For the past 3 years or so, I’ve had friends, family, some doctors and taxi drivers asking what I did for a living, then saying that they had never heard of a medical writer followed by the question “What does a medical writer do?” Sometimes, the more curious of the lot want to know more, and that is, how I became a medical writer.
You know, I believe that the Universe/Life/Source/God, whatever your preference to call it is, will keep reminding you to do something until you get that something done. Well, one of those things for me is to start sharing not only my journey on the path of a medical writer but to share what I’ve learned. Of course as a human being with a penchant of being stubborn, I mentally said “yea, yea…when I can” but didn’t do anything about it. The thing about these sort of “things” is that it’ll hound and nag you. It’ll appear as ideas on how to approach it when you’re busy trying to start on a whole other project, or you stumble onto advertisements for health writing courses while mindlessly scrolling through LinkedIn or Facebook and the worst? The worst is when you suddenly get this feeling of panic that you need to get this something done or else!…
So, yes. When that panic happens especially when you’re trying to watch a YouTube video on how to organise your life or the trailer of The Nun (please don’t watch this at night, alone..just no), you tell yourself “Right, you win, I lose, let’s get this started!”
First, an introduction to two of the many components in medical writing – disclosures and disclaimers.
Let me state some disclosures and disclaimers before I start this series (hopefully) on medical writing.
- I have a medical degree and have cumulatively practiced medicine in various fields as a medical officer/locum doctor for about 12 years.
- I have worked in the pharmaceutical industry as a medical manager for 3 years and part of my job scope involved vetting and approving marketing materials.
- My profession as a medical writer started in 2014 and I have had no formal training in scientific writing, journalism, marketing, copywriting and any other course targeting would-be writers.
Though medical writing has its do’s and don’ts, what I share are in no way or form strict rules. It’s more of a friendly guide, a sharing from someone who was given the opportunity to do what she loves (writing) in a niche that she is knowledgeable in (medicine and health).
I have always preferred writing as a form of communication. I don’t really know why, but writing my thoughts down or what I wanted to say seemed to help me put the words down in an orderly manner. Talking is fine. It’s just that my mind, the monkey that it is, tends to jump and run around quite a bit, making it rather difficult to keep much of anything straight. Writing on the other hand allows me to pause and reign my mind in, to erase irrelevant and random thoughts and just generally help me keep things together.
How did I get into medical writing?
My short and honest answer: I don’t really know.
This is what I do know.
- I put my intention to write “out there”.
Just prior to leaving the multinational company I was at, I spoke about how I enjoyed writing and my dreams about becoming a writer to some of my colleagues. I verbalised my dreams to them and to friends of mine.
- I had a back-up plan
Before leaving the stability of a 9-to-5 job, I had lined up clinics where I could do locum (usually referring to a freelance healthcare professional such as doctors, nurses and pharmacists) so as to earn enough to pay my bills. I didn’t have much savings. If you were to ask others about venturing out on your own, one of the first few advice you’ll get is to make sure that you have at least a 3 to 6 month financial buffer prior to leaving your current place of employment. For myself, I didn’t know any better and more importantly, I *had* to leave. At the time, it felt like I had no choice and it was something that I could not, not do.
- I wasn’t fussy.
My very first writing job was for a friend’s husband. He wanted me to edit a eulogy. Then, another friend passed me an opportunity to interview a local celebrity and to write up the article for one of the local magazines, I think it was Cleo or maybe Her World. I can’t remember…but, yes took that too. Next, a few articles as a contributing writer for the Public Mutual in-house magazine, Calibre. These opportunities didn’t just come flowing in. They arrived in a staggered manner and the money wasn’t great either. But you know what? I didn’t care. It was writing.
In the mean time, I wrote in my blog, now deceased (may it rest in peace) and continued doing locum.
- It took 2 years, for me.
Two years from the time I started this venturing out on your own business, I got a call. An ex-colleague of mine had referred me to someone, a someone who owned a small, medical communications agency looking for freelance writers. It started small, it became bigger till I could leave locum and focus fully on medical writing projects.
What helped were…
- I enjoy writing.
- I have the knowledge of basic life sciences, medicine and most of the jargon it contains.
- I have the experience of being in the “doctor’s shoe” and the “Pharma shoe” giving me a unique perspective of the target audience and the client.
- I love teaching – this may sound weird, but when you write materials targeting the public, you are basically teaching them about a disease, why you need certain types of treatments and how they can prevent certain conditions.
And what I feel is the most important of all, I can write. Not fantastically amazingly awesomely wonderfully great but, I can write. I am able to weave words into a sentence, into a paragraph that flows. And that, dear reader is how I transitioned to becoming a medical writer.
Now, after a one year stint as a permanent full-time medical writer, I’m back freelancing and this time with no other backup. It’s been an interesting year and 3 months. Scary at times but, that’s okay.
What does this mean for you?
To avoid making this article too long, the next one will focus on what it means for someone interested in getting into medical writing. Because, let’s face it. Not all of us who are interested in medical and/or health writing have the same experiences or credentials.
Here are a few questions for you:
- Do you enjoy writing?
- Can you write?
- Can you or do you think you can grasp medical concepts enough to write something about it?
- Is Google your best friend? -ha! no, but seriously, is it?
My take on medical writing is that though it can get technical, if you can write, are willing to learn (and sometimes learn fast) and are interested in the expansive field of medicine then yes, why not. Why not start your journey to becoming a medical writer.