Health writing is not just about cancer and heart disease. There are many other topics that you can explore: Some projects will be uplifting and heart-warming, while others will be unsettling and emotional. But all of them will give you a unique perspective on the human experience and the power of words.
After 16+ years of health writing projects, I’m not exaggerating when I say that I have written about almost every kind of health topic, from mental health conditions to sexually transmitted infections, from preconception to death, and from minor inconveniences to chronic, life-altering diseases.
Here are just some of the projects that stand out, but there are many others I’ll save for another time. (CW: This post discusses dealing with the death of a child in hospital.)
Most explicit topic
I’ll kick it off with a literal bang: I once wrote a patient handout about how gay men can safely resume intercourse after prostate surgery. The leaflet was one of about 20 different prostate-related conditions for a local health district. This project certainly improved my general knowledge and taught me things I didn’t ever expect to learn in life.
Most rewarding topic
Choosing my most rewarding topic or project is a tough one, as there have been so many over the years. Almost every project is rewarding. That’s the beautiful thing about health writing! Writing about cancer is always both challenging and fulfilling because you’re playing a role in helping people navigate the most difficult times in their lives. I also have a special place in my heart for the work I’ve done with the amazing teams at St Vincent’s on their heart and lung health websites.
Most sensitive topic
I wrote about transgender healthcare for young people for a local government health district. This project was extremely difficult and sensitive, and at times controversial, but I was able to put myself in the shoes of those teenagers and parents reading to create the quality content and support those individuals needed.
The topic that had the least to do with healthcare
When I was starting out as a health writer, I wrote an entire website for a natural bed bug product. The company owner wanted a writer who could break down the science of how the product worked to kill the bed bugs, how to prevent bed bugs and how to treat the dreaded rash. This one definitely gave me the heebie jeebies, and I felt itchy for days afterwards!
Most distressing topic
I worked as a medical editor on a booklet for health professionals about the process of dealing with the death of a child in the hospital. I had two children under the age of four at the time, and in hindsight, it was foolish of me to agree to the project because of the emotional toll it would take. I’m not going to lie; I was a wreck after working on the booklet, and it was one of the first projects that had a profound impact on me personally.
A topic I thought would be boring but was actually interesting
Writing handouts for the public and health professionals about different pituitary-related conditions was surprisingly interesting. Before I started that project, I didn’t know a lot about the pituitary gland. I wasn’t expecting much, but the learning process was satisfying and enjoyable.
Most eye-opening topic
My eyes were opened when I worked on around 30 different incontinence-related training modules for nurses. I gained an awareness of the many challenges that older people encounter in nursing homes, particularly how staff shortages and systemic issues result in dire and harmful health consequences. For example, writing about skin issues that develop because older people have been left in soiled clothes for too long. This project stayed with me for a while afterwards.
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to write about many of the activities I love, like trail running, endurance sports and nutrition, but editing the book What to Expect When You’re Expecting was one of the coolest health writing jobs. The job involved reading the book, word by word, and editing the Americanisms to Australian English (British English) for an Australian audience. What to Expect When You’re Expecting was my bible when I was pregnant with my two girls, and working on it was an honour. The localisation wasn’t just changing spelling, either – there were lots of interesting issues that came up along the way (like how to deal with the chapter on edibles).
I’ve worked on many other controversial, inspiring, thought-provoking, creative and diverse projects: Suicide hotlines, obstetrician websites, medical billing and coding materials, baby swaddle marketing materials – the list goes on.
The longer you stay in the industry, the more chance you have of working on a wide range of projects that pull you out of your comfort zone and challenge you in new, exciting ways.
Want to learn more about health writing? My health writing courses will help you launch a fulfilling career as a health writer.