Medical writing is a flexible nonclinical career for physicians.
What makes medical writing so interesting?
As a medical writer, particularly if you're a freelancer, you have a lot of freedom. You can work from home. And you can work at your own pace and schedule. But it does require discipline. With all that freedom, you must develop systems to consistently produce content in order to meet regular deadlines for the publications buying your work.
With freelance medical writing, one challenge is that you must set up your own business. You should form a legal entity such as an LLC, open a separate bank account, and keep track of your business earnings and expenses.
On the other hand, there are many employed medical writing options. In that situation, you work for a company that pays you to write, and you have the opportunity to receive the usual corporate benefits, vacation time, and access to a retirement account. And, working for an established business will provide more structure than working as a freelancer.
There are numerous categories of medical writing, regardless of how your job is structured. You should pursue the type of writing that best fits your personality, skills and interests. What follows is a brief overview of the most common types of medical writing.
On one end of the spectrum is technical writing for pharmaceutical companies and device companies that must comply with FDA regulations. It is very constrained and formulaic. But if you're a meticulous person, it might be the type of medical writing for you.
Another big category of medical writing is educational. This education can be aimed at patients or the public at large, or at other medical professionals, including physicians. Writing for the public requires the ability to make complex scientific information interesting and understandable to those without a medical education.
Writing designed for physicians requires less translation, but does require that it be more technical, and scientifically rigorous. Medical writing in this situation also requires a working knowledge of the requirements for continuing medical education (CME) as defined by the Accreditation Council on CME so it can be used for American Medical Association Category 1 Credit.
The next category of medical writing is journalistic. In this genre, the writer produces content, much like a newspaper article, for medical news periodicals. These are news stories addressing important breakthroughs in evaluation and treatment, or legal, administrative, and political issues affecting physicians. This type of medical writing is often good for medical specialists who want to share recent breakthroughs with their colleagues presented in scientific journals and at large national conferences.
Finally, there's another type of medical writing produced by medical communications companies. Such companies work in teams to produce marketing materials for pharmaceutical and device companies. While some of the writing must meet strict technical guidelines, there is also the creative side describing the benefits of using such products to patients and physicians. Writing in this realm may be educational or promotional. And the content can include everything from a journal display advertisement, to a live presentation, or multimedia display at a large national conference.
This is usually a fairly stable salaried position. In medical communications, there are entry-level jobs for physicians who have not completed a residency or become board certified, as well those with extensive medical knowledge and practice experience. That variability makes it attractive to many physicians. Unless you've been writing all your life, there are several steps you can take to prepare yourself for a medical writing career. You may hone your skills by attending a class at a local community college or university. Having someone review and critique your writing always helps to become a better writer. And there are courses to help you to set up your own freelance medical writing business, if you choose that approach.
You can gain exposure and practice your writing by blogging. You will receive feedback from readers, improve your writing, while posting content that recruiters might find. And there are numerous online journals and other platforms for freelancers to post articles about almost any topic imaginable. Publishing a popular article on a large platform like KevinMD, Medium or HuffPost, is an excellent way to demonstrate your writing skills to publishers and medical communications companies looking for medical writers. And the more you write, the better your medical writing will become.
If you want find paying jobs as a freelancer, you should contact editors at publications where you can submit manuscripts and obtain their guidelines for authors. Try to develop a relationship with the editors at one of those publications. Submit several well written articles for the editor to consider. After successfully having an article published, if you stay ahead of deadlines and submit well-written articles, the editors will be happy to continue to use your medical writing services.
An alternative approach is to search for continuing education-producing communication companies. Many of them produce continuing education for several healthcare professionals, such as nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. Contact the company, obtain the instructions for submitting manuscripts, and put together one or two articles for them to consider, if they use freelancers. Or search for medical writing jobs with CE companies on LinkedIn, Indeed, or Glassdoor.
Finally, be sure to continue to meet your deadlines and be as flexible as possible. Once you've developed a relationship with a CME company or online publication editors, you should be able to
maintain a stable medical writing career.
By developing systems to make the process more routine and streamlined, you should be able to make a very good living, either as a freelance or employed medical writer. If you enjoy writing and are looking for a way to transition out of clinical medicine, medical writing is a viable option to explore.