A freelance medical writer works on contract with clients to detail, write, and share research that plays a significant role in improving health conditions and saving lives. Their duties and opportunities evolve, whether they prepare refereed journals reporting on a clinical trial, advertise innovative devices, educate healthcare experts or lay audiences about novel treatments, or craft grant proposals for funding new research.
Freelance medical writers grow from positions in other departments, such as regulatory medical writing, scientific writing publications, and grantsmanship. This post explains what a freelance medical writer does and everything else required to embark on this rewarding and lucrative career.
What Does a Freelance Medical Writer Do?
Freelance medical writers are professionals who work on contracts as opposed to full-time medical writers at an organization. They offer the same services such as writing a wide variety of documents that describe research results, product use, and other medical information. A freelance medical writer works with scientists, healthcare professionals, and other subject matter experts (SMEs) to create medical content for educational, informational, or promotional purposes.
Government representatives, investigators, healthcare organizations, medical institutes, biotechnology firms, pharmaceutical companies, and medical communications agencies hire freelance medical writers to produce a range of medical documents, including study reports, clinical trial protocols and publications, information about medical devices, medical books, newspaper articles, healthcare advertisements, and press releases.
Freelance medical writing also involves contributing to document quality control, such as ensuring the written documentation complies with the publication rules, regulatory laws, or other guidelines in terms of format, structure, and content. In addition, freelance medical writers also create content for presentations and conferences on behalf of the clients. While they may collaborate with other medical writing staff and potential clients, they are also capable of carrying out independent research and producing content on time.
Types of Freelance Medical Writers
There are different types of freelance medical writer positions. These positions differ from one employer to another, depending on various factors. In general, the larger the organization and its portfolio, the greater number of medical writers it may need. Here are the common types of freelance medical writers:
A freelance medical writer in the regulatory writing area helps create and edit documents for regulatory agencies during the approval process for medical devices, drugs, and biological agents. These writers work for medical device companies and contract research organizations (CROs).
These writers work with doctors and other healthcare professionals to create and edit manuscripts for refereed journals and abstracts and oral presentations for medical conferences. Scientific writers also create summaries of news feature articles and conference sessions for technical audiences. They may work for healthcare agencies or medical device companies.
Health Communication Writer
Medical writers or health writers create and edit different types of material, including website content, news releases, medical or health news, patient education content, etc., for lay audiences. Freelance medical writers write health-related content for healthcare institutions, government agencies, publishers, public health offices, and media outlets.
Medical Education Writer
A freelance writer in this area does high-quality work to develop educational activities for doctors and other healthcare professionals. They create different types of documents, including slide decks, needs assessments, and outcome analyses. Some freelance medical writers also write training materials for staff in a biotech or a pharmaceutical company. Freelance medical writers who write these documents work for healthcare centers, academic institutions, or medical education companies.
Promotional Medical Writer
In this area, freelance medical writers write different types of material for promoting a medical device, intervention, or drug. These written materials include advertising and marketing content to promote therapeutic or diagnostic products. Medical device, biotechnology, pharma, or medical communications companies hire freelance medical writers to create these materials. Their other jobs include writing press releases and strategic communications for healthcare organizations.
A medical writer prepares and edits grant proposals to get funding for scientific research. Freelance medical writers in this area work for several clients, from educational and healthcare organizations to private foundations, professional associations, and patient advocacy groups.
Role and Responsibilities
Medical writers hold different degrees. While some have degrees in medicine and science, many completed their degree in journalism, English, and other subjects. Due to the diverse background of medical writers, each position may contain different duties. However, here of the typical responsibilities of a freelance medical writer:
- Researching topics in detail while relying on educational resources for information
- Integrating various information sources into a uniform style and language for regulatory compliance
- Writing and editing clinical study reports (CSRs) and common technical documentation (CTD) summaries for submission to regulatory agencies and preparing other clinical trial and regulatory documentation as needed
- Gathering, analyzing, and summarizing data from statistical tables and other sources
- Going through scientific topics and assisting healthcare professionals in writing research-related articles, monographs, and reviews
- Proposing and managing timelines for document preparation and review
- Working with other medical writers and editors to optimize written content, add new information, ensure written text has proper citations, and include images, charts, and other media as appropriate
- Preparing annual reports, brochures, presentations, and training materials as per the needs of the audience
- Assisting in preparing press releases and marketing content
- Guiding and supervising other medical writing staff as needed
- Consulting with the clients to help them interpret clinical data
- Participating in client strategic meetings and market research
- Performing regular literature searches to identify new information on assigned tasks
- Keeping good knowledge of current industry practices and regulations
How to Get Started and Become a Successful Freelance Medical Writer
Medical writing is a flexible and rewarding career for both full-time and freelance writers. Here are the main steps that will help you get started and become a successful freelance medical writer:
Acquire Relevant Education
The first and foremost thing to becoming a freelance medical writer is to earn a degree in medical background. A medical writer must hold at least a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry, biology, or a related field with coursework in English, medical communications, or journalism. Some clients prefer candidates with a Master’s degree or a Ph.D. in life sciences or a related field. Since it is a competitive field, you can also take advantage of any available research and internship opportunities to get hands-on experience in the medical field.
When it comes to certifications, earning them on top of your degree is optional, but they can help you become a better-qualified job applicant. A number of options are available, but the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) offers the best one. Along with the Medical Writing Certification Commission (MWCC), the AMWA introduced a certification program. Medical writers can use the prestigious Medical Writer Certified (MWC®) credential on their resumes after completion.
Assess Your Medical Knowledge and Skills
Freelance medical writers enter the field from a range of disciplines. A freelance medical writer with a science background needs to polish their writing skills, whereas those with a writing or communications background face difficulty understanding medical terminology and statistics. No matter what your background is, examine what you know and what you need to know.
Preparing medical documentation is the main task of a freelance medical writer. In addition to oral communication, a freelance writer must master written communication. You must have a good grasp of parts of speech and grammatical principles as it forms the foundation of writing in every discipline. Also, you should know how to organize your written piece for clarity. It is important to have excellent writing skills that help you write informative and useful content. You must write content that is articulate and free of typing errors.
It is important to have additional knowledge rather than knowing just medical terms. You gain further insight into medical terms by learning about everything that makes up different medical words. You should understand the rules for eponyms and the difference between an abbreviation and an acronym.
Similar to every other profession, medical communication has a code of ethics. You must know the steps to ethical decision-making and moral principles to uphold.
Pick a Niche
It goes without saying that employers prefer candidates having command over what they do. Medical writing is vast, offering many options to choose from. You should explore the options and narrow down your niche, the one that catches your interest. You can pick your niche from many areas, including educational writing, regulatory writing, grant writing, medical content writing, and scientific editing, to name a few.
While choosing the niche, make a list of your ideal clients whom you want to work for and the services they need. After examining, start self-analysis to see if you have the required qualification and can provide these services to your clients. If you are unable to provide the desired services, you can hone your skills by taking online courses. Once you succeed as a freelance medical writer and can better manage your time, you can expand the scope of your content generation to other niches also.
Build Your Portfolio
A portfolio is most important if you want to appear as a great freelance medical writer. Presentable writing portfolios help you demonstrate your credibility as a competent freelance medical writer or health writer. Portfolios are curated collections of writing samples that reveal your capability to handle different types of projects and the outcomes you achieved with previous clients. Whenever you apply for medical writing jobs, the client would ask for your writing portfolio to judge your skills.
So, before starting out as a freelance medical writer, create writing samples in your preferred niche and add them to the portfolio to strengthen your application. You can build your own professional website and post work samples relevant to what clients look for under normal conditions. Start your own blog or go for guest posting. And if you want to publish your medical writing samples free of charge, you can approach platforms like Medium and LinkedIn.
Create Your Referral Network
Networking is crucial to gaining success as a freelance medical writer. The medical communications field has numerous work opportunities; however, breaking into this field is no picnic. The ideal way is to reach out to people in your network and let them know that you are looking for freelance medical writer jobs. You can build your own referral network and reach out to your family members, friends, other freelancers, related service providers, prospective clients, and people who would know your prospects.
Another great way is to join online freelancing groups on different websites. You can also join professional writing associations like the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA), European Medical Writers Association (EMWA), and the Australiasian Medical Writers Association (AMWA). They have interactive platforms where you can find great networking events. Know that the greater number of people in your network means you have greater chances of finding relevant freelance medical writer jobs.
Find Freelance Medical Writing Jobs
There are several freelance medical writing opportunities online. Scour job boards that update their job listings on a regular basis and find work that seems interesting and offers an attractive amount. You can also look for freelance medical writer jobs on social media and business networking sites. In addition, you can pitch articles to newspapers, magazines, and medical journals. You can also send cold pitches to health writing companies.
Before sending job applications or article pitches, it is important to learn about the clients. Get a better understanding of the job requirements. Tailor each job application to the job’s requirements and attach relevant writing samples. Sites like Indeed, LinkedIn, and ZipRecruiter are good places to start looking for freelance medical writing jobs. Leave your contact details on these sites to let the clients get in touch with you on their own.
No matter if you are a senior medical writer, a lead medical writer, or just a beginner, you need to find ways to progress in a solid career and contribute to positive health outcomes through powerful medical communication. When you better understand the role and responsibilities of a freelance medical writer and the available opportunities, you can use your passion for writing and scientific knowledge to excel in this interesting and lucrative field.