Medical writing is a specialized form of medical communication. It typically involves preparing medical education materials such as journal articles, clinical study reports, book chapters, and patient leaflets.
Medical writers combine their knowledge of the subject matter with their skills in research to write concise, accurate pieces that are understandable to readers who may not have any medical background whatsoever.
This article talks about what it takes to become a professional medical writer - from education requirements and work experience to salary expectations.
What is a Medical Writer?
A medical writer is a person who writes high-quality education materials on healthcare topics. Medical writers are often called upon to write medical journal articles, book chapters, and patient leaflets.
Typically this work will involve using scientific material for popular consumption or translating medical information into easy-to-understand language that patients can understand 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 is a very diverse field. One medical writer might be tasked with developing content for patient education, while another may write for medical journals, such as those about oncology, biotech, and pharma disciplines.
Therefore, they must be familiar with medical terminology, work with medical professionals, and have a thorough understanding of medical science procedures and principles.
How Do Medical Writers Partake In Medical Communications?
Medical communications is a career path in medical writing.
Medical writers can work for pharmaceutical companies who need 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 be tasked with getting articles published by respected magazines or journals specializing in medical research. It is not uncommon for PR specialists to have an MBA degree along with experience working as a journalist before entering this field.
The skills you learn from medical communications may help you land other jobs later on too.
What are the Roles And Responsibilities of aMedical Writer?
A medical writer is responsible for creating content that is used in medical websites, brochures, and patient education materials.
Their responsibilities include researching topics related to the healthcare industry as well as medical science-related topics. Some of them 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?
If you’re considering a career in medical writing, the most important thing to remember 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 aforementioned degrees.
Medical writers 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 have an understanding of medical science. Many medical writers have an advanced degree, such as MD, Ph.D., or PharmD.
Meanwhile, others 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 as well as proficiency with Microsoft Office applications such as Word and PowerPoint.
How to Become a Medical Writer?
Most medical writers have a bachelor's degree, and those who don't can be hired on as an intern in the field.
It is important to note that not all fields are open for someone without related experience or formal training; clinical research might require some time as a lab technician before moving into writing about it.
Additionally, American Medical Writers Association also provides opportunities to help new medical writers. Here are some resources:
Alternatively, you can pursue a college degree to start your full-time career as a medical writer. Here are some examples:
- 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.
It typically 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 sites like PayScale.com and Salary.com, the average junior medical writer salaries are from $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 be paid up to $80,000 per year.
Medical writers are employed by pharmaceutical companies, biotech companies, medical device manufacturers, medical editing firms, and more.
They are hired to write about clinical trials, new drugs, documents for the pharmaceutical industry, and medical education brochures. For instance, a medical writer may be paid to write an instructions manual for a medical 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.
At the end of the day, they'll probably spend some time editing their work for publication or responding to emails from clients and colleagues.
To wrap up, medical writing is a rewarding and challenging career that offers plenty of room for growth.
It's the perfect way to move up in medicine without having to take on additional responsibility or go back to school while still being able to do what you love most: caring for patients.
Is Medical Writing Hard?
Medical writing is definitely more complicated than most other writing since it often requires prior medical education and familiarity with clinical research.
It requires an extensive understanding of medical terminology, knowledge of 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 on a full-time basis or just to supplement their income.
There are many opportunities for freelance medical writing 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 career that offers considerable freedom.
The job provides a chance for professionals who typically work behind the scenes to get their hands dirty with patient care and learn more about how medicine works while still advancing their education through research opportunities.