Last week, at a seminar by the CEO of a medical communications company, I finally discovered what medical writing really is! Although I have spent a significant chunk of my academic career dedicated to writing, I hadn’t considered the possibility that this might lead to a job in itself. When I heard the words ‘medical writing,’ I imagined an ‘ex’-scientist or MD, chained to a desk all day, typing away in isolation. Apparently, there is nothing further from the truth!
Medical writers basically serve as a source of expert knowledge to pharmaceutical companies. Each ‘writer’ has a specific field they work in (arthritis, for example), and they read all the literature and keep up with new advances around this topic. They summarize and tailor the information for communication to various audiences (clinicians, investors, patients, employees). However, in addition to providing clear and effective communication, pharmaceutical companies also rely on medical writers’ expertise for analysis, valuing their insights and strategic advice. In some ways, medical writing sounds similar to life sciences consulting!
Contrary to the common assumption, medical ‘writing’ does not just involve writing per se. In fact, the deliverables are not necessarily written reports, but most commonly PowerPoint slides and posters for conferences, which are intended for oral presentation. Medical writers spend a significant proportion of their time meeting internally and externally (clients are small to large pharmaceutical companies which have an ‘account’ with the science communication company) to discuss projects. Medical writers need to be good at listening and explaining concepts, and they sometimes even have to coach their clients in giving presentations. The job requires some travel, but not as much as in management consulting. Often, medical writers attend congresses to stay in touch with their field and meet with clients.
Sounds interesting, right? It sounded great to me, so my burning question to the presenter was: I’m sold, how can I get a job like this? Apparently, no prior writing experience is required. Some candidates are hired straight out of grad school. Those that get an offer are team players. They’re personable, friendly and confident communicators. You need to be hard working, organized and pay attention to details. If you get an interview, expect an onsite evaluation involving summarizing scientific papers and recent advances (using the internet) in a PowerPoint presentation.
Go get ‘em tiger!