What Types of Medical Writing Are There?

    what-types-of-medical-writing-are-there-1Medical communicators are key collaborators in a scientific ecosystem where critical research findings and discoveries move from laboratories to the wider world, improving the health and lives of patients and communities.

    As the fields of medicine and health care advance, the demand for medical writers increases. 

    Many organizations are seeking specialists to write for medical journals and other publications, disseminate research findings, fulfill regulatory requirements for pharmaceutical and medical device research, or support medical education. 

    There are many types of medical writing, and each niche requires a specific set of skills and experience. 

    What are the types of medical writing, and how can aspiring medical communicators learn more about this rewarding and lucrative career?

    Assessing the Types of Medical Writing

    The following are the most common professional areas of medical writing. 

    1. Regulatory writing: Medical writers in this professional area help write and edit documents required by regulatory agencies, including the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in the approval process for drugs, biologic agents, and medical devices. Regulatory writers work at pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device companies as well as contract research organizations (CROs).

    2. Scientific publications: Medical communicators work with physicians and other researchers to write and edit manuscripts for peer-reviewed journals as well as posters, abstracts, and oral presentations for medical conferences. Other medical communicators create summaries of conference sessions and news and feature articles for professional audiences. Medical communicators in the scientific publications area may work at academic or health care institutions or at pharmaceutical, biotech, or medical device companies.

    3. Health communication: Medical writers in health communication write and edit an array of materials for lay audiences, including patient education, decision aids, public health communication, website content, medical/health news, news releases, and public relations/communications. There are a variety of settings for working in the health communication area, including health care institutions, public health offices, government agencies, publishers, and media outlets.

    4. Continuing education for professionals: Medical communicators create the various documents needed to develop continuing education (CE) activities for physicians and other health care professionals. These documents include needs assessments, slide sets, and outcomes analyses. Other medical communicators write training materials for staff in pharmaceutical and biotech settings. Medical communicators who develop these documents work at medical education companies, at academic institutions or health care centers, or at pharma and biotech companies.

    5. Promotional writing: Medical communicators — sometimes called medical copy writers or marketing writers — create a variety of materials to promote drugs, interventions, or medical devices. These materials include marketing and advertising pieces that promote diagnostic or therapeutic products. Medical communicators creating these materials work at pharma, biotech, and medical device companies or at medical communications firms. Other medical communicators write press releases and strategic communications in health care institutions and organizations and in corporate settings.

    6. Grant writing: Medical communicators write and edit grant proposals for funding of scientific research. The settings range from academic and health care institutions to private foundations, patient advocacy groups, and professional associations.

    Where Medical Writers Work

    Medical writers are employed in a variety of organizations across the field. Here are a few examples of settings where medical writers are essential.

    1. Pharmaceutical industry: Perhaps the best-known work setting for medical writers is the pharmaceutical industry, also known as pharma, which represents drug companies, medical device manufacturers, and biotechnology companies.

    2. Contract research organizations: CROs provide support to the pharmaceutical, medical device, and biotechnology industries in the form of research services outsourced on a contract basis. 

    3. Medical writing companies: These firms focus on all aspects of regulatory writing and provide support to pharmaceutical companies and CROs to fulfill regulatory requirements for pharmaceutical and medical device research.

    4. Medical and health communication agencies: Medical communication agencies provide consultancy services to the pharmaceutical industry to help raise awareness of medicines through promotional and marketing campaigns. Health communication agencies provide consultancy services to businesses and government entities to design health information that's easy for the public to understand and use.

    5. Medical education companies: Medical writers help these organizations to provide continuing medical education for health care professionals. 

    6. Health care organizations: Medical communicators work in academic medical centers, hospitals, clinics, and managed care organizations.

    7. Professional associations: Associations that serve health care professionals, such as the American Heart Association or the American Academy of Physician Assistants, will employ medical communicators to create documents for both professional and lay audiences. 

    8. Patient advocacy groups: Organizations such as the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and the Diabetes Patient Advocacy Coalition employ medical communicators to work on documents and website content for lay audiences.

    Of course, there is always a need for freelance medical writers in many of these niches.

    Freelance Medical Writing

    Many medical communicators work as freelancers, or independent contractors. They either work from home offices or accept short-term contracts to work onsite at a company. Some freelance medical communicators specialize in one type of medical writing or editing, while others work on a variety of types.

    Learning Opportunities

    AMWA offers a number of online learning opportunities for people seeking to learn more about the types of writing, settings, and projects available to medical communicators. 

    AMWA’s online learning session A Career in Medical Communication: Steps to Success provides an overview for aspiring medical writers. 

    The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Medical Writer describes opportunities for both in-house and freelance medical writers to discover and advance in the medical communication profession. 

    The Essential Skills courses and certificate program offer a path to develop the skills that lead to a rewarding career.

    Some medical communicators who have worked in the field for at least 2 years are boosting their value in the workplace by earning the Medical Writer Certified (MWC ®) credential, which offers a rigorous exam-based professional certification.

    These many paths offer different entry points to many rewarding careers in the growing world of science and medicine.

    AMWA acknowledges the contributions of Cyndy Kryder, MS, MWC, for peer review in the development of this AMWA resource.


    February 15, 2024 at 2:12 PM

    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.