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Medical Writing: the "Write" Career for You?

Title: How to Become a Competent Medical Writer?

Author(s) and Year: Suhasini Sharma, 2010

TL;DR: A brief introduction to a potential career and growing field in science communication: medical writing. Medical writers take on the role of writing and curating a variety of scientific and medical content, from magazine articles to regulatory information, and effectively deliver this knowledge to different audiences.

Why I chose this paper: I work full-time in the field of medical writing. I think it is a fantastic job for those who have science degrees but are not necessarily passionate about a life in the lab; medical writing allows one to remain immersed in the field of science and data, put their critical analysis skills to use, and still deliver science outcomes to a greater audience.

New scientific discoveries, from novel protein functions to successful drug developments, are constantly being made in the field of medicine. According to Dr. Suhasini Sharma, the medical profession needs communicators to disseminate these findings to a variety of different audiences, from science and healthcare professionals all the way to affected patients and consumers. Medical writers help fill that communication gap. Sharma’s article describes the different types of medical writing, the skills required of a medical writer, and a brief description of the scientific writing workflow.

The Details

Medical writers take on the role of compiling, analyzing, and presenting medical concepts and research to a target audience. Specific projects may range from curating slide presentations for healthcare professional use, creating interactive conference booth materials, writing magazine articles, etc. - each with their own purpose, and directed to a different audience.

Types of Medical Writing

Clear and accurate medical writing is important; however, it is also important that medical writers present scientific information at a level appropriate for their audience. The type of medical writing required by writers may vary drastically depending on the context of the final writing product. The following are a few of the many different forms of medical writing:

Form of Medical Writing

Specific Examples

Medical Journalism

  • Newspaper and magazine articles

Medical Education

  • Textbooks, continued Medical education programs, slide deck, and e-learning modules to aid physicians;

  • Material for patient education

Medical marketing of healthcare products

  • Promotional literature, brochures

  • E-learning modules

  • Internet content


  • Journal article manuscripts

  • Science meetings/conference abstracts and posters

Regulatory Documents

  • Prescribing information

  • Clinical study summaries

  • Regulatory submission documents

While pharmaceutical and healthcare product companies comprise the majority of medical writer employers, there are a variety of other settings in which the medical writer skill set is required (e.g., media and publishing companies, contract research organizations, business/knowledge process outsourcing companies, healthcare websites, etc.). Sharma asserts that the scope for medical writing is vast and still growing.

The Required Skills of a Medical Writer

A fundamental prerequisite for medical writing is familiarity with medical concepts and terminology – what Sharma calls “domain knowledge.” Many medical writers come from an academic background, where their research and qualifications in life science fields such as medicine, pharmacy, microbiology, nutrition, biochemistry, and so on, can allow them to thoroughly understand scientific concepts and data. While writers are not expected to be experts about the topics that they write about, they are expected to learn and build upon their knowledge of different therapeutic areas, as well as industry standards, such as drug development pipelines and technical guidelines of different countries and regions.

In addition to domain knowledge, Sharma identifies the importance of general writing knowledge and research skills; this includes the ability to consolidate information and effectively communicate said information to the target audience. A few key skills Sharma identifies to be important as general knowledge and skills include accurate use of language and grammar, skills in literature and reference searching, and consolidation and presentation of data.

Medical Writer Training and Professional Resources

While no formal degree is required for the medical writing profession, training in this discipline often involves either 1) in-house training, where the organization employing the writer will provide general and project-specific training necessary for the job, or 2) external courses/workshops organized by professional bodies on specific topics centered around medical writing. The American Medical Writers Association provides an informative guide for those wanting to break into the field of medical writing.

The Impact

Medical writing is but one of many growing industries in science communication. Pharmaceutical companies and other influential science and healthcare businesses have a need to disseminate new research and findings to the greater audience. Medical writers, with knowledge of different scientific and therapeutic domains, take on that communications role, ensuring timely and accurate reporting of what could be life-changing information and bridging the gap between businesses and their audiences.

Edited by Carolyn Pralle and Niveen Abi Ghannam

Cover image credit: StockSnap; CC By 4.0


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