How to Become a Medical Writer

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If you have strong writing skills and a background in the scientific or medical fields, becoming a medical writer could be a great career path for you. Learn more about the position.


What Is Medical Writing?

Medical writing is a profession that entails creating scientific, educational, and promotional materials for the health care, medical device, or pharmaceutical industries. To write documents that are understandable to their intended audience, medical writers must be able to interpret clinical trials and other medical information (e.g., regulators, physicians, patients, or the general public).

Other job titles with similar job descriptions to medical writer include medical communicator, technical writer, health care journalist, and health care marketer.


What Does a Medical Writer Do?

A medical writer's responsibilities vary depending on the type of medical writing they pursue, but the following are some common medical writer responsibilities:

Communicates complex data to target audiences: Medical writers must analyze scientific data and clinical research using their knowledge of medical terminology and concepts. The writer then tailors their writing style to the intended audience based on the document's intended recipient. A medical writer, for example, would use far more technical language when writing a document for a physician than for a patient.

Ensures that documents comply with publication standards: The medical writer must adhere to structure, content, and format guidelines to ensure that their documents meet the appropriate regulatory and editorial standards for that type of document.

Working with subject matter experts: Medical writers frequently collaborate with researchers, scientists, and doctors to determine the best way to communicate medical information.


4 Types of Medical Writing

If you're considering a career in medical communications, you should be aware of the following job classifications:

1. Educational medical writing: This type of medical writing focuses on documents designed to educate health care professionals and patients about medications and medical devices. Medical textbooks, medical journals, sales pamphlets for new drugs, and course literature for Continuing Medical Education (CME) programs are all examples of educational medical content.

2. Medical journalism: This category includes general-interest magazine and newspaper articles. Unlike medical journal articles, which contain more scientific writing, these articles ensure that even those with no medical background can understand the content.

3. Medical marketing: Medical marketing writers create content to aid in the sale of pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Medical marketing content examples include sales force training manuals and brochures found in doctors' offices.

4. Regulatory medical writing: To get their products approved, regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) require medical device and pharmaceutical companies to create regulatory submission documents. Clinical study reports, safety and efficacy summaries, subject narratives, and drug package inserts are examples of regulatory documents.


How to Become a Medical Writer

There is no set path to landing a medical writing job, but here are some steps you can take to put yourself on the best path possible:

1. Earn a degree in medicine, science, or English. Medical writers are typically sought after by recruiters who have a bachelor's degree in a medical or life science field, such as biochemistry. A writing degree in journalism or English is also beneficial, but you will still need work experience in the medical field to supplement it. Not all medical writers have advanced degrees, but many do, and obtaining one will make you a more appealing candidate.

2. Take medical writing courses. There are numerous online medical courses available to help you learn the intricacies of medical writing. The American Medical Writers Association is one of the most reputable organizations that offers courses (AMWA). The more writing experience you have, the better, so look into general courses in scientific and technical writing.

3. Identify your market niche. It would be nearly impossible to be well-versed in every aspect of the medical field. Choose a specialization where you believe you will excel the most based on your skill set and interests.

4. Acquaint yourself with the correct terminologies and technical guidelines. Once you've found your niche, educate yourself on medical terminology and technical guidelines specific to your field of medical writing. These guidelines can be found on the websites of the appropriate regulatory agencies (such as the FDA) or the International Council for Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for Pharmaceuticals for Human Use (ICH).

5. Volunteer at a medical research organization. Gain experience in the medical research field before applying for medical writing jobs. To expand your knowledge, look for entry-level positions at research organizations or as a lab assistant.

6. Assemble a portfolio. Before hiring you, employers will want to see examples of your writing, so put together a portfolio that demonstrates your ability to do the job effectively. It's fine if you've never officially published anything before. You can always create a sample document for your portfolio.

7. Become a member of the American Medical Writers Association. Joining AMWA will assist you in obtaining medical writing certifications as well as professional resources that will advance your career opportunities. If you live in Europe, the European Medical Writers Association (EMWA) serves a similar function.

8. Job hunt using your network. Finding consistent work in the medical writing field requires a large professional network. Attend meetups and conferences where you can meet hiring companies with your AMWA membership. Maintain contact with former coworkers in the medical industry, and use job boards and social media platforms to find potential job opportunities.

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