Writers and editors with a passion for medicine and science are exploring opportunities in the growing field of medical writing.
The explosive growth of health care technology, pharmaceuticals, and other related areas creates multiple possible entry points for writers and editors who possess the skills and qualifications to enter and advance in the field.
What are medical writer qualifications, and how do medical writers improve their skill set to ensure they have the qualifications that it takes to succeed and advance?
Some qualifications apply to all medical writers, while others are specific to the writer’s work setting and area of specialization.
General Medical Writer Qualifications
- Anyone who pursues a career as a medical writer must have a firm grasp of medical and scientific concepts and the ability to write clearly about them for the chosen audience.
- Most medical writers have earned a bachelor’s degree. It is helpful to have a scientific background in one of the life sciences, such as biology, microbiology, nutrition, genetics, biochemistry, health sciences, or biotechnology. Others enter from the communications field with degrees in English, journalism, communications, or a related discipline. An advanced degree is not required, but it can be helpful; as of 2019, about 78% of medical writers had an advanced degree.
- Medical writers must be able to write clearly about complex topics for the intended audience, using concise terms with correct grammar and usage. They also need to be familiar with medical terminology and able to quickly find reliable information about selected topics.
- It is essential to understand research techniques. Medical communicators are responsible for accurately presenting findings and data for the layperson. Can you understand the limitations of experiments? Are you comfortable interpreting and explaining statistical data?
Specialized Medical Writer Qualifications
A wide range of organizations employ medical communicators, and qualifications depend on the type of work. The following are a few examples of specialized careers and the skills needed.
- Regulatory writers need to have a firm grasp of pertinent laws, regulations, and submission requirements.
- Educational writers should excel at tailoring their writing for teaching and learning.
- Medical marketers need to be effective promotional writers.
- Medical journalists must be able to report on advances in the field for their readers, whether they are specialists or a general audience.
When writers specialize in writing about a particular subject or set of subjects, of course, they must have expertise in those subjects. There are myriad medical and therapeutic fields to explore; when just starting out, beginning medical writers might consider opportunities in multiple areas in order to learn to write effectively about each of them.
Do I Need an Advanced Degree to Specialize?
Although an advanced degree such as a doctorate or MD is not required to be a medical writer, it can be the norm in some areas of specialization. People who are planning to specialize should start by researching job postings and job descriptions to determine what degree is expected.
Many paths can lead to medical writing. Some medical communicators start their careers in the medical writing field, while others begin as communications specialists, teachers, laboratory assistants, technicians, regulators, medical professionals, or journalists. It can be beneficial to maintain the credentials in the original field while also obtaining and building skills in medical communication.
Building Your Medical Writer Qualifications
For people considering a career as a medical writer, we recommend beginning with a self-assessment: Are you fascinated with medicine and science, enough to spend every day exploring and writing about it? Do you have a solid understanding as a starting point? Are you a good writer and communicator?
The following are some recommendations for improving subject area knowledge:
- Educate yourself. Medical writers are made, not born. Read books. Follow the literature in the areas where you want to focus. Identify the leading academic and scientific publications in the field, and subscribe to or follow them regularly.
- Attend lectures and conferences. If you live near a university, watch for public programs such as guest lectures and roundtable discussions on your areas of interest.
- Take courses. Many technical colleges or universities offer courses in basic statistics or medical terminology. Human anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, genetics—wherever you need to shore up your knowledge, take a class.
- Network with local professionals. Local educational events that focus on a subject area can both build your knowledge of the subject and give you access to medical communicators who are sources of more information.
5 Tips for Improving Medical Writing Skills
- Take courses or a refresher in the fundamentals of grammar, usage, and punctuation.
- Acquaint yourself with discipline-specific styles. Many organizations follow the AMA Manual of Style in their publications. If you haven’t already done so, get an online subscription and start to familiarize yourself with its guidelines (AMWA members get a discount on this and other resources).
- Make sure you know how to use the digital tools of the medical writing profession, including Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Adobe Acrobat.
- Begin building your specialized skills by participating in medical writing–specific online learning programs and webinars and by attending in-person educational events.
- Seek apprenticeship opportunities in medical writing through on-the-job training. You can use search engines or social media platforms to explore advertised job vacancies. Organizations offering short-term apprenticeships in scientific and medical writing include Science News, Yale Medical School, European Southern Observatory, AbbVie, Tempus Inc, LexisNexis, Ironwood Pharmaceuticals, and McCann Health Medical Communications.
The most important medical writer qualifications to obtain are the ones needed for your specific chosen career path. Start by obtaining the general qualifications that all medical writers need, add specialized skills and areas of knowledge based on your niche, and continue to do both throughout your career in order to succeed.
Successful medical writers are lifelong learners.
Discover a New Avenue for Success
The world needs more excellent medical writers and editors. This growing field is a great fit for people with curious minds, meticulous editorial skills, and a desire to improve the quality of medical and scientific information.