Around 2000, more and more companies began exploring the use of nurses to provide patient and healthcare professional education on the delivery of medications by special injection or education on the mitigation of side effects. Fast forward and there is now a vast array of clinical educators serving many purposes. "In all cases, these nurse-educators help both patients and other nurses to understand particular disease states more completely and complex drug regimens, to use medical devices or self-administered injectible drugs appropriately, and to recognize and deal with side effects in order to maximize adherence to medications." - S. Shelly

Current Landscape

Unlike MSLs, most Clinical Educator (CE) programs are overseen by marketing and have some marketing responsibility. It has become a hybrid role of clinical knowledge that indirectly has marketing impact. Ultimately, nurses have a license that requires them to be patient advocates and they receive corporate and legal training to ensure CEs always provide complete product information and fair balance.

This survey of over 100 Clinical Educators (90% identified themselves as nurses), identified the following focus specialties:

Over 64% were direct hire from their company and 31% were Contract Employees (5% classified as other). 73% said in they were required to collaborate with a sales professional or sales account manager in their role. Most clinical reported that in comparison with a sales professional Nurse Educators have more access to key customers or heath care professionals who use their product.

In fair balance, because the survey was open through LinkedIn and shared through network, the likely hood of respondents to be MSLs and non commercial would be skewed. However this should represent meaningful insight into Commercial Clinical Educator roles. I'll continue in a later blog to build out key areas that CEs can have impact and top considerations before building a CE team.

Arrington, Sheila Adams et al. “Pharmaceutical Clinical Educators: A Resource for Advanced Practice Providers.” Journal of the advanced practitioner in oncology vol. 9,1 (2018): 86-89.

Bonsel, Jen. "Clinical Educators and the Changing Promotional Model." PM360 (2011).

Baker J. The power of visualization in patient education. 2012 Retrieved from visualization-in-patient-education.

Shelley S. Putting nursing into the pharmaceutical usage equation. 2009 Retrieved from

Pizzo Philip A, Lawley Thomas J, Rubenstein Arthur H. Role of Leaders in Fostering Meaningful Collaborations Between Academic Medical Centers and Industry While Also Managing Individual and Institutional Conflicts of Interest. JAMA. 2017;317:1729–1730.


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