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Certification vs. Certificate

What is the difference?

Certification Program

The purpose of a board certification is to validate through examination the knowledge and skills you’ve already acquired.

An important criteria for certifications that adhere to international standards is that they DO NOT REQUIRE one to complete training modules prior to taking a certification exam. The MSL-BC® allows professionals working as Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) or managing a team of MSLs to demonstrate their competency, skill and knowledge by passing the examination.

Board Certification Programs

  • MSL-BC® from the Medical Science Liaison Society
  • ACRP-CP® from The Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP)
  • RAC from Regulatory Affairs Professional Society (RAPS)

A certification typically recognizes the comprehensive scope of knowledge and skills needed to competently perform all of the key professional responsibilities associated with a job role.

Board Certified individuals are required to participate in ongoing professional development to maintain their certification status.

The assessment process in a certification program is designed to validate and confirm an individual possesses the knowledge and skills necessary for competent performance in a job role.

Certificate Program

The purpose of a certificate program is to simply provide education/training through which you can acquire knowledge.

An important criteria for certificate programs is that they DO REQUIRE one to complete training modules.
If an exam is a part of a certificate training program, the exam simply evaluates what was covered during the training.

Training Certificate Programs

  • MSL Presentation and Communication Skills Certificate program from the MSL Society
  • Certified Quality Manager Training from ACRP
  • RAPS’ Online University Pharmaceutical Certificate



A certificate typically recognizes participation in a learning program focused on a narrow set of learning objectives.

Those who complete a certificate program typically are not required to participate in ongoing professional development.

IF a certificate program includes an assessment process, it is designed to evaluate whether the participant has achieved the learning objectives of that program.

How does the MSL-BC® compare to other certification programs?

The Medical Science Liaison-Board Certification exam (MSL-BC®) is the first-ever board certification for the Medical Science Liaison profession and is an effort to establish industry recognized standards for the MSL profession. These standards were created by 23 MSL leaders with extensive experience in the profession.

The MSL-BC® exam is the ONLY Board Certification program for MSLs and MSL Leaders which has been designed to meet stringent certification industry standards and best practices established by the two national organizations (NCCA and ANSI) that accredit certification programs. As a result the MSL-BC® cannot be compared with any other program.

The primary purpose of the MSL-BC® Certification Exam is to assess and evaluate one’s acquired skills and knowledge related to the MSL profession. It is a way to demonstrate one’s knowledge and skills through examination. In contrast, although there are other programs advertised for MSLs and Medical Affairs, these are simply training programs that offer a certificate of completion of that training.

Is the MSL-BC® Accredited?

Not yet. In the US, there are two sets of standards and two national organizations (NCCA and ANSI) that accredit certification programs.

To earn accreditation and to comply with the NCCA Standards for the Accreditation of Certification Programs and according to NCCA application procedures, an organization needs to administer the certification for at least 1 year OR test at least 500 candidates. The MSL Society has begun the process (by beginning to administer the exam) and will follow these procedures rigorously and will apply immediately when we are eligible.

The MSL-BC® exam has been designed in accordance with testing industry standards for validity and reliability. The exam has been designed to meet stringent certification industry standards and best practices. To learn more about the development process of the MSL-BC® program, visit this page.

Are there other accredited board certifications for MSLs and Medical Affairs?

No. Neither NCCA nor ANSI have accredited any program as a board certification for MSLs or Medical Affairs because, currently, there are no programs that meet the standards defined by both of these organizations for a “certification” (although we will be applying for accreditation for the MSL-BC® when we are eligible).

Training or certificate of completion programs have separate accreditation standards and processes and can be accredited as certificate training or educational programs. These should not be confused with the much more rigorous “certification” designation and accreditation.

Why is Board Certification Valued by Professionals?

In all occupations and professions, certification is viewed as a professional qualification, signifying to employers, regulators, and the public that the holder of the credential possesses the breadth and depth of knowledge and skills needed to competently perform the job role.


Benefits of earning the MSL-BC® Credential include, but are not limited to:
  • Gaining increased confidence by being able to validate your knowledge and capabilities, personal satisfaction, and broadening of your skills.
  • Demonstrating your dedication to maintaining your competency through engaging in continuing professional development (as is required to maintain certification).

The MSL-BC® was designed to comply with the quality standards recognized by the certification industry: The National Commission of Certifying Agencies’ Standards for Accreditation of Certification Programs and international standard ISO/IEC 17024: Conformity assessment – General requirements for bodies operating certification of persons.

The processes used to develop the MSL-BC® examination were consistent with those used for other certifications, such as Physician Specialty Boards in the United States, for example: The National Board of Physicians and Surgeons, The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and other professional organizations such as the ACRP designation.