In the age where tech-savvy youth can find new means of securing incomes that go above and beyond the once-perceived norms, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that those of us with a medical education or healthcare background have found a way to jump on the bandwagon and integrate our profession with the development of tech and the world wide web.
Where typically most medical roles have been pursued in the confinements of a hospital, clinic, or public area where somebody’s had an accident, these days there are roles available which allow us to provide our patients with the same life-changing advice, but without the added distraction of a distress call churning in the background.
One such career alternative for doctors and other healthcare professionals is medical writing. The great minds who strive to find new means of treating diseases, old and new, constantly provide us with information that must at some point, in some shape or form, be translated to both the public and healthcare professionals. And that’s where medical writing comes in – the ability to comprehend, distil, and articulate complex medical terminology to make life easier for all who need it.
What is medical writing?
In the simplest sense, medical writing is the discipline of creating medical documents that effectively communicate new and old information and knowledge found in the field of medicine to their intended audiences. Medical writers may not be the original scientists who discovered the new information, but instead could be those who have had a previous background in research or medicine, have worked directly with physicians on their findings, or have a general knack for creating compelling content.
The importance of great medical writing can never be ignored. The world of science and health is delicate and depends on clear and accurate reporting. Without lucrative research abilities and substantiation that goes above and beyond the standards we abided by during university, the information provided can be flawed and can harm the reader’s health..
What does it take to become a medical writer?
The demand for medical writers has increased exponentially following the Covid-19 pandemic. The virus, which caused the planet to fall into a two-year limbo and halt the regular rhythm of progression, has unintentionally driven business to the online world. Healthcare clinics have begun to understand the value of marketing and online presence – but who better to hire for these roles other than the ones who shaped the way healthcare is today?
Medical writers haven’t traditionally been those with medical backgrounds. As such, a lot of the information you may see on medical patient-facing websites though has been written by a non-medical writer, will have been proofread by a medical professional to ensure accuracy.
This year, however, is the year when this changes. Medical professionals can combine their knowledge about the fundamentals of medicine with their ability to understand and retain up-to-date medical information so that they can produce newer, more accurate, and more patient-centred written content – content that almost doesn’t warrant further proofreading by another medical professional.
To become a competent medical writer, you must have a clear understanding of medical concepts and ideas, and be able to display data in a way that your audience can interpret and understand fully.
If you’re thinking of embarking upon a medical writing career trajectory, then honing on the following skills can be of tremendous benefit:
- Research and analytics – being able to find the most reputable sources of information to help substantiate your claims is essential to ensuring utmost accuracy to your work. Good medical writers are those who know how to research, can differentiate between good and very good sources of information, and can distil their newly-learnt information into easy-to-understand language.
- Understanding an audience – you need to know how to tailor the language you use to your target audience. Talking to patients is different than talking to healthcare professionals – apply what you have learnt working in practice to your writing.
- Writing skills – some of us are privileged with having a knack for writing. Others, not so much. If you can recognise that your writing needs improvement, then don’t hesitate to undergo extra training that you deem necessary. Medical writers are those who can write in a way that educates, upholds industry standards, and gets medicines approved.
- Time management – medical writing isn’t just about writing a piece of content. It’s about managing your time, your project, and your potential colleagues. You may be working on multiple pieces. You may also be working with a large multidisciplinary team within an agency. Understanding how to manage your workload is what makes a great medical writer.
What are the types of medical writing?
There are various documents required to be produced by medical writers for many different purposes and audiences, and you can’t expect one medical writer to create them all. As such, there are a variety of different styles of medical writing you can decide to specialise in depending on what you enjoy and what you’re good at.
The wonderful thing about medical news is that it’s always going to be a thing. We’re always expanding our research in ways once unimaginable. Likewise, people want to hear about what wonderful scientists are doing. Medical journalism is a subset of medical writing which entails producing news articles for the general public written in easily palatable language.
Education in medicine can take two different paths: to educate patients, and to educate healthcare professionals. Depending on your passion, you can decide to go on to be a medical writer who creates patient education materials or one that contributes to physicians’ education through e-learning modules, Continued Medical Education (CME) or Continuing Professional Development (CPD).
Regulatory medical writing
Regulatory roles are complex and diverse. You could be involved in pharmaceutical marketing which warrants competency with various regulatory boards (as you would have had as a healthcare professional), or you could be involved in creating specialised internal documents needed to facilitate a particular manufacturing process.
A medical copywriter distils complex medical information for presentation to the public in a way that helps develop effective marketing campaigns. Copywriters sell. They convert – think “add to cart”. They thrive off of creating results-orientated health material, and they do it well. Examples of medical copywriting include the creation of medical newsletters, website copy for healthcare brands, and leaflets that aim to sell a particular product (given that this abides by the regulations mentioned briefly in the above sector). Even the copy on a medicine bottle or packaging.
Each of the above subsets of medical writing is aimed towards a different type of audience. Regulatory medical writing is mainly aimed at other healthcare professionals and people in the pharmaceutical industry, whereas copywriting can be aimed directly towards the patient. Hence, the language used and the level of technicality required to create each piece varies significantly. Anyone with a healthcare background can go on to become a medical writer in any of the above subsets. All it takes is time, dedication, and a financial commitment to education.
How do you get into medical writing as a healthcare professional?
With the way the current healthcare system is going, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many healthcare professionals and medical students want to veer away from clinical roles and find alternative fulfilling careers. Getting into these careers, such as medical writing, is not as difficult as it may seem.
As with anything, you can find your way into the medical writing world by yourself, through trial and error. Though this may take time as it does involve understanding in detail what medical writing is, and then finding out how to start getting jobs despite having had little to no previous experience.
Alternatively, as you have done in University – you can undergo a course. An introductory course to medical writing, such as the one taught by Write Clinic, can guide you to successfully building your business as a medical writer.
You can choose from our popular mini-courses or go full-speed ahead with our Fundamentals of Medical Writing course is designed specifically for healthcare professionals willing to seek out an alternative career or “side hustle” that hones in their fundamental medical knowledge whilst proving to be of significant financial benefit – all without breaking the bank.
The course lasts for eight weeks and is composed of over 300 nano-lessons (on average 1 to 3 minutes each) that teach a valuable aspect of medical writing in a condensed and easy-to-follow manner. No longer will you have to endure hour-long lectures only to go back and spend time trying to find the part you really should have listened to. Write clinic has broken it down for you so that you don’t have to go back, and if you did, it’s easy.
The course aims to help you learn how to:
- Understand in greater detail the types of medical writing there are
- Build a portfolio from scratch
- Create a quick and effective website
- Build a LinkedIn profile tailored towards medical writing
- Find freelance clients
- Find full-time medical writing toles
- Compose yourself during a medical writing interview
- Pass medical writing tests and interviews
- Manage your finances
On top of all that, the coaches at Write Clinic who are both UK-qualified pharmacists-turned-medical writers will work with you at every step of the way to ensure you’re motivated and are getting the most out of your education.
You’ll also be listed on our Medical Writer Directory, a list where medical writers can be found by clients, recruiters, employers and other medical writers who want to collaborate with you.
If you’re interested in a fulfilling career that can provide you with financial flexibility and creative freedom all whilst helping others, then maybe a medical writing career is for you. At Write Clinic we explore medical writing, and find your feet as an artist, as well as a scientist.