Eileen is an American and spent of most of her early life in Seattle, where she went to the University of Washington and majored in Microbiology. She completed her M.Sc./Ph.D in Microbiology at New York University in New York City, where she was focused on study eukaryotic gene regulation in cancer. She came to Germany for a postdoctoral fellowship at the Max Planck Institut für Züchtungsforschung in Cologne in 1998 before going to Novartis a couple of years later. Her hobbies are making music, writing, photography, and watching funny American and British comedies.
How did you get into medical writing?
I got into medical writing while I was working as a research investigator at Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research in Basel, Switzerland (NIBR). I was the main liaison for the ophthalmology research group with NIBR Research Communications – in essence, I was the main person responsible for writing up stories on our latest research news for company-wide dissemination. This was a nice “side-job” because it allowed me to fulfil my dream of being a science writer while doing active research for the company. In addition, I was able to form a nice working relationship with the Head of NIBR Communications in Basel. Once I started turning sour towards medical research in general, I started to look for positions in medical writing internally at Novartis. I decided to reach out to this Head of NIBR Research Communications in Basel; she then told me that she had a scientific writing position open that had not yet been advertised. I got the job one week later.
What do you enjoy most about the profession?
Adapting the writing to the relevant audience… I have been very fortunate to have worked on publications, medical communication vehicles such as slide sets for key opinion leaders, scientific journalism, and regulatory writing. I love the challenge of writing for different audiences and seeing the audience’s general reception to my work.
What do you find most difficult about being a medical writer?
Working under very challenging timelines – being in such a situation so many times during my regulatory writing career has forced me to think ahead to foresee potential bottlenecks. This manner of working has fortunately helped me turn in my documents in on time with minimal problem.
Just by being employed – there is so much I learn every day I am on the job…
Who is the most interesting person you’ve interviewed during your career?
Joerg Zimmermann, chemist who discovered Gleevec at Novartis – I interviewed him for a piece on combinatorial chemistry that I wrote for NIBR Science Magazine, a magazine intended for internal and external audiences showcasing the unique ways NIBR was taking in improving its medicinal-product pipeline.
What are some of the key skills that medical writers need?
Project management, an ability to work under stress, negotiation, fluidity in multi-tasking, learning to understand what your target audience expects from a high-quality document
What is your number one tip for anyone considering a career as a medical writer?
Network. If you want to know how you want to break in to this exciting field, sign up for your relevant medical-writing chapter (e.g., American Medical Writers’ Association or European Medical Writers’ Association). You can meet with other established medical writers or others who are in the same position as you are. I have repeatedly emphasised this point on the Medical Writers’ Forum. It was networking, in a sense, that helped me get my first big break into medical writing. If it can happen to me, it certainly can happen to you, too.