How To Become a Medical Writer

    Medical writers are key personnel in the health care and biomedical research fields. They communicate scientific research findings and information about diseases and treatments to a variety of audiences:  health care professionals, regulatory authorities, sales representatives, patients, caregivers, and more. 

    Medical writers make scientific information accessible for readers and empower people to make informed decisions about their health.

    A Career in Medical Writing

    Medical writing enables writers to combine their love of science and writing  and to discover that they can make a career by bringing them together. There are many different paths to becoming a medical writer, and resources exist to help you discover the abilities and develop the skills to launch a successful career. 

    How does someone enter into this dynamic field? What do medical writers write? Where do they work? What resources are available for medical writers’ development?

    Scientists Can Become Medical Writers

    Many people come to medical writing with science backgrounds in areas such as biology, chemistry, biochemistry, biotechnology, molecular biology, and genetics.

    A bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in a scientific field can provide the academic background for becoming a medical writer. Although a doctorate may be advantageous, it is not a requirement for becoming a medical writer. Many successful medical writers hold bachelor's or master's degrees.

    Health Care Professionals Can Become Medical Writers

    Health care professions are also great entry points. Physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, radiologists, nutritionists, and others have transitioned to medical writing.

    Building Your Writing Skills

    A background in science or health care isn’t enough to land a position as a medical writer.  Medical writers also need to develop writing and editing skills. An important key to the transition from being a scientist or clinician to being a medical writer is proving you are able to write clearly, concisely, and compellingly about science and health. These skills may be developed and honed through writing experience in one’s scientific job, graduate or certificate programs in medical writing, medical writing apprenticeship programs, or AMWA’s Essential Skills training program.

    Essential Skills will help you build a foundation for success as a medical writer. This program provides training in grammar and punctuation, the basics of sentence structure, how to interpret and use statistics, charts, and graphs, and more. 

    Writers Can Become Medical Writers

    Many writers also come to medical writing from the humanities and social sciences. They hold degrees in disciplines such as English, communications, journalism, literature, sociology, and psychology. An advanced degree in one of these areas can be helpful, although it’s not necessary.

    A person who wants to enter the medical writing profession is expected to know the basics of medical science. Such knowledge supports clear and accurate communication of concepts specific to medicine. 

    Tips for Writers Transitioning to Medical Writing

    Here are a few tips for becoming a medical writer:

    • Being a good writer isn’t enough. You need to know the science. Learn, or refresh yourself, about the basic sciences, including such things as cell biology, chemistry, pharmacology, and epidemiology.
    • Review or take courses (eg, Essential Skills) in the fundamentals of writing, including grammar, usage, punctuation, and sentence structure.
    • Make sure you have the knowledge and skills medical writers use every day, including medical terminology, statistics, ethics, and creating tables and graphs.
    • Make sure you know how to use the tools of the medical writing profession, including Microsoft Word, Google Docs, PowerPoint, Excel, and Adobe Acrobat.

    An important key to the transition from being a writer to being a medical writer is demonstrating you understand the science behind what you’re writing.

    Recent College Graduates Can Become Medical Writers

    There are job opportunities in medical writing for recent college graduates. However, additional work to acquire the necessary skill set will likely be needed to ensure acceptance into a medical writer position.

    Tips for Leveraging Your Recent Graduate Status

    Aspiring medical writers can build skills and demonstrate their interest in the field of medical writing by participating in online learning programs and webinars, and by attending AMWA-sponsored events (eg, gatherings of regional chapters, regional conferences, or the national conference).  It’s helpful to form personal connections in the medical writing industry before looking for a job.

    Some larger firms offer internships and apprenticeship programs to give aspiring medical writers a head start. 

    Potential employers want to see that applicants are curious, engaged, and informed. 

    Successful medical writers take every opportunity to network with potential employers, colleagues, clients, and established professional medical writers.

    An important key to the transition from being a student to getting your first medical writing job is demonstrating you have the necessary skills and knowledge.

    Skills and Qualifications

    The basic qualifications to enter the field of medical writing are similar for everyone. However, one’s background often dictates one’s strengths and deficiencies. Oftentimes, scientists need to further develop their editorial skills, while writers need to strengthen their scientific and medical knowledge.

    • AMWA’s Essential Skills courses cover the fundamentals of the field: grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, medical terminology, tables and graphs, statistics, and ethics.
    • Online learning courses teach fundamentals and target medical communication specialties such as editing, regulatory writing, and freelance medical writing.
    • Certificate programs are another option for learning and demonstrating that knowledge.
    • People with at least 2 years of full-time professional medical writing experience are eligible to become certified medical writers.
    • The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Medical Writer contains information to help you get started on your journey toward a medical writing career. 

    The Medical Writing Industry Is Thriving

    Opportunities for medical writers are growing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the field of technical writing will grow by 7% by 2032, a rate that is faster than average.  

    Using the example of one medical writing specialty, according to the Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), there are currently almost 8000 medicines in development. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved nearly 900 new medicines since 2000.

    Every medicine in development needs medical writers to prepare clinical trial documents and report research results. Once approved, these new medicines need medical writers to help educate health care professionals, train sales representatives, and market and promote the product. For nearly every medicine that’s already been approved, medical writers are needed for ongoing education and communication activities.

    What’s Next?

    Whether you are a recent graduate looking to launch your career or are pondering a career change,  medical writing is an exciting career choice. Medical writers help to communicate and share critical scientific information with people who need it, helping make the world a healthier place. 


    AMWA acknowledges the contributions of Jennifer Busch, PhD for peer review in the development of this AMWA resource.

     

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    June 24, 2024 at 9:30 AM

    American Medical Writers Association

    AMWA is the leading resource for medical communicators. The AMWA Blog is developed in partnership with community members who work every day to create clear communications that lead to better health and well-being.