In today’s rapidly-changing medical industry, new discoveries and innovations in technology necessitate dissemination of information. Because of that necessity, the need for more funding and an increase in regulatory requisites, the medical writing field is attracting an increasing number of professionals. Medical writers create “scientific documents of different types which include regulatory and research-related documents, disease or drug-related educational and promotional literature.” In other words, medical writers translate the details of medical research and innovations to get FDA approval, they work to create continuing educational materials for medical professionals, help doctors prepare articles for medical journals and create content for medical websites and other healthcare-related media. According to the American Medical Writers Association, there are two types of medical writers: the scientific medical writer and the marketing medical writer. The first writes for a professional audience about drug trials, clinical data and medical findings. The second writes advertising copy and articles for the general public.
The median salary for these professionals is $69,850, the same as for other technical writers. Salary is somewhat dependent upon where you are employed. A third of medical writers are freelance; the rest work for pharmaceutical and other corporations.
Entry-level salaries for this job can be as low as $49,000, but beginning writers generally earn about $$61,546. Of course, that figure does not include benefits.
Medical writers must interpret technical data into understandable language. Because they rephrase information, it is vital that they be accurate. They must be aware of the intended audience and write to their level of expertise and experience. The job also requires the professional to understand the requirements of the project he is completing. Medical writers have to continually upgrade their skills and their basic knowledge of the terminology and procedures in the field for which they write.
The primary skill necessary for these writers is writing competence. They have to understand grammar and syntax and be concise in their writing and editing. They should be able to identify relationships between ideas, then organizing them into logical sequence. Medical writers must be detail-oriented. They have to be able to work independently in research and crafting documents, but must also have the “people skills” necessary to work in teams.
Degrees and Education Requirements
Although there is no formal degree program for this occupation, the minimum education required is generally a baccalaureate degree in a scientific field, preferably a medical arena. IT skills are valuable, but computer competency is vital. Most medical writers find it best to work in one area such as pharmaceutical development or medical appliances. It is easier to stay abreast of developments in the field that way. It is important to understand the liabilities and ethics of this type of writing. There are courses that you may add into your degree program to prepare for this career. You can work on a project or freelance with a bachelor’s degree, but supervisory or managerial positions require higher educational levels. Most medical writers have advanced degrees like M.D. or PhD. You don’t have to be an expert; if you know the fundamentals of the area in which you work, most training is on-the-job. You can, however, get certified in medical writing through the American Medical Writers Association. That process can take up to three years.
Rewards and Challenges
Most writers write because they enjoy the process. Medical writing is no different. There is a creative aspect to making scientific “jargon” understandable to the reader. Writing to educate is satisfying as well. If you enjoy researching articles and learning, this job may be for you. There is a “rush” in knowing that your writing may influence whether a new drug becomes available to patients or whether a research organization receives funding. There are tangible rewards as well. You earn a high salary and good benefits. Your name may appear on taglines, giving you recognition for your work. The downside to this job is that it does require discipline, especially if you work as a freelancer. You must edit your work carefully. You have to stay informed about the area for which you write. You will obviously be working with finite writing deadlines.
The first step in becoming a medical writer is honing your writing skills. That may require taking courses online or at a university. If you don’t have technical skills, you should take classes in IT and computer as well. Additionally, you can receive certification through the American Medical Writer’s Association. This involves earning credits through independent online study or through courses offered at AMWA conferences. Seven three-hour workshops plus an ethics workshop are required for most certificates, and this may take up to three years to complete. You should definitely join a professional organization to have networking and continuing education opportunities. Applying for your first job may be difficult because most employers require writing samples and since technical writing is different from other types, according to Science Magazine, your previously published clips might not work. After you get those pertinent samples, however, it will be easier to get a job. Medical writers are in great demand.
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Between 2003 and 2008 the medical writing market doubled from $345 million to $654 million. Medical writing is the fourth most-outsourced service. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the job growth outlook through 2020 to be 11-15 percent, which is faster than most professions. The growth is fueled, in part, by the increase in demand from pharmaceutical companies. Monetary belts are tightening for research grants and government standards for FDA approval are increasing. Additionally, the explosion in technology has resulted in a greater need for writers who can interpret and communicate the data to both the public and to funding sources. There is also growth in the number of healthcare websites and podcasts in need of content, and EHR platforms that allow patients to educate themselves about their health needs and become proactive in their care. These factors point to a bright job outlook for medical writers in the foreseeable future.
If you have a scientific “bent” but don’t want to get into research, this career might be a good fit for you. That is especially true if you have a degree in a science or medical field. The employment opportunities are good and the job satisfaction in intangible and in physical rewards is high.