While specialties within medical writing have a lot in common, there are some specifics for each specialty.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like working in a medical communications agency?
We interviewed Bena Lim PhD, a senior medical writer at a medcomms agency in Singapore, who generously let us in on the details of her job.
A typical day in medcomms
Bena starts her day by checking her email to stay on top of everything and creating her to-do list, arranging tasks according to their priorities. Then, she begins with her tasks which usually include research, writing, fact-checking and editing.
The bulk of her time is spent on editorial work, with the remaining spent communicating with team members to keep projects on schedule. Meetings don’t take up a large part of her day, and they are usually limited to regular catch-ups with her line manager or direct report or with the editorial team to sort out work resourcing.
The day-to-day tasks usually differ based on the nature of ongoing projects and their respective timelines. She also spends some of her time developing her skills by attending online courses.
Bena reaches out to other team members when she has time to help out, and they do so too. She says that working in a team is critical for working at an agency versus freelancing since several people are supporting different aspects of each project.
Types of projects in medcomms agencies
At a medcomms agency, most of the projects serve pharmaceutical companies. Bena mainly provides editorial support on publications, such as manuscripts, conference abstracts, posters and slide decks. At times, she prepares content for her clients’ booths (display and handouts) or for their sponsored symposia at conferences. She may also have to prepare post-event reports.
Other projects include publications planning, writing advisory board meetings reports, and reviewing the work of other team members.
The most important skills needed for a job in medcomms
In addition to research and writing skills, Bena thinks that time management is a crucial skill for a medical writer. The multiple projects and ever-changing timelines require writers to constantly adjust their plans to ensure projects get delivered on time.
Bena also stresses that having excellent communication skills is very important for a medical writer since their job also involves communicating with clients, doctors and other team members. On the topic of statistics, she says that the analyses are usually done by the client’s team. However, they must be able to understand basic statistics to ensure that study results are interpreted correctly.
Finally, being research savvy is essential, not just for writing but also for researching relevant congresses, target journals and key opinion leaders in the field. Google is her best friend!
Qualifications required for medcomms writing roles
Bena says that many medcomms agencies require writers to have a degree in biology or a related discipline. Although postgraduate degrees are a plus, writers without one can still be hired as long as they pass their writing test(s) and interview.
Bena notes that having academic publications and research experience is definitely helpful, on the condition that you were also involved in preparing the manuscript and not just doing the lab work.
The most challenging aspect of the job
What Bena finds most challenging about her job is finding enough time to complete all the work, especially when there are urgent requests or when timelines change due to unforeseen circumstances – it is hard to prioritize when everything is a priority, but this is also where teammates can be roped in.
Bena also thinks that communication, be it with external or internal parties, presents a challenge because we often tend to assume that the other party has the same level of understanding as us and vice versa. So it is important to always be specific and seek clarification whenever there are doubts.
The best aspect of the job
Being able to learn new things every day is what Bena enjoys most about her work. She loves trying out different writing styles, reading about various therapy areas and learning from everyone she works with.
Advice for someone venturing into the field of medcomms writing
Bena advises writers to build up their portfolio depending on the type of work they want to do in medical writing–e.g. technical, publications, or commercial. She also suggests that they look for internships or freelance opportunities at agencies to gain familiarity with the industry.
They can take courses like Writing in the Sciences by Stanford University to build writing skills.
We hope we’ve given you a glimpse into medical writing in medcomms, and we’d like to thank Dr Lim for her valuable insights.