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What does a medical writer do and how can you become one?

Posted on: 13 Nov

Do you have a way with words? Do you enjoy expressing yourself through writing- and do you also have a deep-seated interest in the medical industry?

Then a career as a medical writer might be right for you. Responsible for working closely with doctors, scientists, and other people in the medical and pharmaceutical profession, a medical writer curates a vast array of content that can cover patient information sheets, medical reports, clinical study reports and even regulatory submissions. The sector is incredibly diverse, demand for skilled writers is high, and the pay is generous; for those who want to get involved in marketing, coding or law, there are spaces for you.

The UK pharmaceutical market is now worth £21 billion and is projected to continue expanding at a very strong rate. So there’s never been a better time for you to make that career change and become a medical writer. But what do you need to know about starting off and finding your first job?

Decide what to aim for

There are several career paths you can pursue as a Medical Writer; the trick is finding the one that suits you best. Here are three avenues you can take:

Regulatory Medical Writing

Working in this domain, you’ll be writing documents that are part of the development process for medical drugs or devices. This could take the form of clinical trial study reports, marketing applications or regulatory documents regarding the release of the drug. You’ll need a good knowledge of the law - particularly medical regulations - but if it’s a fast-paced environment that you’re looking for with the chance to work on the latest pharmaceutical developments, this will be an extremely rewarding career path.

Medical Communications Writing

There is a little overlap here but the key difference is that medical communications writing is normally conducted by an agency that hires out its services to pharmaceutical companies. No mater whether you're working from home or office-based, you’ll be doing everything from writing legal and regulatory documentation to tackling marketing and advertisements for the latest drugs. A large part of this job will involve information dissemination - writing documents that inform doctors and patients about the latest drug or device and how to use it.

Translation

A smaller field within medical writing, but no less important, is translation. Put your language skills to use as a highly sought-after medical writer translating clinical and technical documents into different languages. Medical translators are particularly important for clinical trials where they’ll translate the medical text for patients, clinicians and representatives of regulatory organisations. The majority of leading medical research is written in English but with a considerable amount of text published in French, German, Portuguese and Spanish there’s a real demand for medical writers who are fluent in these languages and want to help increase the global information pool.

Get qualified

To become a medical writer, you need to have a comprehensive knowledge of your chosen field, especially given that you’re going to be writing authoritative content on the subject. For some roles, you’ll most likely be expected to achieve a PhD or Master’s in Life Sciences, Biology or Chemistry, though it’s possible to progress in medical writing by completing a Master’s in Technical Writing. It’s also possible, but more difficult, to get editorial roles with less industry experience and fewer credentials, such as a degree in English Literature. It’s hard to break into the industry without the right experience, so focus on that, too: build up a portfolio of writing jobs or take an unpaid medical writing job so you can prove yourself as a writer or an editor. Whether that’s writing a column about the health industry or copy-writing for different companies, having experience will get you noticed.

Network

There are plenty of communities within medical writing that will help you forge new connections and learn more about the industry. For instance, the Council of Science Editors comprises a group of medical writers whose website holds information on everything from training courses to relevant publications. The European Medical Writers Association does much the same, supporting and training medical communications professionals in Europe. Both are great sources of information and if you want to connect with others in the industry you can network via the Health Writer Hub. Take it a step further and find events – both in-person and virtual - and reach out to people. There are plenty of medical writing groups on LinkedIn, too, if you want to swap ideas with others in the industry.

Immerse yourself

Do your research. Find out everything you can about the field, so you can prepare yourself for a career within the sector. Get to grips with PubMed, which is a key source of information for medical writers, and research the medical and pharmaceutical industry to get a better idea of the state of the industry and the new products that are coming onto the market. Read high-level medical publications and magazine ones; start familiarising yourself with the style and the language used in different articles and documents. The more you know, the better you’ll be prepared to pursue a career in medical writing- or editing- and to hit the ground running. 

Go further with IQVIA

Looking to take your first steps into the world of medical writing? We can help. Our years of expertise in medical recruitment means that we’re perfectly placed to connect you with your first job. Browse our medical communications jobs and start your application. If you're looking for more insight from IQVIA, find out how technology is changing the modern workforce.