Careers in Medical Writing

Last month I attended a panel at the Career Services Center for insight into what a future in medical writing may look like, as it is something I’ve started thinking about more seriously in recent months. I quickly learned that employment possibilities in the medical writing field are far more diverse than what I previously envisioned. Medical writing includes, but is not limited to:

  • peer-to-peer communication
  • the production of manuals and textbooks
  • science journalism
  • regulatory documents
  • grant applications
  • manuscript writing
  • materials for lay audiences.

Two medical writer panelists, Noelle Demas and Amy Lindsay, gave us a taste of what we might expect in a few of those medical writing arenas.

Noelle Demas is Principal Medical Writer at Panorama MedWriters Group, Inc., providing writing and editing services for clinical, pharmaceutical regulatory documents. She specializes in regulatory writing for the medical device community. Much of regulatory writing is template-driven, but always requires collaboration with experts (clinicians, etc.). In addition, she writes up clinical study protocols and investigation plans.

Amy Lindsay obtained her PhD in physiology and biophysics from the University of Washington in 1988. Initially, she worked as a post-doctoral researcher, but soon realized that she was not content working on a project in a narrow field of research. Dr. Lindsay moved into science communication writing, first working for Allergan, then over a decade ago she started her own company: Lindsay Biomedical Communications. Unlike Noelle, who specializes in more technical writing, her writing focuses on peer-to-peer communication, working with scientists to relay their research to each other and to the public. Dr. Lindsay loves science communication writing because she is always able to be a student, learning something new with each project she works on or group she works with. She is a neurobiologist by training, but has written on topics spanning the fields of hematology and cancer to botox.

Both panelists stressed that there is now, more than ever, a push to employ writers with strong science backgrounds, i.e. those with a PharmD, PhD, or MD. Additionally, the panelists indicated the key point that medical writers need to be as skilled at writing as they are at facilitating conversations. Without strong communication skills, it is impossible to write an excellent story, regulatory document, manuscript, etc.

Interested in medical writing? Here are some ways of becoming involved now:

  • Students get a discounted membership with American Medical Writer’s Association (AMWA) and becoming a member allows you to attend happy hours and other networking events, to learn about writing opportunities, and to interact with established medical writers in the area.
  • If you know this is something you want to do, sign up for the medical writing professional certificate program at UCSD Extension!
  • If you’re more interested in science communications and science journalism geared toward communication with the public, check out the science writing course offered at UCSD Extensions
  • Write, write, write! Start by volunteering to write a variety of pieces, from newsletters to pamphlets to blog posts—show that you are versatile and reliable!
  • Work like you’re being paid! This is how you start a portfolio so that you have a plethora of actual written documents to show a future employer and proof that you work well with others. Like both panelists said, science writing is a surprisingly interactive field—you need to show that you are an excellent communicator!

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