Medical writing is a profession dedicated to the communication of medical, scientific and health information, including research reports, consumer (patient) information, and regulatory documents.

What is a Medical Writer?

A professional medical writer is someone who has an adequate understanding of medical, scientific and health terms and concepts, and the skills to translate such information into a variety of formats for different audiences. Medical writers come from various backgrounds and can find work in a variety of fields.

Backgrounds

There is no formal course of entry into the medical writing profession, though many medical writers come from the following backgrounds:

University Graduates

  • A bachelor’s degree in biomedical science, health science or biotechnology.
  • Many employers seek writers with a graduate degree (PhD or masters).
  • A degree in medical/science/health communication or journalism.

Clinicians

  • Some medical practitioners, including GPs and specialist physicians, have an interest in sharing their knowledge and experience and may do medical writing on the side or transition into the profession.

Other Healthcare Professionals

  • Nurses, dieticians, physical therapists and other allied health professionals may also engage in medical writing or transition into the profession.

Medical Writers – What Exactly Do They Do?

For the most part, medical writers write things, but what exactly do they write? Medical writers are most commonly tasked with producing or assisting with the production of technical, informative, educational, or promotional medical content. The specific jobs that a medical writer may do will depend on their background, expertise, skills, and area of employment.

Types of Work

Examples of the types of work a medical writer may do, grouped by area of employment, are listed below.

Pharmaceutical/Biotechnology Industry

Medical Writing

  • Clinical trial publications
  • Clinical trial protocols
  • Study reports
  • Consumer medicine/device information
  • Product marketing

Contract Research Organisations

  • Preclinical research reports
  • Clinical trial protocols
  • Participant information and consent forms
  • Study reports
  • Clinical trial publications

Healthcare Organisations and Institutions

  • Hospitals, health insurance companies, not-for-profit, private practices
  • Educational content
  • Health promotional content
  • Clinical research publications
    • Case reports, case series, cohort studies
  • Conference abstracts and presentations
  • Grant writing
  • Patient stories

Government Agencies and Regulatory Bodies

  • Regulatory documents
    • Clinical data and literature summaries
    • Protocols
    • Annual safety reports
  • Post-marketing documents
    • Consumer medicine/device information

Medical Publication Industry

  • Medical/scientific journals, book publishers
  • Manuscript proofreading
  • Copyediting

Medical Communications and Marketing Agencies

  • Health promotional content
  • Educational information
  • Marketing materials
  • Website content
  • Social media content
  • Slide decks

Medical Journalism

  • Health/medical/scientific news articles
  • Patient stories
  • Blogs
  • Podcasts
  • Transcripts

Freelancing

  • Various jobs for various clients.

Skills and Requirements

There are no formal degrees or prerequisites for becoming a medical writer, however, there are some key skills that a professional medical writer should possess, though this also depends on the type of work.

Key Skills

  • Familiarity with medical terminology and concepts
    • A knowledge niche is common amongst medical writers
  • Strong written communication skills
    • Grammar, spelling and punctuation
    • Clarity and conciseness
    • Ability to write for a range of audiences
  • Strong research skills
    • Literature/reference searching
    • Critical appraisal of medical and health literature
    • Fact-checking
  • Analytical skills
    • Interpretation of research data and statistics
    • Visual presentation of data (tables, graphs, diagrams)
  • An understanding of the ethical principles and legalities that apply to medical communication and publication.

Medical Writing Guidelines

Ethics Guidelines

There are a number of recommendations and guidelines that the professional medical writer should follow.

Guidelines
COPE

ICMJE

EQUATOR

GPP

  • Good Publication Practice guidelines
  • Developed and published in 2003
  • “to ensure that clinical trials sponsored by pharmaceutical companies are published in a responsible and ethical manner”
  • Updates driven by the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP)
  • GPP3 is the latest version

The Benefits of Having a Medical Writer

If the above information hasn’t already convinced you of the benefits of enlisting a medical writer, here are some evidence-based advantages (according to GPP3):

  • Publications produced by or with a professional medical writer are:
    • Well written;
    • Compliant with reporting guidelines;
    • More likely to be accurate and complete;
    • Less likely to be retracted.
  • Acknowledging medical writers (as opposed to ghost writers) shows:
    • Integrity;
    • Accountability;
    • Responsible and transparent reporting in publications and presentations.

References & Resources:

  1. American Medical Writers Association: https://www.amwa.org
    1. “Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Medical Writer”. https://info.amwa.org/ultimate-guide-to-becoming-a-medical-writer
  2. Australasian Medical Writers Association: https://www.medicalwriters.org
  3. European Medical Writers Association: https://www.emwa.org
    1. “A Career Guide to Medical Writing”. November 2016 edition. Available via: https://www.emwa.org/training/a-career-in-medical-writing
  4. Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE): “Promoting integrity in research and its publication”. https://publicationethics.org
  5. International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE): http://www.icmje.org
  6. International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP): https://www.ismpp.org
  7. The EQUATOR Network: Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research: http://www.equator-network.org
  8. Anand G and Joshi M. “Good publication practice guideline 3: Evolving standards for medical writers”. Perspectives in Clinical Research. 2019; 10(1): 4-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6371703 (free)
  9. Battisti WP, et al. “Good Publication Practice for Communicating Company-Sponsored Medical Research: GPP3”. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2015; 163(6): 461-464. https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M15-0288 (free)
  10. Sharma S. “How to Become a Competent Medical Writer?” Perspectives in Clinical Research 2010; 1(1): 33-37. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3149406 (free)
  11. Wager E, Field EA and Grossman L. “Good publication practice for pharmaceutical companies”. Current Medical Research and Opinions. 2003; 19(3): 149-154. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1185/030079903125001767 (free)