Description: Medical writing, referred to sometimes as medical communication, deals with the development of materials that communicate information from medical and healthcare research to diverse audiences. The materials are varied. They can include research papers and reviews, abstracts, posters, slide presentations, content for websites, new articles, regulatory documents, and training materials. They are generally produced within, or commissioned by, pharmaceutical and medical device companies. Target audiences include regulatory agencies, physicians, and the general public. Medical writing can involve as well data analysis, liaison activities, education, protocol development, review, and project management. Indeed, medical writers often represent a key point of integration in developing projects or among diverse constituencies. Medical writers work mostly in companies conducting research or product development, but a large number work in science writing-related contract or outsourcing companies, and as freelancers, as well.
Advantage of advanced degree: About two-thirds of all medical writers have an advanced degree. A degree in the biomedical sciences provides familiarity both with basic and clinical concepts, and the research and terminology intrinsic to these concepts. It provides as well assurances of basic competencies in statistics, literature searching, and communication. Most writers agree that having papers used in fulfillment of dissertation research provides credibility. Whether having postdoctoral research in addition to an advanced degree is helpful is not always certain, but large (choosier) companies can view this to be attractive. It is not uncommon in large pharmaceuticals, in fact, to have in-house scientists well beyond postdoctoral research to make a lateral move into medical writing.
Key competencies: The abilities to conceptualize and write with clarity are absolute keys. Conceptualization is the process of integrating and prioritizing sometimes large amounts of technical information into parcels that can be easily and accurately understood by the target audience. It quite often involves understanding and conveying context, i.e. seeing the information as it relates to the big picture. Clarity in writing speaks for itself, but those interested in the profession should know that it’s one of the first things to be evaluated in an interview situation (see BGS 30th Anniversary: Science Writing). Relevant competencies can also include specialized types of knowledge, for example a familiarity with specific areas of medicine, therapy, drug development, and safety testing. Statistics is important – the basics are one thing, but every medical writer needs to understand the increasingly sophisticated forms of statistical analysis that are now used. As scientific information continues to expand almost exponentially, the medical writer must also be able to search a variety of databases efficiently. Familiarity with elements of experimental design and interpretation can help immensely, and is essential if responsibilities include writing manuscripts for submission to scientific journals.
On-campus student organizations: None.
First steps: Those interested in medical writing are strongly encouraged to review the resources provided by the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and the National Association of Science Writers (NASW). AMWA provides a number of online courses and several certifications. Massive online open course offerings are just now emerging at the level of scientific writing, and some may differentiate into medical writing. Some institutions, for example The University of the Sciences, provide certifications and/or degrees in medical writing.