Many thanks to alumna Lisa Kelly for sharing this fantastic insight into the varied world of medical writing. Lisa provides some great tips and advice on how this can be a great career option for students and graduates interested in working outside the lab.
Lisa completed a BA(Mod) in Molecular Medicine at Trinity College Dublin in 2014. She then moved to Edinburgh, where she completed a MSc by research in Biomedical Sciences (Life Sciences) in 2015 and a PhD in Inflammation in 2019, both at The University of Edinburgh. Lisa now works as a Medical Writer at Mudskipper, an AMICULUM agency.
What is medical writing?
Medical writing involves developing high-quality scientific content that is tailored to specific audiences. Medical writers digest complex scientific data to create engaging materials in a variety of formats for pharmaceutical companies, healthcare professionals, patients, patient organisations and other groups, in order to facilitate awareness, communication, engagement and education.
What does a medical writer do?
A medical writer transforms complex scientific data into engaging materials to help communicate key details in a format suitable for the target audience. There is huge variety within medical writing and the role can vary depending on two key components:
- The type of writing, which relates to the purpose of the materials you create. There are lots of different types of writing, including publications, medical education, strategy and market access, regulation, and outreach.
- The type of materials you work on, which relates to the format of the materials you create. This can include manuscripts, abstracts, posters, slide decks, e-learning assets, infographics, content databases and compendiums, websites, meeting materials, videos/animations and podcasts.
Writers generally work on a number of projects in parallel. My current role involves developing or adapting medical education materials; so a typical day could include working on a slide deck in the morning and switching to developing the storyboard for a video animation in the afternoon. No two days are the same, and while variety provides great opportunities for development, flexibility and adaptability are of key importance.
In addition to writing work, other day-to-day tasks include coordinating with internal teams, liaising with client teams, and participating in client meetings.
What are the key traits/skills required to be a medical writer?
- Scientific understanding – developing medical materials requires the ability to digest complex scientific information quickly and present it in a concise and logical manner. This is a skill that can sometimes be overlooked but is the basis for a role in medical writing and can be demonstrated in completion of degree assignments or research projects
- Teamwork – everything is done as part of a team and projects require coordination of writers, project and account managers, editors, designers, and/or programmers to ensure materials are delivered to the highest standard. Being able to work as part of a team is vital to the success of each and every project
- Attention to detail – a key part of being a medical writer is ensuring the accuracy of the materials produced. From data-checking to referencing to punctuation, an eye for detail will take you a long way
- Flexibility and adaptability – every day as a medical writer is different. It is common to jump between projects daily, which can involve a change in approach, writing style and format. Also, project deadlines are often tight, and plans change regularly. The ability to move swiftly from one project to another and adapt to project requirements is paramount
How can I become a medical writer?
Entry-level medical writing positions are generally suited to those who have just graduated or are looking to make the move from academia. Although structured training programmes are available, most agencies tend to focus on in-house and on-the-job training for new writers, so specialist qualifications are not required. If you are new to the field of medical writing you will probably need to begin with an entry-level position, regardless of your previous background or experience (including academic publications).
There is a perception that a PhD is required to become a medical writer, and while some agencies do seek this as a minimal requirement, it is certainly not essential, and many agencies accept applications from recent graduates.
Transferable skills are important when applying for any new role, including medical writing. The ability to digest and understand complex information quickly, data presentation, organisation, precision, dedication, adaptability, resilience, teamwork and project management are all desirable skills for a career in medical writing but are often taken for granted, so think about the everyday skills that you have acquired through your experience and highlight these in your applications. Many of these skills can be demonstrated by completion of your degree or research project and any additional experience, such as undertaking a part-time job or involvement in extra-curricular activities like volunteering or hobbies can be used to further strengthen the point.
Although not a requirement, any experience that demonstrates your interest in science, medicine and/or communication will set you apart from the crowd. Writing for your school/club/society newsletter, participating in journal clubs and involvement in scientific outreach programmes are great ways to broaden your knowledge, gain experience and demonstrate your initiative. For instance, during my PhD I participated in a number of public engagement activities, and it was through these that I discovered my interest in communicating science.
Medical writing is a great career option for anyone who is interested in science but does not want to be lab-based. If you think it might be a good option for you, do your research and keep an open mind. There are so many opportunities available beyond academia and it can seem overwhelming at first, but there are lots of resources available to help you make an informed decision.
Our new life sciences and pharmaceutical sectoral webpages will have lots of information and advice – keep your eyes peeled on social media for updates.