What Does It Take to Be a Medical Editor? Exploring Editing Careers


    Every quality document requires the attention of a thorough editor, and medical and scientific documents require extra care to uphold scientific rigor. 

    Medical and Scientific Editors

    Medical and scientific editors oversee the documents that are created in many industries: health care, regulatory/pharmaceutical/device, publishing, research, and academic institutions.

    They work on documents created by scientists, academics, corporations, manufacturers, medical publishers, and medical communication agencies. 

    Some work for individual authors or investigators, contract research organizations, or scientific and medical journals.

    No matter where they work, editors need to ensure that every document is prepared with accuracy, consistency, and clarity.

    Core Competencies

    Given the importance of the role, it is surprisingly difficult to locate formal guidelines for medical and scientific editors. A 2017 study identified a set of key competencies for scientific editors. In short, medical editors should demonstrate knowledge of the field and should be skilled at synthesizing information and views from a variety of sources. They need to be excellent leaders and communicators, and they must pay close attention to the ethics and best practices in their field.

    Editing Roles

    With a combination of curiosity, organization, and editorial skills, medical editors improve the quality of scientific publications.  

    In general, medical editors in academic and research settings will find themselves working within these general roles.

    • Copy Editor
    • General Editor
    • Substantive Editor
    • Analytical Editor

    Editing Positions

    Medical editors have many different responsibilities in organizations, and there are multiple paths to becoming a medical editor. Most academic institutions require highly skilled, substantive editors with analytical skills for work in scientific publications. Scientific/medical journals and publishing companies may hire editors with fundamental or copyediting skills or editors with experience in journal or book management. Pharmaceutical companies, device manufacturers, and medical communication agencies may hire editors with various skill levels, depending on the specific job responsibilities. In general, entry-level positions are titles such as editorial assistant or copy editor, moving into positions such as assistant medical or scientific editor, associate editor, or senior editor. The following are the more common titles that apply to medical or scientific editors at journals or book publishers.

    • Content Editor
    • Manuscript Editor or Author’s Editor
    • Copy Editor
    • Assistant Editor, Deputy Editor, Associate Editor
    • Editor-in-Chief
    • Managing Editor
    • Production Editor
    • Developmental Editor
    • Proofreader

    Striving to Improve Medical Documents

    Successful medical editors are curious creatures—continuously pushing themselves to understand the science and the message behind every word, sentence, section, and figure. By doing so, they help authors and scientists to express themselves with clarity and precision. 

    • “Could this sentence be better?”
    • “Does this paragraph belong here?”
    • “Is this the author’s intent?”

    Medical editors are also curious about current trends in learning and publication, and they seek to build skills and knowledge. For those looking to explore editing skills, AMWA’s courses in macro and micro editing provide an excellent foundation.

    Medical Editing Resources

    Like medical practitioners, many medical editors use checklists to ensure that every document is free of errors and meets publication guidelines. AMWA’s Medical Editing Checklist is a helpful tool that covers the basics of macro editing, micro editing, and proofreading. Our Comprehensive Guide to Medical Editing is a great resource for understanding the growing field of medical editing.

    With these tools at our disposal, we hope to create a healthier future.



    October 17, 2022 at 9:00 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.