Medical writing. Health writing. Same same but different?
Some of us use the terms ‘health’ and ‘medicine’ interchangeably, while others associate health with the idea of ‘wellness’ and the more ‘light and fluffy’ lifestyle content.
Medical content is thought to be more serious and academic, and is often written for doctors, scientists, researchers and industry professionals.
So is there a correct way to differentiate the two terms? Let’s take a look.
Definitions of health and medicine
What is “medical”?
Medical is a term meaning:
Relating to the science or practice of medicine.
So, what’s medicine defined as?
The science or practice of the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease (in technical use often taken to exclude surgery).
What we’re really talking about here is orthodox medicine. And a useful definition of orthodox medicine from cancer.gov is:
A system in which medical doctors and other healthcare professionals (such as nurses, pharmacists, and therapists) treat symptoms and diseases. Using drugs, radiation, or surgery. Also called allopathic medicine, biomedicine, conventional medicine, mainstream medicine, and Western medicine.
This is not to be confused with traditional medicine. Or, its spin offs – like complementary medicine, alternative medicine and herbal medicine. These are, according to WHO, defined as:
Traditional medicine is the sum total of the knowledge, skills, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness.
However, the term medicine can also be used to describe drugs:
A drug or other preparation for the treatment or prevention of disease.
What is health?
Most dictionaries define health as:
The state of being free from disease.
A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
Differences between health and medicine
It’s clear that, according to these definitions, there are distinct differences between health and medicine:
- Health is a broad term. It relates to diet, lifestyle, wellbeing, socio-economic factors – as well as treating and preventing symptoms and diseases.
- Medicine and medical are terms relating to the diagnoses, treatment and prevention of disease. Medicine is also used to refer to medications, ie drugs.
What this means for health and medical writing
Health and medicine do have different meanings. But health writers and medical writers also produce different types of content. Here’s a look at some of the differences (which are not exhaustive):
Medical writing – content types
- News (for medical professionals)
- Feature articles (for medical professionals)
- Media releases (about research)
- Clinical guidelines
- Research papers
- Regulatory submissions
- Grant applications
- Pharmaceutical product marketing materials
Health writing – content types
- News (for the general public)
- Feature articles (for the general public)
- Website content
- Media releases
- Patient information
- Product information
- Direct sales copy
- Social media copy
While you don’t need a medical degree to specialise in health or medical writing, certain companies will only hire writers with relevant qualifications.
So it’s best to check with the specific companies or clients you’re interested in working for.
Once you’re fully informed, you can make your decision about whether a medical degree is something you want to pursue.
Writing qualifications are generally important for writers – as is ongoing training and self-directed learning. Again, they are not necessarily “must-haves”.
These days, you can find many health and medical writing courses online.
Health & medical writing job opportunities
We’ve already determined medical writers write for medical professionals, researchers and academics, while health writers write for the general public.
Now here’s an example of who both types of writers can write for:
- Medical news websites
- Medical magazines for medical professionals
- Websites for medical professionals
- Medical brands and businesses (eg medical device companies, pharmaceutical)
- Scientific and academic journals
- Medical education providers
- News and lifestyle websites/magazines
- Health websites/magazines
- Health blogs
- Health-related brands and businesses
- Health professional websites
Why knowing your niche matters
It’s important to position yourself correctly when you’re determining the type of writing you specialise in, whether it’s health writing, medical writing – or both.
You can even hone in on a specific subject matter within the health and medical niche, like nutrition. If you decide to do this, qualifications are a great way to upsell your skills.
You’ll want your clients and employers to understand exactly what it is you’re skilled in – including subject matter and content type.
While health and medicine are related, they can be vastly different when it comes to the type of content being produced. If you’ve only ever written healthy lifestyle articles, you could find academic papers a challenge. Similarly, if you’re an academic writer it could be hard for you to dive headfirst into health copywriting for dietary supplements.
Over to you
Are you a health writer, a medical writer – or both? Do you have a different way of defining health writing and medical writing? Let me know in the comments below.