The Aims of Medical Writing

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The aims of medical writing can be summed up by a brief description of the American Medical Writers' Association (AMWA), which was organized under its present name in 1948. The Board of Trustees has issued this statement on the subject:

The aim of the AMWA is to bring together into one association all North Americans who are concerned with the communications of medicine and allied sciences in order to maintain and advance high professional standards.... Its purpose is educational, scientific, and literary. By providing an annual meeting addressed by distinguished authors, editors, and teachers, an opportunity is afforded to all interested in any phase of medical communication to keep themselves informed of the progress being made to maintain and advance high professional standards and thus to aid in general medical advancement.

Of interest to students will be the collegiate training sponsored by the AMWA in medical journalism and the AMWA scholarships. According to the latest information, the schools of journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana, the University of Missouri at Columbia, and the University of Oklahoma at Norman have established courses in medical journalism. The AMWA itself has established a Medical Journalism Scholarship Fund. Through this fund, the AMWA offers scholarship assistance to needy and talented students.

The journal of AMWA, the American Medical Writers' Association Journal, is published four times a year. Here are a few representative articles in recent issues: "Hippocrates-First Medical Writer," "Writing Persuasive Proposals," and "Dissemination of Scientific Information from the Author to the Public."

Membership in AMWA is open to persons actively engaged or interested in any aspect of communication in the medical and allied professions and services.


Here is the professional history of one medical writer. She graduated from a college in Virginia with a B.A. degree in psychology and English and later earned an M.A. degree in psychology. One of the large Army medical centers had grown to a point where it needed a technical publications editor. The center was issuing an increasing number of scientific papers and was about to publish its own journal. The young woman was hired to fill this new job. Out of this grew a more challenging position in an Army research institute. In addition, this medical writer has been made an associate editor of a journal of sports medicine and an editorial consultant to the Eisenhower Medical Center.

Another writer has a B.A. degree in journalism. For a time he was editor of a trade publication and later became an editor for a publishing firm producing technical books and pamphlets. He then joined a state health department and became an editor on the department's monthly magazine. Among his present duties are writing and editing pamphlets, booklets, and brochures for all units within the department; preparing the department's annual report; and preparing news releases concerning department activities and providing information for the press. This man classifies himself as a medical writer, or in a narrower sense, a public health writer.

Many physicians have become medical writers, just as many engineers have become technical writers. Here is a case in point: A writer received a degree in pharmacology from one college, a B.S. degree from another, and a medical degree from a third. He has been both a practicing pharmacist and a physician. He has served as medical director and director of research for a large chemical manufacturing company and is now with a New York advertising firm as medical director in charge of clinical research. In other words, it is the job of his department to delve into the research and manufacture of the drugs and chemicals of his client firms so that they may be advertised intelligently and accurately in the medical journals.

Medical Journalism

You might be inclined toward a career in medical journalism. If you go into a medical library, you will be overwhelmed by the number of journals displayed there. There are literally thousands of them-in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, public health, and research and development. What we have already said about technical journalism in previous chapters pretty well applies to medical journalism. If you join the staff of the Journal of the American Medical Association or a more general magazine such as Today's Health, you will be writing articles, editing other people's work, and acting as a liaison with artists and production personnel.


In medical writing there are numerous freelance writers. Many of these writers work at home on manuscripts and reports originally written by doctors and researchers who are too busy to put on the finishing touches. These freelance writers are frequently highly qualified scientists who wish to do only part-time work. So, if you are trained in biology, chemistry, or in one of the more specialized sciences, you may wish to consider this very important land of medical writing. It may be just the right kind of employment for you.

The Duties of Medical Editors and Writers

According to Dr. Eric W. Martin, a physician and communicator, the duties of medical editors and writers may include the following:
  • Clinical brochures. These are publications containing the data gathered together in a company from years of research on new drugs.

  • Case report forms. With these forms, medical writers help clinical investigators report on the medical histories of patients.

  • Clinical research reports. Medical writers prepare these summaries of research and clinical data that are important in determining whether drugs will be available for patient use.

  • Clinical papers. In the preparation of these papers, the medical writers give editorial and writing help to busy scientific investigators.

  • Physician brochures. Doctors must know about the drugs they prescribe for their patients. These brochures specify dosages, side effects, and other pertinent information.

  • Official brochures. These are commonly called package circulars or package inserts, again for the benefit of the physicians.

  • Abstracts. Medical writers screen hundreds of important journal articles and condense them for scientists and researchers.

  • Guides. The manufacturers of medical products must follow strict federal and state government regulations. Medical writers frequently prepare manuals to interpret these controls for company employees.

  • Media preparation. Medical writers coordinate the preparation of motion picture scripts, slide presentations, and cassette courses.
If you have a strong background in chemistry or biology, investigate the possibility of working in the pharmaceutical rather than the chemical industry. If the ultimate consumer of the company's products is the public, then as a communicator for such a firm, you would be classified as a medical writer.

Medical Advertising

You may find a niche for yourself in medical advertising. Just as there are many technical advertising firms and public relations firms, so there are many advertising companies that specialize, at least in part, in drawing the attention of the public and of physicians to the availability of new drugs.
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