When you read about the latest scientific study in a magazine or newspaper, do you ever think about how the study came to be? Sure, there were the scientists doing the research and the lab technicians analyzing the results. But there was also another key player that made sure the public could understand those results: a medical writer.
Here, we’ll explain this niche field of writing and show you how to get started if you’re interested in becoming a freelance medical writer.
What is Medical Writing?
A medical writer works with scientists, doctors and other experts to clearly communicate medical subject matter. This might include research results like we mentioned above, instructions for the safe use of pharmaceutical drugs, explanations of medical conditions and more. There are two main categories of medical writing: regulatory and educational.
Regulatory medical writing deals with heavily regulated documentation that agencies like the FDA require when approving drugs and devices. Regulatory documents can be dense and lengthy and are often subject to a strict set of requirements for structure and style.
Educational medical writing is the kind of writing the general public is most familiar with. This might include informational materials on prescription drugs, brochures and other literature for public awareness campaigns, technical articles for a medical audience or journalistic articles for a consumer audience. Its format is largely print, but a growing volume of educational medical writing includes media like video and audio scripts.
There are other forms of medical writing that are even more niche, like medical marketing and medical grant writing. Organizations often seek out medical writers with specific experience, either in the form of education, previous employment in medicine or science or prior work on specialized projects like compliance documents. Organizations may hire full-time medical writers in house or outsource to freelancers, which represent a growing segment of the workforce.
Medical writing presents a unique challenge in that it’s especially important to get it exactly right. Not only that, but the facts must be communicated in such a way that leaves little room for misinterpretation. If you have a scientific mind and a keen attention to detail, you might be well suited to medical writing.
To get started with freelance medical writing, follow these steps.
Create a Freelance Medical Writing Portfolio
The first step is to build a portfolio so you have something to reference when applying for gigs. Your freelance portfolio is your online home for your medical writing. It’s what you’ll use when you’re working to land jobs and what people will see when they search for you online.
Create your freelance writing portfolio in minutes with Clippings.me. Clippings.me is a free service that enables writers to build polished, professional looking portfolios without any development knowledge.
You can register for an account by clicking here. Then, complete your registration by filling out a bit of basic information. You’ll need to add a photo and complete your writer bio, which should include your relevant skills and qualifications, and choose a theme from a selection of templates.
Finally, complete your portfolio by adding your writing samples. You can do this by uploading documents from your computer or linking to them online. If you don’t have samples specifically for medical writing yet, that’s okay. Add other strong samples that showcase your attention to detail, thoroughness and ability to communicate complex topics clearly. Categorize your samples by type, date or publication to make it easier for viewers to peruse them.
Clippings.me is free for life with no credit card required, but you can also upgrade your account to access premium features like a custom domain and unlimited samples.
Develop Essential Medical Writing Skills
You may know the correct uses of there, their and they’re, but do you know what interquartile range and standard deviation are? The medical field presents unique challenges for writers in both content and context, so it’s a great idea to educate yourself on some of the most common conventions.
The American Medical Writers Association offers a rich library of online learning resources specific to the medical industry, like courses on how to translate visual data effectively and how to interpret and communicate statistics. They even offer a course on running your own freelance medical writing business.
Learn Key Medical Terminology
While you’re not expected to have a deep expertise on human anatomy, medical writing will require a broad knowledge of widely used medical terms. This includes different types of doctors and their jobs, abbreviations for medical procedures, common terms used to describe the nature of a disease, hospital departments, equipment, drug names and more.
Many colleges offer courses dedicated to medical terminology (which is useful for a number of fields, like medical billing and coding, in addition to writing). Health Writer Hub also has some great suggestions for brushing up your medical terminology chops here.
Familiarize Yourself With Scientific Style
You’ve heard of style guides like the AP Stylebook, but medical writing has its own set of standards for how scientific information should be communicated. To make things more complicated, there are several of these style guides from different sources and for use in different siutations.
The Scientific Style and Format Guide from the University of Chicago Press and the American Medical Association Citation Guide are two good ones to start with.
Narrow Your Focus
The best freelance medical writers are those who specialize in a specific area or type of writing. Narrowing your focus allows you to become a true expert at your craft, which will help you land more referrals and lucrative jobs. Some areas of focus in the medical writing field include grant proposals, medical journalism, patient education, regulatory writing, training materials and scientific publications.
Don’t forget that even the best medical writers need editors, so there’s a large market for medical editors, too. Having an eye for spelling and grammar in addition to the medical style conventions we mentioned above will serve you well if you’re looking for medical editing jobs. Learn more about building a strong editor portfolio here.
Consider Becoming Certified
If you’re interested in working with prestigious organizations like major hospitals or universities, consider pursuing a certification like Medical Writer Certified. While not essential to landing freelance gigs, a certification can help you stand out among other candidates and demonstrate your high level of proficiency in medical writing.
Medical Writer Certified is a rigorous, exam-based certification that assesses your knowledge of healthcare and ethical standards and your communication expertise.
Once you’ve worked your way through the above steps, the only thing left to do is start applying. You can find freelance medical writing gigs on job boards or by looking directly on the websites of research universities, hospitals and other medical organizations.
The American Medical Writers Association offers a members-only jobs directory that’s a great place to find high quality medical writing gigs. To access it, you’ll need to become a member of AMWA and pay your annual dues. Members get access to a number of valuable resources, like educational webinars, a discussion board to network with other medical writers and discounts on medical writing events. If you’re serious about pursuing a career as a freelance medical writer, it’s an investment you may want to consider.
Musings and updates from the content management team at Clippings.me.