Some of the best career paths are the ones people never set out to follow. This is often the case for medical writers, who hadn’t considered this thriving profession at the start of their career.
Because there’s no specific qualification, medical writing can be an organic shift for people from a medical, life science or research background looking to step away from the lab or healthcare institution.
Medical writing and medical communication
The terms medical writing and medical communication are often used interchangeably, and fundamentally they’re the same. Both require the writer to understand medical information and translate it into words their target audience will understand.
Prescriptive writing, such as regulatory writing and journal manuscripts are written by medical writers. Writers follow specific guidelines and their audience is often health authorities and government agencies.
Medical communication offers writers more creative license. Writing content for websites, magazine articles, patient information brochures and conferences means a greater emphasis on connecting and engaging with the target audience. With so much information competing for a reader’s attention, a good medical writer knows how to get their message across clearly and succinctly.
Take the first step
Considering a career in medical writing and medical communication starts with analysing past experience and knowing where to upskill.
Identify transferrable skills
A person’s strengths, interests and relevant skills can help new writers decide which area of medical writing to focus on.
People experienced in clinical trials and drug development may gravitate towards regulatory writing; others may enjoy the challenge of transforming medical terminology into plain English and focus on medical communication.
Refresh and improve writing skills
Not surprisingly, successful medical writers need to know how to write clearly. As the American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne once said, “Easy reading is damn hard writing”.
All aspiring writers should refresh and improve their grammar, punctuation and sentence structure knowledge. Nothing distracts a reader more from the message than misplaced apostrophes, a subject and verb disagreement and too many redundant or technical words.
Online grammar and specialised writing courses help writers improve their skills. And all writing experience is an asset for a new writer, whether it’s a personal blog, research papers or website articles.
People also need to have a genuine interest in medicine and healthcare. Medical writing involves a lot of reading and research and keeping up-to-date with changes in the medical world.
Get a foot in the door
Pharmaceutical companies, medical communication agencies and healthcare organisations are great places to start a medical writing career. New medical writers receive invaluable in-house training and improve their writing through feedback from experienced writers.
Joining a medical writers association is also beneficial. The European Medical Writers Association (EMWA) is an organisation who support and train medical writers in Europe. It offers workshops and conferences for medical writers to improve and expand their skills and provides comprehensive resourced for professionals interested in a medical writing career.
The American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) is an organisation for medical writers in the United States of America. It also offers ongoing training and support for writers, with resources for new writers and seasoned professionals.
Medical writers in other countries are encouraged to check out their local medical writer’s association.
A medical writing career is an opportunity to educate, inform and share medical knowledge to make real change in healthcare and medicine. People with medical nous and writing skills will find many opportunities to succeed.