Medical writing is one of the most common job titles you might hear under the banner of science communication. In reality, it covers a multitude of possibilities depending on the type of company you work for. A variety of companies employ medical writers, the most common being pharmaceutical companies, medical communications agencies and clinical research organisations. The latter two sometimes being subsidiaries of much larger organisations made up of PR and marketing agencies, digital agencies and even other medical communications agencies that have all been bought out to become part of one large group. As a medical writer you might write anything from an educational slide deck to a regulatory submission, a piece for patients, or a full symposium for specialised clinicians. Some agencies specialise in a specific type of material, for example clinical trial reports or nowadays perhaps digital assets. You need to be able to get to the root of a subject easily and accurately and take on information from clinical papers and spit them back out with clear accurate writing that could be for any audience. It helps to have some statistical knowledge, as the accuracy of the message you deliver about people’s results is crucial. Many agencies will now expect a PhD for a medical writer but not all. You need to be able to demonstrate: a passion for writing/communicating science (have you presented posters and written for newspapers or websites already, for example?), exceptional English on your CV and covering letter is a given, and you can probably expect a writing or editing test. Always ask to meet some people you might be working with and, since I come across a lot of agencies where the writing is consistently depressingly poor – ask to see some examples of the work they have produced. Remember that you are interviewing them as well as the other way round. If you are turned down before interview, ask a recruitment agent that specialises in medical communications for some feedback on your CV. If they are not honest with you find another recruitment agency. In some places you will be facing stiff competition, you may need to consider a geographical change or maybe a different type of science communication job! Medical writing pays relatively well if you are good at it and when you are experienced you may be able to do it from home or even work for yourself.
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Mary Read PhD MBA Mary has a first class degree in Biochemistry and Genetics from Aberdeen University and a PhD in Developmental Biology from King’s College London. She has worked in various science communication roles, including corporate communications, press and publicity, publishing and medical communications agencies. Her real passion is seeing people succeed in great jobs that they love. She works as the Operations Director in a small medical communications agency and wants to share her knowledge of the various options available to scientists considering non-research career options.
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