Do you need a medical degree to be a medical writer? It’s a question I get asked all the time. And, here’s a little confession: I’m a medical writer without a medical degree.
I often write articles containing generic medical advice – and, the rest of the time, I write marketing copy for health businesses.
So…should medical writers have a medical degree?
Here’s why I don’t really think medical writers necessarily need a medical degree to be successful:
- I research thoroughly using high-quality, evidence-based resources.
- I speak to researchers and experts to gain a clinician’s perspective on relevant issues and topics.
- I try to communicate these perspectives in an interesting and practical way for my readers.
- I consider an issue from its clinical application
Importantly, if I need to write clinical recommendations, I always consult a medical professional.
This means I’m not coming to my own conclusion about what a doctor should do in practice – rather, the end result is always a collaborative process. A process which incorporates:
- outcomes based on clinical evidence – new and past, and
- what the experts advise
Research is the essence of any good qualification. Isn’t that why medical professionals have continuing professional development programs endorsed by peak bodies like the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners?
I believe high-quality medical writing is about:
- gaining a deeper level of understanding about issues and research, and then
- communicating a meaningful idea to readers – regardless of whether you’re writing for the general public or medical professionals
Experience vs degree
My knowledge of health and medical writing comes from years of health writing experience as a freelance medical writer. But I’m also driven by a desire to research my topics in order to write quality content.
Is that more valuable than a medical degree, or less?
When I began a medical writing job several years ago, I spoke about this issue with my predecessor. She’s a very successful science & medicine writer and book author who also doesn’t have a medical degree.
She told me that, despite her lack of credentials, she felt as if she’d completed a medical degree.
And today, I feel the same. Not because I believe I could take up a post as the family GP, but because of the inherent knowledge base I’ve developed.
The other side of the coin
Before I wrote this post, I asked my LinkedIn network whether they felt a degree was necessary to pursue a career in medical writing.
One member believed the passion for health and interest in the field was the underlying strength of the writer.
Another responded with the counter-argument: Should health professionals who write have a degree in communications?
She felt like not having any formal communications qualifications was an obstacle in pursuing a career in this area.
Some medical professionals are blessed with an instinctive writing ability. So for them, qualifications aren’t necessary.
Medical qualifications and medical writing courses help those who have the desire to write, but not the natural flair. And, this is true for any profession.
Medical degree or writing experience – what’s most important to you?
Are qualifications and medical degrees more important than experience? Should writers have both? Or is experience enough? I’d love to hear your thoughts.