Now that I work as a medical writer, the most frequent question friends and family ask, after telling me how great that sounds, is, “what exactly does a Medical Writer do?”.
The simplest and most succinct answer is: A Medical Writer writes about Medicine or Health. However, that´s a very narrow description. While highly specialized, Medical Writing is very diverse and encompasses a wide variety of writing styles and subjects.
Pharmaceutical companies employ the majority of Medical Writers, as do clinical research and medical devices organizations. These companies require specialized writers for regulatory writing. Aside from regulatory writing, Medical Writers are also involved in scientific writing, assisting doctors or researchers to publish their work as journal articles or conference presentations. Continuing Medical Education companies employ Medical Writers to write materials for continuing education of health professionals. Medical Writing also encompasses educative materials for patients, medical journalism, content for health websites or magazines and more.
You can find Medical Writers throughout healthcare, research and related industries. Although the majority are hired by pharmaceutical companies and medical communication organizations, around a third work as freelance or independent contractors. As I do.
Medical writers need solid medical knowledge, excellent writing skills and the ability to bridge the gap between complex scientific concepts and audience appropriate communication. Additionally, a Medical Writer should have sound research skills, be able to interpret data accurately and have an eye for detail. These last points are essential, as Medical Writers are often expected to perform quality control tasks for projects they write for.
According to the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) 2011 Salary Survey, just under 40% of Medical Writers hold a PhD or MD. In Spain, this is closer to 50% (AERTeM 2009 Survey). The AMWA survey also identifies only 4% as having medical training. Looking at the results of these surveys, my background is relatively unique and particularly strong for quality medical writing. Adding some extra writing training soon will make me even more well qualified.
However, the next time someone says, “That´s great! But, what does a medical writer do?”, I guess I´ll stick to a simpler answer: A Medical Writer is a specialist writer that writes about Medicine and Health.