Imtiaz Ibne Alam
Top Endorsed
  • Pharmacist, Medical Writer, Manuscript Writer, Science Writer, Research Writer

How to Become a Medical Writer: The Ultimate Guide

medical writer

Are you interested in becoming a medical writer but have no clue where to start?

You are in the right place!

In this guide, I will discuss everything you need to know to become a professional medical writer like me (↗️).

From the qualifications required to tips and tricks from experts in the field, this guide can be your ultimate resource for becoming a successful medical writer.

So let’s get started—it’s time for you to embark on this exciting and fulfilling profession!

Introduction: Why Medical Writing?

Medical writing is a career choice for those who enjoy medical science and have strong writing skills. Medical writers collaborate with health and biomedical researchers, healthcare providers, and pharmaceutical companies.

Medical writers ensure effective communication of key information in research papers, newsletters, drug ads, and other materials.

Medical writing is a rewarding and well-paying profession. You can pursue this career path if you have a scientific background.

Medical writing is probably the best option if you want to use your background professionally or get your foot in the door but do not want to get socially isolated because of your profession.

However, before considering a career as a medical writer, you should understand the function and core characteristics of this type of work.

What is Medical Writing?

Medical writing is a type of writing that focuses on providing concise and accurate technical content on health/biomedical sciences. It covers everything from how drugs work to how to treat illnesses.

Medical writers help people understand various health or medical issues through clear communication. As part of their role, they also ensure the accuracy of information since their work can impact public health.

Medical writers can come from varying science backgrounds, such as pharmacy, biology, and biochemistry, to name a few. However, exceptional writing skills are a requirement that applies to everyone.

What Does a Medical Writer Do?

Medical writers are experts hired to produce content on topics related to medicine or health science. They offer research and writing services for a wide variety of medical communications (↗️). These include:

  • Manuscript writing and editing (↗)
  • ✅ Regulatory submissions (e.g., CSR, NDA, IND)
  • ✅ Conference materials (e.g., abstracts, posters, slide presentations)
  • ✅ Brochures and leaflets
  • ✅ Newsletters and articles
  • ✅ Patient education monographs and more.

Medical writers work in various medical and healthcare sectors, such as academia, clinical research, public health, pharmaceuticals, and regulatory affairs.

The responsibilities of medical writers cover almost every facet of the healthcare industry, including pharmaceutical firms, academic institutes, and governmental organizations.

Pharma companies rely on medical writers to fill the knowledge gap between scientific experts like scientists or doctors and statisticians or data analysts. They do this by simplifying complex study results or statistical data in a clear, concise, and understandable manner.

Regulatory medical writers must be familiar with specific regulatory guidelines when producing documents for regulatory bodies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This knowledge helps ensure that the submitted documents meet the regulatory requirements.

Medical writers may also be responsible for producing conference materials like presentations or abstracts related to their area of speciality.

Some medical writers also write literature reviews. These writers have the skills and expertise to compile a succinct summary suitable for publication.

The Different Types of Medical Writing

Medical writers come from a variety of backgrounds. To choose the position that best matches your skills, you should explore the various medical writing jobs. From regulatory writing to health writing, there’s something for everyone in the field of medical writing.

Regulatory Writing

Regulatory writers focus on understanding the criteria for drug approval. Their job involves researching and interpreting regulatory laws and guidelines related to drug approval and auditing processes. They typically collaborate with clinical teams to draft documents for new drug application (NDA) or clinical study report (CSR) submissions during the approval process.

Clinical Writing

Clinical writers are responsible for writing summaries of clinical trials or studies conducted to support marketing claims or safety and efficacy data related to pharmaceutical products. They typically use data from observational studies, clinical trial findings, or systematic literature reviews to create accurate summaries. These summaries are often used in publications, such as peer-reviewed journals or conference proceedings.

Scientific Publication

Medical writers collaborate with physicians and researchers to write peer-reviewed journal manuscripts, focusing on selecting the right journal (↗️) to minimize the risk of journal manuscript rejection (↗️). They craft their content aligning with the selected journal's scope and manuscript formatting guidelines (↗️). They also produce conference content, such as posters and presentations. These writers typically work in academic institutions, hospitals, pharma or biotech companies, medical device manufacturers, and other businesses.

Health Communication

Medical writers in health communication primarily produce contents for laypeople to promote health awareness. They write and edit various content types, such as public relations and public health materials, decision support, and health education. They often work in settings like governmental organizations, public health offices, healthcare institutions, and publishing houses.

Content Writing

We can consider this type of writing as a part of health communication. But it is less formal and uses lay terminology. The writers mainly produce digital media assets to educate patients on various health and wellness topics. Examples of this writing type include website content, blog posts, infographics, social media posts, and email newsletters.

The Benefits of Being a Medical Writer

an infographic highlighting the top benefits of pursuing a career as a medical writer

A career as a medical writer has the potential to be very lucrative and satisfying. You get the chance to work in a field of study you may be passionate about, learn about the healthcare system, and help educate and inform fellow medical professionals.

As a medical writer, you will enjoy the following benefit:

  • Getting a salary higher than average job goers
  • Gaining insights into the healthcare systems of many different nations
  • Mastering the art of writing for both professionals and laypeople
  • Influence public policy or decision-making through persuasive writing
  • Applying your knowledge to enhance patient safety procedures

Case Study: Medical Writing Job Prospects

The field of medical writing is growing rapidly. Trend analysts predict a rise in global demand for medical writers in the coming years. In fact, a recent cross-sectional study published in the JAMA Network also supports this prediction. The study reports the involvement of a medical writer in over half (52.2%) of original oncology trials published in high-impact journals. This highlights the high demand for medical writers, especially in oncology, and suggests promising job prospects in the field.

Medical writers play a critical role in clinical trial reporting. The same study showed that studies involving medical writers were more likely to report progression-free survival (PFS) as an outcome, while those without medical writers tend to report overall survival (OS). Studies with medical writers also had fewer instances of surgery or radiotherapy as part of the intervention.

Furthermore, the study found that nearly 59% of the studies that included a medical writer were successful in meeting the primary end point. It also revealed that manuscripts written by medical writers were more readily published in high-impact journals like The Lancet Oncology.

Source: Zhang AD, Singh S, Loh T, et al. Frequency and Characteristics of Trials Using Medical Writer Support in High-Impact Oncology Journals. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(1):e2147819. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.47819 (↗)

The Skills You Need to Be a Medical Writer

Medical writing is an in-demand field due to the increasing complexity of medical information, technology, and regulations.

Good writing skills are a must for medical writers. You should have the skill to convey factual information in a way that is clear to both experts and laypeople. Once you master this skill, your target audience will be able to understand your message clearly.

You should also have proper education, training, communication, and computer skills to succeed as a medical writer.

The following are the skills that a medical writer must possess:

  • Education — Most medical writers hold degrees in biology, medicine, health, or a related field. You need to have a firm grasp of medical terminology and practices to write accurately about subjects in this field.

  • Research and Analysis — Medical writers read and interpret research-related materials from various scientific sources as part of their daily work. Writing press releases, opinion pieces, and summarizing research articles all require accurate and quick data analysis. These analyses may cover recently published studies, current medical advancements, consumer health technology, or clinical conference.

  • Attention To Detail — Any work produced by a medical writer should adhere to the editorial standards of the publishing companies and journals. Errors/mistakes can lead to negative peer feedback and exposure risk. Also, since guidelines for manuscript submission vary between journals/publishing houses, the writer must pay close attention to details when submitting work via submission portals.

  • Communication — Success in this line of work will depend on your ability to write clearly and succinctly. A writer must be technically accurate when writing about complex topics. The work produced also needs to be clear and concise so that the target audience can easily understand it.

  • Computer skills — Medical writers need advanced computer skills as their jobs involve handling electronic devices and dealing with the internet. They should be familiar with office suites like Microsoft Office or G Suite and design tools like Adobe InDesign.

    Some employers may need them to manage the content they create. So they also need to be comfortable using various content management systems (CMS) like WordPress and communication tools such as Zoom or Google Meet.

All these skills help medical writers do their jobs well and succeed in the long term.

How to Get Started in Medical Writing?

As stated above, medical writers need to have a strong knowledge of the health sciences, good communication skills, and sharp attention to detail to ensure the accuracy of scientific data.

Here are some tips on how you can start your career as a medical writer:

➀ Get Educated

To become a medical writer, you should learn about medicine and how to write about it. You can do this by taking courses or earning a degree in medicine or health sciences.

You should have a strong knowledge of medical terminology, research methods, ethics standards, data analysis, writing guidelines, and compliance requirements.

Consider taking courses in medicine or enrolling in a degree program related to health sciences, depending on your interests and skill sets.

➁ Take Courses to Advance Your Career

To gain skills and exposure in medical writing, consider taking courses or attending conferences that cater to this area of expertise.

Having credentials under your belt in related fields can add value and boost your morale when applying to any project needing certified expertise.

You will find many courses available online on medical writing, such as grant writing, scientific writing, medical statistics, and communication strategy.

Conferences, like Anesthesiology Conferences (ANA) or Cochrane Colloquium, offer workshops on topics like how to design and conduct a clinical trial and challenges to patient care outcomes.

Peer-reviewed journal articles can be another great source of knowledge and insights.

This continuous learning will help you stay up-to-date and improve your skills as a medical writer.

➂ Get Certified

Medical writers can become certified through a number of professional organizations, including the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and the European Medical Writers Association (EMWA). Employers can see from this certification that you are dedicated to the field and have a solid understanding of medical writing.

➃ Build Your Own Network

Networking plays a critical role in establishing your career as a medical writer. Attend conferences and events, join professional associations like AMWA or EMWA, and connect with like-minded people. These activities will not only help you stay up-to-date on industry trends, but you will also make connections that may open doors to job opportunities.

➄ Build a Strong Portfolio

Your portfolio is like your business card. It must showcase your skills and expertise in medical writing so only put your best work. Include samples of articles, blog posts, essays, publications, or any other writing that you have done in the medical field.

➅ Find a Job

Now that you have built a strong portfolio of your best work, it is time to look for a job. Find job openings at pharma companies, medical communications agencies, or healthcare institutes. You can also look for freelance or part-time opportunities on job boards, UpWork, or through your network.

➆ Secure Clients

Reach out to potential clients within your network. Building professional contacts with clients can be a great way to break into the field of medical writing.

Participate in industry events and conferences, such as those focused on pharma policies. Participating in these events allows you to demonstrate your expertise while increasing your chances of connecting with potential clients.

➇ Build Trust with Your Clients

As a medical writer, you must build trust with your clients by consistently delivering high-quality work. You should follow all contract agreements and maintain open lines of communication. And always keep your stakeholders informed of any inconveniences.

You should also protect your intellectual property rights through proper legal procedures. Finally, to succeed in the industry, you have to evaluate your work from time to time and make necessary improvements.

What Does a Typical Workday Look Like for Medical Writers?

As a medical writer, you may do the following on a typical workday:

  • Analyze and interpret data from scientific studies
  • Research journal databases such as PubMed, Scopus, or Web of Science
  • Write or edit summaries and article drafts
  • Generate content for blogs and websites
  • Produce user guides for medical devices
  • Verifying the accuracy of scientific information in all stages of document production
  • Assist with research grant writing
Working Time

Your working hours may vary widely depending on the needs of your contract or the client. And your workweek might range from 8 hours during regular business hours to longer shifts when working against a deadline.

For instance, some clients have upcoming events for which they need work done as soon as possible. Such work may have a deadline of a few days, a week, or even a month with extended hours.

What to Expect as a Medical Writer?

Becoming a medical writer has many advantages, from higher-than-average salary to job satisfaction. But, before entering this field, you should clearly know what to expect.

Although pay can vary greatly depending on the job type and experience required, medical writers often get salaries in the five-figure range. Most often earn between $50,000 and $100,000 per year. Keep in mind that because local economies vary, factors like city or state may impact median wages.

The Challenges of Being a Medical Writer

Medical writing is a challenging yet rewarding career to pursue. You will obviously face lots of challenges being a medical writer.

On a day-to-day basis, you will have to conduct in-depth database research and summarize complex medical information for healthcare professionals. You may also need to translate medical jargon into layperson terms.

Other challenges you have to deal with include:

  • Staying updated on recent developments in the medical field
  • Researching and evaluating novel medications, therapies, and treatments
  • Keeping up-to-date with ongoing changes in healthcare technology, such as AI-based diagnostic tools and mobile apps
  • Writing and editing patient education materials

FAQs about Medical Writing

Is a Doctorate in Medical Science Necessary to Become a Medical Writer?

Answer — A doctorate in medicine or a related field will undoubtedly give you an advantage over other candidates for a medical writer position. But it is not mandatory. You can break into the field of medical writing with just an undergraduate degree in life science. But some job recruiters these days do seek Ph.D. candidates.

What Is the Difference Between Health Writing and Medical Writing?

Answer — The general public is the target audience for health writing, which covers lifestyle and wellness topics. Medical writing, in contrast, focuses on providing technical information to healthcare professionals.

What Resources Are Available for Medical Writers?

Answer — Helpful writing resources for any medical writer include word processors like Microsoft Word, grammar software such as ProWritingAid or Grammarly, and readability score checkers like Hemingway App. These tools can help you ensure accuracy, spot common writing errors, and offer tips to improve your writing style.

⚠️ Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. Please consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice.