Remy Daroowala shares misconceptions about medical writing and how to bring your writing to life. A vibrant reminder that medical writing does not have to be boring!Virginia Chachati – Editor at Write Clinic
In this article, I’ll guide you through a few fun tips that can help you bring your medical writing to life. These aren’t specific writing tips. Each of us writes differently, and it’s up to us to find our individual style. Rather, these are attitudinal shifts that I have found helped me write better. But first, there are two major misconceptions that we need to address.
Misconception #1: Medical writing needs to be boring
Like any other writing, it needs to be read to be worth anything at all. Yes, it has the power to impact someone’s health and well-being, so it should be held to a higher standard and subject to rigorous evaluation. However, that is very different to being boring. This leads nicely to misconception 2…
Misconception #2: As a medical writer, you are not a creative
This is a big one. It’s one I grapple with daily. How can I create work that matches up to non-medical content without sacrificing credibility or catering to the lowest common denominator? Answer: By being a creative. It takes a special kind of creativity to bring boring medical writing to life. As Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power notes, “Creativity is a mixture of discipline and childlike spirit.”
Bringing medical writing to life is a delicate balancing act. The disciplined approach requires a deep understanding of medical information, reliable sourcing, proper citations, and steering clear of misinformation and misdirection. The fun, childlike spirit part is engaged when we can do that in a way that captivates readers.
So, with that said, let’s move on to the 4 ways you can bring your medical writing to life…
#1 – Use empathy to serve your audience
Creativity and empathy are closely linked. To solve a problem with empathy, you need to take your audience’s perspective. By caring about their needs and emotions, you gain a deeper understanding of their challenges, desires and aspirations. This emotional intelligence will allow you to create actionable solutions that resonate with people.
Let’s take a look at this in action. Below is a pretty verbose, academic take on myocardial infarction.
“Individuals suffering from a sudden onset of myocardial infarction are in critical need of medical intervention. This immediate need for intervention arises due to the acute nature of their condition, whereby the myocardium or heart muscle, experiences a disruption in its blood supply, thus necessitating instantaneous therapeutic measures to restore optimal cardiac function.”
Undoubtedly that passage contains some pretty vital information. Our challenge as a medical writer is, “How do I communicate this with empathy?”
Imagine you have no medical knowledge; you’re sitting at home with someone you love, and they start having chest pains. In a state of panic, the first thing you’ll think is, “What do I need to do?” The rest of the information is superfluous. Empathy helps us meet our audience’s needs by telling them what they want to know in a time of need:
“If someone is having a heart attack, they need emergency medical help. Dial 999”
#2 – Tell a cool story
Storytelling is one of the oldest human art forms. It’s a tool that helps us to make an understanding of the world and define our place in it. Storytelling in medical writing is important because it imbues a sense of humanity into cold, hard information.
Take the following passage as an example:
“The incorporation of physical exertion within one's lifestyle, otherwise termed as exercise, instigates a myriad of physiological responses which culminate in an overall diminished susceptibility to the onset of cardiovascular pathology, inclusive of but not restricted to, ischemic heart disease and myocardial infarction.”
How do we get someone to engage with the above information? We turn it from something impersonal into a narrative that someone can see themselves in.
Done right, a medical storyteller can guide their audience to feel a sense of empathy with the character they see and provide useful guidance for positive lifestyle changes. This story could start with something as simple as…
“Meet John. Running saved his life.”
#3 – Get to the point
Health trends show that the patient journey increasingly begins online. A significant percentage of people Google their health conditions and symptoms before seeing their doctor. Even as a trained medical professional, when it’s my turn to be a patient, I don’t want to read meta-analyses. I want to take my professional hat off and just be a patient. Clear, concise information benefits us all.
So, a person with diabetes, wondering about the best choice of statin before they go to see their doctor might be faced with…
“A rigorous network meta-analysis delineated the pharmacological superiority of moderate to high-intensity dosage of Rosuvastatin, and high-intensity dosages of Simvastatin and Atorvastatin in the context of achieving moderate amelioration of Non-HDL cholesterol (non-HDL-C) concentrations in the circulatory system of patients diagnosed with diabetes.”
So how do we turn this into information that people can use? We simplify. We give them information they can understand and take to their doctor and have a discussion.
“Three common statins: rosuvastatin, simvastatin and atorvastatin are more favourable for reducing bad cholesterol levels in patients with diabetes.”
#4 – Don’t let data drive – drive with data
Numbers are fun. They’re neat. They give unequivocal answers. People are fun too. They’re not neat. Life is messy and real. People have complex backstories, wants, needs, desires, fears and hopes. Numbers do not. The key for a medical writer is to bridge the gap between the rarefied world of numbers and statistics with what is happening day to day, in the real world.
So, we might start with…
“In the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical evaluation, a statistically significant decrement in glycated haemoglobin - HbA1c levels - was evidenced in patients with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus administered Metformin over 12 weeks. This observation encapsulated a median decrease of 1.5 percentage points in HbA1c, a widely recognized surrogate marker for glycaemic control.”
Our challenge here is to recognize the importance of data while bringing it into people’s lives. In this case, it’s about making the terminology and context relevant to their lives. People don’t usually count time in weeks, they count it in months or years. People don’t deal in means, medians or modes and their HbA1c levels aren’t as important as their long-term blood sugar levels and how that translates over into their daily lives.
“People with type 2 diabetes improved their long-term blood sugar control by 1.5% after taking Metformin for three months”
We lose nothing of the original message. You could argue that cutting it back to the bare bones makes it even more impactful.
Breathe life into your work.
The journey to bring life to mundane medical writing involves embracing key attitudinal shifts that transform the way we work. Like any form of writing, medical content should be engaging and accessible to be truly valuable.
Acknowledging that creativity has a place in medical writing is the next crucial shift. Embracing creativity, empathy, simplicity, and data-driven storytelling are powerful tools that breathe life into our work.
About the author
Remy is a medical healthcare and science writer, a doctor by background with an MBBS from UCL in London. Connect with Remy Daroowala on LinkedIn.