A medical writer combines their knowledge of health matters with research to write accurate documents clear to readers without a medical background.
Medical writing includes medical communication and preparing medical education materials such as journal articles, clinical study reports, book chapters, and patient leaflets.
This article discusses what it takes to become a professional medical writer – from education requirements and work experience to salary expectations. If you’re interested in learning via video, then watch below. Otherwise, skip ahead.
Who is a Medical Writer?
A medical writer is a person who creates high-quality educational materials on healthcare topics. Medical writers are often called upon for medical writing, including medical journal articles, book chapters, and patient leaflets.
Medical writers use scientific material for widespread medical writing and translate medical research into easy-to-understand language patients use before undergoing surgery or treatment plans.
Plus, medical writing also involves covering different aspects of healthcare, such as educating the general public about healthy lifestyle choices and the importance of exercise, etc. Medical writing can be an important supplement to other educational material designed to improve patient care.
Medical writing is a diverse field. One medical writer might develop medical writing for patient education. At the same time, another may create medical writing for medical journals, such as those about oncology, biotech, and pharma disciplines.
Therefore, medical writers must be familiar with medical terminology and work with medical writing or research professionals while thoroughly understanding medical science procedures and principles.
How Medical Writers Use Medical Communications
Medical communications is a career path in medical writing.
Medical writers can work for pharmaceutical companies who need medical writing to get information about their new drugs out into the world through advertising, marketing, and public relations (PR).
It’s also possible that they’ll publish medical writing in respected magazines or journals specializing in medical research. It is not uncommon for PR specialists to have an MBA degree and experience working as a journalist before entering the field of medical writing. The skill of medical communications and medical may even help you land other high-paying and satisfying jobs.
What are the Roles and Responsibilities of a Medical Writer?
A medical writer is responsible for creating medical writing used in medical websites, brochures, and patient education materials.
Medical writing through print and online media helps to push treatment outcomes by giving patients all the information they need to make decisions about procedures and for doctors to work with pharmaceutical companies.
Within medical writing, responsibilities include researching topics related to the healthcare industry and medical science-related issues. Some of these medical writing needs include:
- Interviewing doctors and other medical professionals about their experience with various treatment, clinical trials, or procedures
- Drafting a story from this research which also includes medical terms and references backed up by evidence so it appears credible (i.e., published journal articles)
- Adding graphics when necessary to support the text or illustrate points
- Formatting stories into different types of formats suitable for targeted audiences, including patients, providers, administrators/managers, etc
- Proofreading final drafts before publication
- Working with a documentation specialist to catalog important documents
What are the Attributes of a Medical Writer?
Suppose you’re considering a career in medical writing. The most important thing to remember about medical writing is that it requires expert knowledge of both medical and storytelling skills. The best candidates for this job have:
- An advanced degree (i.e., MFA) in creative writing or journalism
- A Ph.D. from one of these areas – science communication; public health/epidemiology; biomedical sciences; clinical research methods; medicine with specialization in communications training
- Medical experience as either doctor, nurses, technicians, etc. on top of background information such as college courses related to biology, chemistry, and other life sciences subjects
- Proficiency with Microsoft Office applications, including Word and PowerPoint
- Strong communication skills and analytical thinking abilities
- A firm grasp on medical terminology and familiarity with the regulatory documents from the FDA
What Qualifications Do You Need to be a Medical Writer?
A medical writer is typically required to have a bachelor’s degree in creative writing, journalism, or other disciplines related to the degrees above.
A medical writer can come from a variety of educational backgrounds but share some traits. For one, they must have a flair for science and writing.
Although they don’t have to be practicing medical professionals, they must understand medical science. Many medical writers have an advanced degree, such as MD, Ph.D., or PharmD.
Meanwhile, another medical writer may have a Ph.D. or MFA in English.
In addition, a medical writer must possess extensive knowledge of biology, biotechnology, chemistry, and life sciences subjects and proficiency with Microsoft Office applications such as Word and PowerPoint.
How Can You Become a Medical Writer?
A medical writer will often have a bachelor’s degree. Others work as an intern in the field with other medical writers. Not all medical writer fields will open to someone without experience or formal training under medical writers, and clinical research might require time as a lab technician before medical writing is an option.
Additionally, American Medical Writers Association also provides opportunities to help new medical writers. Here are some resources if you want to start researching roles as a medical writer:
Alternatively, you can pursue a college degree to start your full-time career as a medical writer. Here are some examples of universities with programs for the medical writer:
- Carnegie Mellon University – MA: Professional Writing
- New York University – MA/ MS: Health and Environmental Reporting
- Johns Hopkins University – MA: Science-Medical Writing
How Long Does it Take to Become a Medical Writer?
Starting your career as a medical writer takes dedication, patience, and hard work.
If you want to become a medical writer, it takes five to six years of full-time education in medical writing for you to get your master’s degree or a Ph.D. from top schools like Johns Hopkins University.
In the meantime, you can intern at a medical communications firm, create a Linkedin account for networking, and write for online medical websites, like Healthline, to increase your writing experience.
What is the Average Medical Writer Salary?
A full-time medical writer earns an average salary of $60,000 to $75,000 per year. According to PayScale.com and Salary.com, the average junior medical writer’s salary is $52,000 to $80,000.
Meanwhile, a medical editor earns more than a beginner medical writer. A medical editor is often a more senior medical writer who can earn up to $80,000 per year.
Medical writers are employed by pharmaceutical companies, biotech companies, medical device manufacturers, medical editing firms, and more.
A medical writer will write about clinical trials, new drugs, documents for the pharmaceutical industry, and medical education brochures. For instance, a pharmaceutical or medical company may pay a medical writer to write an instructions manual for a new drug system or device.
In addition to their salary, medical writers receive benefits like health insurance, a 401k retirement plan with matching contributions from the company, and paid vacation days.
What is the Typical Workday Like for a Medical Writer?
A medical writer might start the day by reading medical journals and then spend some time churning out blog posts or articles.
In between writing assignments, medical writers may request updated information from research scientists about upcoming clinical trials that could benefit their work with a pharmaceutical company.
They also might collaborate on white papers for other departments in the company, such as sales and marketing. In the afternoon, a medical writer might attend an industry conference to get up-to-date on trends in healthcare.
A medical writer will spend some time editing their work for publication or responding to emails from clients and colleagues.
A career as a medical writer can be inspiring and advance the field of medicine. Medical writing is a rewarding and challenging career that offers plenty of room for growth. You can move up in medicine without taking on additional responsibility or going back to school while still caring for patients.
Here are some frequently asked questions about medical writing.
Is Medical Writing Hard?
Medical writing is more complicated than other forms since it often requires prior medical education and familiarity with clinical research. A medical writer is an expert on their subject.
It requires an extensive understanding of medical terminology, regulatory documents, and fine writing skills to translate complicated concepts into language that a layperson can understand.
Can a Medical Writer Work as a Freelancer?
Many medical writers work as freelancers, either full-time or on-contract.
There are many opportunities for a freelance medical writer in the United States and abroad. You’ll need excellent business skills since it’s often necessary to manage projects from start to finish without the direct supervision of an employer.
Is Medical Writing a Good Career?
Medical writing is an ideal career for healthcare professionals who want to stay in the medical field and have a job that offers considerable freedom.
Professionals can work behind the scenes with patient care and advance medicine while using their education through research opportunities.
If you are new to technical writing and are looking to break-in, we recommend taking our Technical Writing Certification Course, where you will learn the fundamentals of being a technical writer, how to dominate technical writer interviews, and how to stand out as a technical writing candidate.