When you’re breaking into the health writing field, there’s a lot to learn. But when you’re established, the learning doesn’t stop.
As I’ve said here and also in this article I wrote for the European Medical Writers Association journal, Medical Writing, I believe health & medical writers are never done with learning.
We work in a fast-moving industry
Communication in the health industry is undergoing rapid change – particularly in terms of how patients and professionals understand health and where they get their health information from.
Perhaps some writing styles you learned at university are no longer relevant. As a freelance writer, I often write blogs and website copy – yet neither of these writing styles were taught when I completed my Media & Communications degree. Instead, I’ve learned these styles of writing through ongoing, self-directed learning.
Regardless of the style of health writing you specialise in, it’s vital to stay informed about:
- The latest consumer health trends
- What patients and professionals are reading
- Who patients and professionals are following
- What patients are searching for online – that is, what they really want to know
- Which sources professionals refer to
New generations of health & medical students, who are now starting to work in their professional fields, grew up engulfed by technology. So if you’re required to communicate with health professionals, it’s important to understand how they use technology and the impact this has on the communication you produce. For example, knowing which resources they trust (and don’t trust), understanding the platforms they use to learn, and understanding the issues that are most important to them.
Skill development for experienced writers
As an experienced writer, you can benefit from developing your skills in the following areas:
- New styles of writing that didn’t exist years ago – blogging, SEO copywriting, social media copy
- The latest techniques for SEO copywriting – they change constantly
- Writing for different audiences – learning how to communicate to consumers vs health professionals
- Writing for different online mediums – even though they’re both types of online content, websites and social media require a completely different writing approach
- More efficient ways to work and conduct research – new programs, medical apps and technology that may help to make your life easier and work more efficiently
- Current trends – being aware of medical terminology and the impact of improper usage, as demonstrated in this recent study which looked at how the term ‘breakthrough’ influenced consumer behaviour
- Advanced marketing tactics – using platforms such as Google Adwords and Facebook advertising
- Business skills – the latest techniques for marketing and business development if you’re a freelance writer
- How to use new social media platforms – such as Pinterest and Instagram
- Resume design – how best-practice medical writer CVs and resumes have changed over the years
- Technical skills – image creation and editing and content management, coding and online publishing
How to develop your skills
You can easily learn the skills in the above list through self-education and training. Online courses are one component of learning – but they aren’t the only aspect. There’s also:
- Self-directed training
- Following key people of influence
There is definitely no shortage of free and paid learning to help enhance your writing skills and develop your knowledge. So how much time should you spend learning? Some very successful writers I know dedicated a few hours each week to learning, while others learn less frequently.
The benefits of lifelong learning
Lifelong learning as a practice in the medical field is widely established – and the basic principles translate to virtually any industry. This article from Mashable highlights some key career-enhancing benefits of lifelong learning, and Tehran University of Medical Sciences researchers outlined the main advantages of lifelong learning in this review article.
Writing for the journal PLOS Computational Biology, a team of American and German authors argued that learning is a lifelong imperative – and they summarised prominent and renowned mathematician Richard Hamming’s ten simple rules for lifelong learning as follows:
- Cultivate lifelong learning as a “style of thinking” that concentrates on fundamental principles rather than on facts
- Structure your learning to ride the information tsunami rather than drown in it
- Be prepared to compete and interact with a greater and more rapidly increasing number of scientists than at any time in the past
- Focus on the future but don’t ignore the past
- Look for the personal angle
- Learn from the successes of others
- Use trial and error to find the style of learning that suits you
- No matter how much advice you get and how much talent you possess, it is still you who must do the learning and put in the time
- Have a vision to give you a general direction
- Make your life count: struggle for excellence
What am I learning?
Every week I aim to:
- Read blogs and articles about writing, health and online marketing
- Watch and read health news at a local and global level
- Follow industry news released by associations – like the Association of Health Care Journalists
- Read TOCs from the world’s top medical journals
Over the past month or so, I attended the Australasian Medical Writers Association (AMWA) conference, completed a free masterclass with Dr Sarah McKay about neuroscience, followed Kate Toon’s 10-day SEO challenge and have registered for an upcoming AMWA webinar about changes to the Medicines Australia Code Of Conduct. I’d do much more than that if I had the time, too!
Constant learning and skill development enables you to open your mind to new opportunities. It helps you to grow your career and become a better health writer.
I’d love to know – what are you learning about now?