A lot of people ask what is medical writing so I looked it up on Wikipedia to see whether they knew. And they said it is the activity of producing scientific and medical documentation by a specialized writer. I’m Helen Baldwin, and I’m a medical writer and also I am the past president of an association, which is called the European Medical Writers Association.
My medical writing is generally broken down into two categories. The first category is called regulatory writing and the second one is called medical communications. Regulatory writing is the sort of writing that is generally done in the pharmaceutical companies and it is the writing of documents that are related to the pharmaceutical development process. So, drug development and the people that we are writing regulatory documents for are the people who are performing clinical trials such as doctors and nurses. Also, the pharmaceutical companies themselves are the regulatory authorities which are the government bodies in each country that are in charge of deciding whether or not drugs are allowed to be marketed. So, what are the regulatory documents that we need to write about these clinical trials? Well, the first one is called a clinical study protocol and that is like a recipe book that explains to the doctors and the nurses how to actually perform the clinical trial so it is their instruction guideline.
There is another sort of medical writing which is called medical communications and that is writing documents that are destined for healthcare professionals such as doctors and nurses who are actually prescribing the drugs and need to be able to make decisions about whether or not to prescribe a particular drug.
We also write conference abstracts, conference posters, and slide presentations. Sometimes we are even lucky enough to be sent to a conference and to take notes during the conference and write a report about it.
We also write educational tools for patients to understand more about the medications they are being prescribed. We also help write websites for pharmaceutical companies for research institutes etc.
Some medical writers also participate in other activities. These include medical translations: translations from English into their native language or from their native language into English.
So maybe you are asking yourself, am I the right sort of person to be a medical writer? I think that you need to understand complex science in any field. I think you need to be able to explain ideas in a clear and logical manner. You need to be someone who is good at presenting data in the most appropriate way. So, knowing how to decide where the data are best presented in tables or graphs or text. You need to be someone who can distinguish good science from bad science and recognize when data are biased. You need to be able to write short clear sentences and to build a logical argument. You need to be able to organize information in a clear way using headings and subheadings.
So what would be the required experience and qualifications that you would need if you were thinking about becoming a medical writer?
Well, I would say that firstly it would be very helpful to have a scientific or medical qualification. If you have a science background and you’ve done laboratory research in a University, for example, you would find that useful. Especially if you had also written during your research career some scientific publications because that is one of the things that you will probably do as a medical writer.
So where do medical writers work?
If you were thinking of looking for a job as a medical writer you could contact pharmaceutical companies, you could contact the sort of company that is called a contract research organization or a CRO which is a company that organizes clinical research on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry. There are also medical communications agencies and specialized writing companies such as my own company. You could also work for a University. Last but not least there are many freelance medical writers who actually work from their own homes.
The European Medical Writers Association has been around for 20 years now. In fact, this is our 20th birthday. We are an association of more than 1000 members. We have two conferences each year and up to around 300 people attend each of these conferences. They are a fantastic opportunity for networking, for meeting other medical writers and also for training. These workshops are provided by experienced medical writers who very generously and on a volunteer basis share their knowledge and expertise with us, and with their colleagues. I really love these conferences and I have been to nearly every conference for the last 13 years since I’ve been a member. There are a lot of advantages of being a member. One of those advantages is that you will receive our journal every quarter. We also have a fantastic website, and this website has an incredible resource for medical writers and for people who are thinking about being medical writers. I highly recommend people to join.
I have to say, I really love medical writing. I find it very rewarding and very satisfying I get to use my scientific education and skills every day. I am constantly learning and having to keep up with the latest science, which changes very fast. And, of course, I love EMWA, the European Medical Writers Association because medical writers really are very friendly people.