This post was written by Dr. Geetika Choudhary, a medical writer based in Bengaluru, India who works for PPD, a part of Thermo Fisher Scientific.
Change can be exciting and daunting at the same time. I frequently get messages on LinkedIn asking how to enter into medical writing. The answer to that is: there is no one way to enter medical writing. Becoming a medical writer requires a combination of self-awareness, self-learning, enjoying writing, persistence, networking, and a dash of luck.
I remember when I wasn’t aware of the existence of medical writing as a full-time job and a long-term career. While I was studying for my Ph.D. in the US in 2010, I assumed that scientists did both: perform experiments and write about them. My Ph.D. thesis was based on antibiotic-resistant bacteria and immunology. I enjoyed doing literature searches, designing and performing experiments, data analysis, and troubleshooting. I believed that if you were serious about science, being a lab scientist was the only way you could contribute. While I enjoyed the lab work, I also found writing for grants, proposals, research papers, result summaries, manuscripts, and presentations exciting as well. Eventually, I became the go-to-person for the non-native English speakers in the lab group for reliable writing and editing support.
Returning to India and learning about medical writing
I returned to my home country India in 2016 after receiving my Ph.D., hoping to secure a research scientist job. At that point, I had made up my mind to leave academia and enter industry. It was challenging to find an industry job without any prior industry experience. Finally, I started working as a Senior Research Scientist for preclinical services in a global contract research organization (CRO). The sudden change from working on long-term projects as an independent academic researcher to working on short-term projects in a fast-paced environment was a drastic shock to my system. Moving from a sparsely populated small city in the US to a densely populated major metropolitan city in India, also came with its own share of changes.
As a Senior Research Scientist in a global CRO, I was able to get an understanding of preclinical research, managing multiple stakeholders, and writing preclinical study protocols, reports, and SOPs. My bosses appreciated the quality of my writing and I became the go-to person for writing support. This time around, I began leaning towards writing more than the lab work. Analyzing data and presenting the data accurately excited me the most about my job. It was at this point that I became aware of jobs in medical writing, but I didn’t know anyone who was doing that professionally. Though I had a varied range of writing experience ranging from academic to preclinical research, I found it challenging to be considered for a medical writing role in companies I wanted to work for.
Finally breaking into medical writing
I took a break of about 6 months in 2020 for personal reasons and to reevaluate my career. I wanted to understand how I could combine my two passions: writing and medicine. During this break, I networked actively. I interacted with professionals from entry-level to senior management, who were willing to guide me. I improved my knowledge of ICH guidelines, AMA style, regulatory framework, and types of medical writing deliverables. The following resources were helpful:
- ICH guidelines (https://www.ich.org/page/ich-guidelines)
- European Medical Writers Association (EMWA) (https://www.emwa.org/)
- American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) (https://www.amwa.org/)
- Indian Society for Clinical Research (https://iscr.org/)
- Paid medical writing courses
The impact of prior full-time medical writing job experience on your CV is always the strongest. If you don’t have that, invest in upskilling and knowledge building. Even though I had never held a full-time medical writing job, I was able to land interviews and received multiple offers. Most companies have multiple rounds of interviews and writing assignments that can give you a chance to prove your skill-set. I finally accepted the role of a medical writer at a global CRO in 2020. The main reasons behind accepting the role were:
- Getting to write Phase 1-2 clinical regulatory documents: protocols, clinical study reports (CSRs), and narratives. The transition from writing preclinical to early phase clinical documents made the most logical sense to me.
- Established brand with core values that matched mine.
- Opportunity to work remotely with global cross-functional teams.
What does my work as a medical writer entail?
I work with a team of writers with varied backgrounds and experiences. I get to work in a fast-paced environment with a balance of independent contribution and collaborative work.
In my experience, medical writing does require a flair for writing. I always had a passion for writing. I participated (and sometimes won!) in creative writing competitions in middle and high school, worked as the editor of the annual department magazine in college, wrote blogs for an advertising agency as a freelance content writer, and provided writing support in my previous roles.
But please note that medical writers don’t just write. They need to think from different perspectives and manage multiple responsibilities. As a beginner, I recommend shadowing senior medical writers and learning from their experiences. Medical writers are expected to have great attention to detail and also have an eye on the big picture. Besides a solid understanding of medical writing deliverables, the following skills are critical to growing as a medical writer:
- Project/Stakeholder/Time Management
- Communication Skills
- Analytical Skills
Medical writing is an exciting career choice and one should pursue it for the right reasons. There is a misconception that it is an “easy” job with remote work benefits. Medical writing is rigorous work that requires multiple skills, continued learning, and a strong work ethic. Not all medical writing jobs offer remote work benefits. Medical writing is an umbrella term for a wide range of documents for varied audiences. It is important to do your research before applying for medical writing jobs.
There is an increasing demand for qualified medical writers globally with a solid understanding of the evolving regulatory framework and the ability to lead timely submissions. India has become a promising option for medical writing outsourcing owing to a wide talent pool of experienced medical writers, low costs for required standards, and fast turnaround time. Companies are investing in employee development and training programs to match the expectations for complex documents.
Medical writing is not a less “scientific” job. The ultimate goal of medical writing is to improve patients’ lives. I know many medical writers who transitioned from lab work and wished they had known much earlier how fulfilling medical writing can be. And that includes me!
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are my own and not necessarily shared by my employer.