If a career as a medical writer is sounding good so far, you probably have the most important quality—the desire, and ability, to write.
So what does a medical writer write, exactly? As with all writing jobs, it’s rather impossible to specify exactly what you will be required to write. The articles or documents required of a medical writer vary a little, but are—in essence—all the same. The point of a medical writer is to take more complicated scientific papers, and make them easier to read, for the benefit of the general public. You are making those complicated works available for a larger audience. Your paper lengths will vary—some of your works will be one hundred pages or possibly more. Some won’t even fill an entire page.
There are two different categories that your multiple topics will fall under. You will be asked to write Regulatory papers, and Marketing papers.
Regulatory work covers the regular writing. Protocols in the medical field, patient information pamphlets, or illness/treatment information leaflets, clinical study reports—you will most likely write many of these during your career. Also covered in the regulatory category are works like investigator brochures, safety updates, and summaries of product characteristics. Theses topics listed are for the most part shorter works—your longer papers will be found in the second category.
The marketing topics are more varied, and you will use more CREATIVE WRITING skills than in the regularity works mentioned above. Medical literature reviews, manuscripts that will seek publication, along with training materials, or advertising works. Also included in this category would be conference proceedings, or products monographs.
You may be worried at this point that you don’t have the necessary knowledge to make it is as a medical writer. Don’t despair! As long as you can write, read and understand the English language, you will be fine. If you had a degree in biology it wouldn’t hurt, but it is definitely not needed. Writing skills are so much more important than scientific understanding. Because remember—basically you are acting as the interpreter for the scientific world, to the rest of humankind.
In fact, the only requirement needed for this job is the ability to write. There are things that will help your success, but that is really the only thing you need to make medical writing your career. Some medical writers had some formal education concerning human sciences, or have some history in drug discovery, or clinical research. If you have that further experience, you will be benefitted—if you don’t, don’t stress it.
You really should have an extensive vocabulary and good language skills—not that you will be required to write huge words in long, complex sentences—quite the opposite, in fact. Remember your job? You’re a translator. You will be taking the complicated and then go about presenting it in a more clear and concise way. Confusing the reader has never, ever done anyone any good.
Any writer—whether professional or aspiring to be professional—knows that this line of work takes motivation. As a medical writer, you will have to finish what you start, and keep producing good work, even if it is not your favorite subject. An extra dose of patience will be needed when you are writing in the Marketing category—Oftentimes editors will review your work, and insist that you re-write before publication. (And killing your editor is not a permissible act.)
Medical writing jobs must pay attention to details. Your work must be accurate, at any cost to yourself. The medical field is a precise field, and medical writing needs to be informative, and complete. Although there is a fine line you will have to walk—too many details and the average person won’t even understand your work. (Again, the point is not to confuse the reader.) So you will need to be able to find the key messages hidden within the large doses of scientific information.
If you decide that one category of medical writing—regulatory or marketing—you should definitely tell your employer, or search to see if your place of employment deals solely with one category or the other. The only way to survive as a writer is to write in the style that comes most easily to you.