For those who find medicine and health-related topics interesting and enjoy writing, becoming a medical writer can be a rewarding and fascinating career path. A medical writer can include writing a question and answer health column for a website, newspaper, brochure or pamphlet, writing the text for the inserts in pharmaceuticals, or writing technical education materials and textbooks for medical school students. In fact, there are dozens of medical writing opportunities.
Although the information for many medical research reports and textbooks is gathered by physicians and scientists, the actual report or textbook may be written by a medical writer. The writer must be able to understand, analyze, interpret the information, and then clearly and correctly write about the information without a single error. It can be very complicated and takes a writer with the intellectual capacity and willingness to work through the technical material.
Medical writers can work for newspapers, magazines, textbook publishers, hospitals, the medical press, medical schools, government agencies, companies that sell pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, laboratories, and volunteer health agencies. There are full-time positions, part-time positions, and freelance opportunities available for an experienced medical writer. The salaries vary depending on the experience the writer has and the area that she works in. For example, a recent college graduate will make less than an experienced writer and a person who writes a medical textbook or a column may receive a royalty on top of a salary.
The American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) was developed in 1940 as a place for medical writers and communicators to gather and learn more about their trade. Currently, there are almost 6,000 AMWA members from around the globe. AMWA is designed to increase professionalism for freelance medical writers and those employed by a company, school, agency, or foundation. AMWA members receive information to help them develop their careers, continued education in their field, networking opportunities, access to an online job bulletin, an e-newsletter and member discounts.
There is no set path to become a medical writer. Usually employers like their medical writers to have at least a bachelor’s degree or a graduate degree in technical writing. Some prefer writers who have majored in English or Journalism; however, others prefer a writer who majored in one of the sciences, such as biology, chemistry, or physics – as long as they are effective writers.
Many colleges and universities now have undergraduate courses that specialize in medical writing and scientific communication and master’s degree courses in technical writing. The courses often give students background information and basic information that can be helpful in a medical writing career. In addition, self-study and courses offered through various organizations, such as AMWA, are also helpful in enhancing oneself in a career in medical writing.