We are thankful to our passionate guests and dynamic audience for helping NBI start the year on such a good note! For over two hours, five experienced medical writers from Ashfield Healthcare, Complete Medical Communications (CMC) and Oxford Pharmagenesis shared details of their work and career tips with the audience this past Wednesday, 28th of February 2018 at the University of Manchester. The Q&A session generated a significant flow of questions, and we have selected the key points just for you!
So, in case you have missed them or would like to refresh your memory, keep reading!
A medical writer’s attributes: three pillars
A team player you will be…
Tim Ellison, Medical Writer for Oxford Pharmagenesis, insists this is a key personal trait. Although some situations will inevitably seem like they are too much to handle for just one person, medical writing is first and foremost about teamwork.
“You never work in isolation. Don’t be scared not to know” says Cristina Teles, Scientific team Leader at Complete Medical Communications (CMC).
Teamwork is particularly critical following the “kick-off call,” during which the needs of the client are established in collaboration with said client, the author and the agency. Sometimes, the client provides no more than a spreadsheet or clinical report and resources may be scarce. But worry not! Your team will have your back and examine the literature with you. Finally, your work will be reviewed internally before being sent out.
Master of English language you will become…
Medical writing involves writing in different styles: when you apply, you should be able to show you can adapt to different writing styles for specific texts such as abstracts, manuscripts or newsletters for example.
Scientific accuracy is absolutely crucial: you need to prove you understand the research topic and can translate it to the target audience in the required format as accurately as possible. Of course, this will be tackled during your training.
“Scientific accuracy is very, very important and we look at it in first position. The editorial aspect comes second”, says Teles.
For instance, when there is a mistake or a data error, clients rely heavily on medical writers to flag it, as they may not necessarily be aware of the data in details. Additionally, the end product will undergo several checks before being delivered.
Writing quickly: we know this one seems a bit daunting but be aware that some companies will primarily focus on the quality rather than the timing and allow extra time for you to deliver the highest quality work possible. However, as Teles and Ellison observed, this is by no means something you should worry about when starting off or even when you apply, as it will also be a part of your training.
What about foreign languages? “Well… it doesn’t get you the job”, smiles Teles. Although it is not required, she and Emily Fisher, Medical Writer at Ashfield Healthcare, admit that it can sometimes be a bonus. For instance, thanks to her knowing Portuguese, Teles was once able to deliver a translation requested by one of her clients.
Increased desire to make a change in patient care.
This one goes without saying, and medical writing is rewarding in more than one way. Keep reading to know how!
The (non exhaustive) perks list of being a medical writer
Not your average science job
The key word? Flexibility.
According to Kelly Soady, Senior Medical Writer for Oxford Pharmagenesis, one of the unexpected treats of being a medical writer was the visual artwork aspect.
One of the brilliant questions that popped up during the Q&A was whether a difference exists between the career progression of an applicant holding a Masters and another with a PhD. The answer was simple and quick: “No”.
Quite surprising right?
There is no set timing. It truly depends on the quality of the work delivered. A Master’s student may be more skilled in the art of adapting to different styles than someone holding a PhD and vice versa.
And the difference with journalism, you ask? Ellison admits that there is more integrity to medical writing, as the ultimate goal is to deliver the information in its purest form, without artefacts or glitter.
Personal skills development
Creativity is not the only skill you will have the opportunity to hone as a medical writer. It is truly rewarding, as they are the bridge linking the science to the audience, thus making an impact by greatly improving patient care. Each new medical writing assignment is nonetheless an exciting challenge – which, just like every other job, might be demanding and stressful at times. However always bear in mind the very first pillar mentioned earlier, your teammates will be there to share the load.
To keep it simple, if there is a pharma company commercialising a drug for a therapeutic area you are interested in, you will most likely be able to write about it: ranging from physical illnesses such as cancers and genetic diseases, to mental health. You are sure to find a subject to your liking. It can even be extended to health economics, Fisher says. That’s flexibility again for you!
As a fresh or prospective medical writer, there might already be a specific therapeutic area you cherish and are passionate about but rush you need not! As all our guest speakers suggest, it is always better to start with a broad scope and discuss it extensively with your peers. At the end of the day, although the needs of the customers must be met, your preference will surely be taken into consideration when possible says Soady. It is also useful to note that specialising in a single area is often easier in bigger companies.
Salary evolution and job security
We know this is one of the first questions you are tempted to ask. Well, medical writing is part of a rather financially secure industry: the salary is competitive in addition to bonuses. Medical writers are constantly being recruited, and you are encouraged to apply as soon as you can. If you are an exceptional candidate, companies may be willing to reserve your position until you finish your PhD or post doc!
Should I stay or should I go?
Traveling! As a fresh graduate seeking for exciting adventures, this might be at the top of your professional bucket list.
The opportunity to attend conferences just like in academia was one of the perks Soady was happy to take advantage of when she started as a medical writer.
Some companies might even have offices abroad: for instance, Ashfield Healthcare is also based in New York and Japan. You can even start off as a freelancer before settling! On the other hand, if you decide to settle in and/or have personal priorities such as kids, you can choose to stay where you are and even work from home! Now if that isn’t flexibility, we don’t know what is.
How do I apply?
These tests can be taken at home, with a suggested timing in the brief. The take-home points here are, again, to stick to the question and be as precise as possible while matching the style that is required. Timing is secondary at this stage. You can apply right after graduating and potentially be offered a position as a medical writer or editorial assistant.
At CMC, students have completed internships lasting anywhere from two weeks to two months as part of their degree or an apprenticeship to discover the different roles available in medical writing. The best way to be sure is to enquire directly from a medical writing company, as internship schemes may vary from one to another.
Find out more about applications, vacancies and contact details:
Complete Medical Communications
Any question? Comments? Feedback? Drop them in the comment section below!