If you're considering a career as a medical writer, there are a few ways to enter this challenging, lucrative field. If you're an experienced communication or medical professional, you're off to a good start. Still, you'll want to spend time exploring professional resources, brushing up on medical terminology, and honing the specific skills necessary for your chosen area of focus.
Internships are one way to learn relevant skills in a real‑world environment. You could also seek out a medical writing apprenticeship program. It's crucial to have the right start to begin your professional journey to becoming a medical writer. Finding an employer or organization willing to mentor you can help.
What's the Difference Between an Internship and an Apprenticeship?
Apprenticeship is a term often used interchangeably with internship. The U.S. Department of Labor suggests that though there's no standardized definition for either, there are a few generally accepted differences between an internship experience and apprenticeship:
- Time. Internships typically last a few months, while apprenticeships might last 1‑3 years.
- Focus. Some internships focus heavily on entry‑level work, while apprenticeships are often designed to build the skills and experience necessary to take on the job as an employee.
- Mentorship. Apprenticeships include individualized training from a mentor. An internship may or may not come with a mentorship opportunity.
- Pay. In general, apprenticeships are paid. Some, but not all, internships are also paid.
Again, these differences are common but not intrinsic. If you're interested in a medical writing internship or apprenticeship, be sure to ask about the specifics before committing to it.
5 Benefits of a Medical Writing Internship
Like apprenticeships, internships offer a hands‑on learning opportunity that leads to experience and skills in the medical communication field. By putting in the time to intern, you'll enjoy several professional benefits.
Free training. Interning is typically free of charge. There's no expectation of paying your supervisor for mentoring you. Instead, you work in exchange for their feedback, guidance, and specialized training.
Structured experience. Like apprenticeships, internships are usually highly structured. You'll work your way through specific experiences and milestones. Your tasks will be clearly defined, with plenty of feedback opportunities, and supervisors typically assign projects over short time periods.
Low‑pressure expectations. When you're an intern, no one thinks you're an expert. Instead, your colleagues and supervisor will expect you to ask questions. Internships can be an excellent opportunity to pick up various technical and soft skills in the field.
Job references. Your internship supervisor will be able to testify to your performance as an "employee," solving the conundrum of new graduates everywhere: "How do I get experience without a job when I can't get a job without experience?" In your internship, you will write a variety of documents. Your work will be edited. You will work with others on your team. If you perform well, you'll likely leave with at least one strong job reference letter.
Potential employment opportunities. Landing an internship can be the best thing you can do for your job prospects. Supervisors have the chance to get to know you and assess your work. The experience can lead to paid work at the company where you interned. It can also lead to professional networking that opens the door to employment at another company, organization, or health care institution.
How to Find a Medical Writing Internship
Finding the best medical writing internship for you might require a bit of determination and perseverance. Begin by using search engines or social media platforms to find advertised internships and job vacancies. This is a helpful way to get an overview of how many openings there are at any given time. There are not many medical writing internships available, so the field of applicants can be competitive.
Another method is to participate in professional networks such as the AMWA member online community. Networking with other medical writers and editors will help you get to know supervisors in various organizations and areas of focus.
You may find internships available at a variety of companies and organizations:
- Biotechnology companies
- Pharmaceutical companies
- Medical schools
- Health communication and marketing agencies
- Research institutions
- Scientific publishers
Keep in mind that many internships are currently virtual due to the COVID‑19 pandemic. According to Forbes, experts predict that remote internships are likely here to stay. While this changes the learning experience slightly, it opens new opportunities for medical writers located in remote areas.
Every new medical writer's background and skills are different, but most will benefit significantly from an internship or apprenticeship. Enter your internship with an open mind, ask questions, and seek out opportunities to network with as many professional colleagues as you can.