Medical and science writing is a tough field to penetrate for reasons involving education and experience, and I address those issues below. Other requirements for successful
medical writers include a strong command of their language, intermediate-to-advanced computer skills (particularly with Microsoft Word), and the ability to handle stress and work well on teams. Finally, the medical writer must be able to pay exquisite attention to detail when writing. For more details, see my blog article on What It Takes to Be a Medical Writer.
To the aspiring medical writer, I suggest the following general strategy:
Acquire enough higher education. In the US, this means at least a college degree, preferably in a life science. In fact, employers usually prefer to hire medical writers who have a masters or doctorate degree in a life science.
If needed, take a few writing courses to improve your basic writing skills. If you have a great education, but can’t write reasonably well, you won’t enjoy long-term success as a medical writer.
Take professional classes to supplement areas of your education that are deficient, such as training in ICH requirements for the content and structure of clinical documents. Such courses are offered by a few universities and professional organizations, such as Drug Information Association (DIA) and the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA).
In general, the best way for a writer to understand the writing task is to have first-hand experience with the subject matter. For medical writers, this means that industry experience (biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medical device, medical communications, and/or continuing medical education) is invaluable in providing a context or conceptual framework for the writing. You can acquire this experience with jobs as lab technicians, regulatory affairs associates, clinical research associates, and many others.
It is possible for medical writers who have no industry experience to do freelance medical writing, but the odds for success strongly favor those medical writers who have that experience.
Become a member of DIA and/or AMWA. Both organizations have job and career resources that are valuable to aspiring and established medical writers. You will also meet many intelligent, fascinating people by attending their meetings and workshops.
Cultivate relationships with other medical writers and professionals in the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, medical device, medical communications, and/or continuing medical education businesses. Eventually, you will find job opportunities come from your network that you would never have access to otherwise.
The education, experience, and network development strategy briefly outlined here should prepare most aspiring medical writers to enter the job or contract market with a strong likelihood of success.
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