What Is Medical Writing?

what is medical writing

Omar Founder of OJ Digital Solutions

Table of Contents

“What is medical writing?” is a loaded question that’s impossible to answer in just one or two sentences.

Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place if you’re looking for in-depth information about medical writing.

I wrote this article to discuss everything you need to know about medical writing. I’ll provide information on what a medical writer does, how to become a medical writer, and more.

Let’s begin.

What Is Medical Writing?

Medical writing is an esteemed and lucrative profession that combines a writer’s creative talent with advanced health, medicine, and scientific knowledge.

The medical and healthcare industries are constantly innovating and advancing. As such, it’s become even more essential to communicate products, services, research findings, and devices.

Enter medical writing.

Medical writing is an esteemed and lucrative profession combining a writer’s creative talent with advanced health, medicine, and scientific knowledge.

This profession conveys health and medical information to healthcare professionals and the general public. Depending on the audience, medical writers may need to adjust their language to provide relevant information.

Note that writing for doctors and other healthcare professionals differs from writing for the general public. A medical writer must use simple language and avoid technical or medical jargon when communicating with the general public.

There’s now an increasing demand for medical journal editors and writers.

There’s also a need to provide scientific data to various media:

  • Online publications
  • Video websites
  • Traditional print media
  • Social media
  • Multimedia presentations
  • Other websites

Medical writers deal with information demanding the highest degree of accuracy and objectivity. As such, they adhere to several guidelines and recommendations, including those of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).

What Does a Medical Writer Do?

Depending on their position and scope of duties, medical writers communicate clinical study reports and scientific data to a wide range of audiences.

  • Scientists
  • Doctors and other healthcare professionals
  • Insurance adjusters
  • Patients
  • Other stakeholders

Medical writers often work with doctors, scientists, and other subject matter experts to:

  • Develop and publish scientific data
  • Explain product use and research results
  • Tackle other health and medical information.

Medical writers also work with:

  • Editors
  • Healthcare journalists
  • Educators
  • Project managers
  • Media relations specialists
  • Supervisors
  • Fellow writers

Medical writers also have a crucial but lesser-known role. They help tech companies develop mobile apps for:

  • Health care training
  • Education
  • Disease management and monitoring
  • Information gathering
  • Medical references
  • And more

How To Become a Medical Writer?

what is medical writing

Follow this guideline to be part of the medical writing profession.

Earn a Degree.

An advanced degree isn’t a strict requirement. However, many medical writers have medical or science degrees, such as MD, Ph.D., or PharmD. Many work or have worked in academic settings as scientists, doctors, pharmacists, or other healthcare professionals.

Many medical writers also have a bachelor’s degree in English, Journalism, or Communications. Other medical writers have an MA, MFA, or Ph.D. in English or Communications.

These levels of education and experience allow them to understand and write complex scientific ideas and concepts.

Medical publication professionals share some common traits despite varying educational and professional backgrounds. They have a flair for writing and science.

To become a medical writer, you need a thorough understanding of medical and scientific processes, concepts, and terminology. You must also be able to present your data in an easily digestible manner.

Choose Your Medical Writing Niche.

Many pharmaceutical companies and scientific organizations require medical communicators. As such, medical writers have different:

  • Specializations
  • Writing settings
  • Technical writing skills and requirements
  • Medical terminology and jargon knowledge

Focus on an area in medical science you’re genuinely interested in and closely matches your skill set.

Here are some examples of medical writing niches.

  • Grant proposals
  • Patient education
  • Regulatory medical writing
  • Scientific publications (ex., peer-reviewed journals)
  • Publications for professional audiences
  • Health communication

Get Certified.

Aside from gaining relevant experience, another way to build your credibility as a medical writer is to take medical writing courses and join the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA).

Medical writing involves covering a wide range of topics, so you may want to obtain other credentials and certifications to demonstrate your proficiency in your chosen niche.

Gain Experience.

One way to build experience is to contribute to scientific and medical publications, association newsletters, and other similar publications.

Doing so builds your credibility as a medical writer, allows you to hone your writing skills, and helps you develop a solid portfolio.

Read Resources.

Reading is the best writing teacher.

You must regularly read high-quality, relevant resources like clinical study reports to expand your vocabulary (especially medical terminology) and hone your storytelling and medical writing.

Combining medical writing and storytelling is essential to attract readers who might feel that specific topics are too complicated.

One way talented medical writers attract an audience is by including real people affected by science and painting an easily-understandable picture of complex concepts and ideas.

Continuously Improve Your Skills.

Medical communicators come from a variety of fields and disciplines. They undergo writing and editing training to learn how to explain and present data in an easily understandable way for readers.

Here are the skills you must have to become a professional medical writer.

  • Understanding proper grammar (correct punctuation usage, sentence structure, etc.)
  • In-depth knowledge of medical terminology
  • Technical writing skills

Note that working in medical research requires a basic understanding of statistics.

Build Your Network.

There are plenty of opportunities in medical communication.

However, building your network to gain more experience and exposure is crucial to your career. It will help you become a senior medical writer or a medical editor once you decide to take your job to the next level.

Networking is vital throughout scientific writers’ careers. However, those new to medical communications must exert extra effort to connect with other professionals and the medical community.

Networking isn’t just an excellent way to connect with medical professionals. It also provides learning opportunities (ex., medical conferences) and lucrative job opportunities in the medical field.

Up to 85% of professionals found their current job through networking both offline (medical conferences) and online (Facebook, LinkedIn, healthcare websites).

Medical Writer Salary: How Much Do Professionals Make?

The salary of a US medical writer varies depending on the company, your skill set and niche, your industry, and other factors.

According to a recent survey by Indeed, professional medical writers earn an average of $43.81 per hour. However, it’s normal for those with advanced skills and experience to earn up to $77 an hour.

Who Hires Medical Writers?

Demand for medical writers has significantly increased in the last decade. This trend will continue as pharmaceutical companies and health technology develop:

  • New drugs
  • Diagnostic tools
  • Medical devices

Here’s a list of companies and organizations that hire medical writers.

  • Medical and professional associations
  • Government agencies that require companies to submit regulatory documents
  • Medical book publishers
  • Communications, marketing, and advertising companies
  • Biotech companies
  • Investigators
  • Authors
  • Pharmaceutical industry
  • Medical schools
  • Health tech companies
  • Medical device companies
  • Trade journals for health and medical news
  • Peer-reviewed medical journals

New drugs and health technologies are released daily. As such, there’s an increasing need to communicate medical information and research data and meet insurance and regulatory requirements.

The growth of the medical writing market is why there are more job opportunities within medical communications.

Why Does the Medical Industry Need Competent Medical Writers?

Companies and organizations offer competitive salaries to competent medical writers because it’s better than hiring affordable ghostwriters. Unlike most ghostwriters, professional medical writers know the nitty-gritty of medical science writing.

Medical communications professionals also comply with various guidelines and codes of ethics. They do this to ensure they write transparent, accurate, well-written, and compliant documents.

What Are the Different Types of Medical Writing?

Medical writing is a diverse field with different document types geared toward various audiences and purposes.

Here are the most common types of medical writing.

Research Documents

  • Investigator’s brochure
  • Protocols for clinical trials
  • Study reports
  • Clinical research proposals
  • Informed-consent documents

Medical Education

  • Textbooks
  • E-learning modules
  • Medical education programs and other learning materials for physicians
  • Patient education material for the general public

Medical Journalism

  • News
  • Magazines
  • Patient education materials
  • Other written sources for the general public

Medical Marketing of Healthcare Products

  • Sales training manuals for pharmaceutical companies
  • Online content for patients or consumers
  • Promotional literature (ex., brochures)

Regulatory Documents

  • Protocols
  • Clinical data
  • Annual safety records
  • Consumer information on medicines and medical devices

Publication or Presentation

journal articles, posters for conferences, presentations for scientific meetings, abstracts, etc.

Some medical writers also work freelance and deal with different products for various clients.

How Do You Become a Successful Medical Writer?

You need knowledge of medical terms and concepts to become a medical writer. You also need to be able to write complex ideas and medical concepts in an easily understandable way to draw audiences.

A successful and competent medical writer has the following qualities.

  • Ability to write in a way that is appropriate to the audience (scientists/doctors vs. general public)
  • In-depth understanding of their project’s purpose
  • Attention to detail
  • Ability to create a logical sequence to express complex ideas
  • Scientific accuracy
  • Ability to work independently and with other people
  • Active listening
  • Adaptability
  • Open to criticism
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Time-management skills

Do Professional Medical Writers Follow Medical Writing Guidelines?

Professional medical writers must adhere to strict ethical codes to ensure accuracy and fairness.

They follow several guidelines and recommendations.

  • Good Publication Practice (GPP) guidelines
  • Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)
  • International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE)
  • Enhancing the Quality and Transparency of HealthResearch (EQUATOR)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do you need a health science bachelor’s or graduate degree to become a medical writer?

No. You don’t need a degree or diploma to be a medical writer.

Is There Any Formal Training for Someone Who Wants to Work in Medical Communication and Technical Writing?

Yes. You can join short courses (e.g., statistics, protocol writing, technical writing, etc.) professional bodies often organize. Organizations that employ medical communication professionals also often offer writers project-specific training.

New recruits working for pharmaceutical companies often receive training in the following:

  • Drug development processes
  • Clinical research processes
  • Clinical trial protocols
  • Regulatory documents
  • Style guides
  • In-house templates

You can also hone your professional writing skills by undergoing on-the-job training from a senior medical writer.

Self-study is necessary if you want to become a medical writer. You must always be curious, disciplined, and self-motivated to succeed as a medical communicator.

Are Medical Writers in the US Satisfied With Their Salaries?

A survey by Indeed revealed that about 65% of US medical writers think their salary is enough to cover the cost of living in their area.

Do You Need To Adhere To Strict Ethical and Legal Requirements as a Medical Writer?

Yes. As a medical writer, you must:

  • Avoid plagiarism
  • Respect journal review processes
  • Adhere to copyright laws
  • Provide truthful and complete information (including negative findings in medical research and clinical trials)

What Writing Skills Do You Need as a Medical Technical Writer?

You need to be able to present data in a clear and easily understandable manner. Your best bet is to write in the active voice and write short and simple sentences.

Here are other things to remember when writing.

  • Ensure the logical flow of ideas.
  • Use punctuation marks correctly.
  • Use grammatically correct language.

What Are Common Writing Mistakes To Avoid as a Medical Writer?

Regulatory writers whose readers are from a non-medical audience should avoid technical jargon. You should also avoid using shoddy resource materials and medical information not recognized by health and medical authorities.

How Do You Hone Your Research Skills as a Medical Writer?

An overwhelming amount of scientific information is published online. People can access healthcare websites, online medical journals, and life sciences databases like Medline and PubMed.

The vast amounts of medical journal articles make looking for relevant information like finding a needle in a haystack.

As such, you should only use recognized, respected, and trustworthy sources when doing your research.

You should also stick to your niche and know the most relevant medical terms and jargon.

Do You Need To Know How To Create Tables and Graphs as a Medical Writer?

Yes. You need to present data using graphs and tables to make it easier to understand.

The Bottom Line

Now, you know everything crucial there is to know about medical writing. You can determine if becoming a professional medical writer is the right career path.

If you’re serious about becoming a medical writer, visit the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) website and learn how to obtain their certification.

On the other hand, you can start other ecommerce businesses if you don’t think becoming a medical writer would be a promising career.

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