Medical writers come from a variety of academic and professional backgrounds. While there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to medical writing training, the variety of learning that’s available makes it easier to work as a skilled writer in this field.
As medical and healthcare writers, we’re in a niche profession. By now you may have experienced the ‘tell me more?’ type questions from those outside the industry – and, perhaps you’ve even become used to explaining the different types of work performed by medical writers.
You may have completed a PhD and chosen a career in medical writing, or maybe you’re an experienced clinician who is fed up with pseudoscience and wants to set the record straight through accurate health reporting.
Or, it could be that you fell into medical writing naturally after writing a random health-related article or blog post.
Regardless of the career path you took to get here, one thing remains consistent: there’s no cookie-cutter training to be a medical writer.
This can be good news for medical writers. With such diversity of background and skills, medical writers can use the available training programs and health writing courses to build their own careers and choose the type of medical writing work they want to do.
Finding medical writing training to suit your needs
Medical writing is both a science and art. It can be broken up into two subsets of skills: science and writing. As a medical writer, you may have experience or skills in one of these subsets, but need to train in the other.
Basic skill requirements are knowledge of medical terminology, health topics and scientific concepts – and, of course, being able to write well! This includes knowing how to write well in the medical field – that is, writing high-quality and well-researched health content that doesn’t mislead your audience.
If you don’t have formal health-related qualifications, you can learn about science and medicine through specialty training and self-directed learning – for example, learning about clinical trials by reading and understanding top journal articles. Writing skills, on the other hand, definitely come with practise, practise and more practise – as well as reading other people’s work regularly.
Even if you feel you have mastered all the essential skills required to be a successful medical writer, you may need to keep continuously up to date with guidelines, regulations and technology.
Monitoring what’s new in the industry and key events or conferences can be a wonderful source of ongoing training. It’s also very important to network with other medical writers who may have skills or insights you can learn from.
Medical writing skills training
While there is no standard formal degree or certification course for medical writing, skills training can come in various forms:
- In-house training – organisations may offer employees or contractors training to up-skill. This could include pharmaceutical professional codes of conduct, medical statistics or in-house style guides
- Short courses– if you’re a member of your local medical writer’s association there are plenty of short courses or workshops on offer to add value to your skills. This may include blogging, writing white papers or statistics refreshers
- Mentoring – finding a senior medical writer to offer guidance and support can provide immense confidence and insight into the type of medical writing you would like to pursue
- Self-directed learning – there are a variety of quality online courses (like the health writing courses offered here at Health Writer Hub) available for medical writers to learn new skills or to keep up to date with industry and technology changes
Jobs requiring a journalism degree, PhD or a medical degree
While you don’t need a medical degree to be a medical writer, some medical writing jobs do require a medical degree or a minimum PhD or Masters equivalent to be eligible to apply.
These jobs can be for clinical writing where a medical degree or PhD equivalent may be essential:
- Regulatory or pharmaceutical medical writing
- Writing clinical guidelines or protocols for medical practitioners
- Online clinical overviews for health organisations’ websites
- Article writing in industry peer magazines and publications
Then there are other positions that require solid experience in journalism or media communications as an indicator of your ability to write about health:
- Feature or news articles for the media
- Feature or news articles for science or health magazines
- Health blog posts for health-related brands and businesses
- Digital health content (social media, enewsletters, etc)
If you’re new to the field, consider where your knowledge gaps lie. Do you need to focus more on writing, or medical understanding? Identifying these gaps is an essential starting point for determining whether you need to undertake any sort of medical writing training to help your career and job prospects.
Have you undertaken any medical writing training? Feel free to let us know in the comments below.