The medical writing specialty is for those who have some medical or health writing experience. You can’t fake knowledge of medicine or health, but you can organize and write information based on interviews with medical professionals.
Medical writers can start small with a subject that they are familiar with, and as they gain clips and experience with medical issues or a particular medical specialty, they can move on to more technical medical subjects and publications.
Writing about medicine and health matters demands accountability and professionalism. The facts and quotes from expert medical sources need to be verified and double-checked. Any statistics need to be interpreted by an expert, or a qualified medical professional. Writers need to have reputable resources as well as contacts that can help obtain the necessary information for a medical article.
What do medical writers write?
Many types of companies hire medical writers: advertising, marketing and public relations agencies; contract clinical research organizations; pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies; newspapers; magazines; publishers of medical textbooks and journals; radio and television stations; university and hospital public information departments; medical device, medical diagnostics and medical instrument manufacturers; medical schools and other academic institutions; healthcare information companies; government agencies; healthcare research centers; pharmaceutical and medical software manufacturers; and nonprofit organizations.
Scientific writing is highly technical, and includes journal articles, white papers, and abstracts of clinical trials. Regulatory writing is very scientific, writing reports such as New Drug Applications (NDAs) from pharmaceutical companies or Contract Research Organizations (CROs) to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
A wide variety of professional or trade medical magazines ensures the need for many different types of medical writers. Medical journals require a higher level of medical knowledge and writing that is technical and academic-oriented. These journals need writers who are capable of researching and organizing reams of information into a logical, useful article.
Medical websites need writers to research and write medical news and feature articles. Medical newsletters and magazines, as mentioned earlier, hire writers on assignment and/or accept queries from freelancers.
Many medical writers serve as “ghost writers” for physicians, meaning that their names do not appear in print for the work they have done. They must be satisfied with their pay and the knowledge that the job has been well done.
Beginning a Medical Writing Career
Your freelance medical writing career can take off in many different directions. You may prefer to write on assignment, and spend lots of time sending your resume and clips to many different editors (via e-mail and snail mail both), or letting local physicians know of your ghostwriting services. You may decide that you want to write copy and offer your services to advertising and PR firms.
Medical writing classes are not necessary if you want to be a medical writer; however, they often provide valuable information for beginners and long-time writers. If you can afford it, an investment in a medical writing class offered by a college or writing organization is well worth your time, effort, and money.
Physicians are more likely to respond to a writer’s request for an interview if you state that you have read his research paper, or article. This lets him/her know that you have done some research. Project a professional attitude. Also, go through the public relations department of the university or healthcare organization if at all possible. PR people understand that you are on a deadline, and can corral a reluctant or extremely busy doctor.
Read. There are a lot of published articles and books about medical writing. Make use of them, and enhance your career by continuing to learn as you write.
Laura Gater’s medical trade articles have been published in Corrections Forum, For the Record, Radiology Today, Managed Healthcare Executive, Medscape, Podiatry Management, Healthcare Traveler, and many other magazines.