*Dr. Victoria Sherwood is a Scientific Writing Team Lead at Novartis in the UK. She also blogs on STEM Careers over at BiomedBadass.com. In this post, she shares how she became a medical writer in the pharmaceutical industry in the UK.*
As the cursor hovered over the submit button, I didn’t know at that point that one click of the mouse would change my future forever.
I’d reached a point in my academic career where I’d had enough, and was ready for something new. That something new was a career in Medical Communications (MedComms), and I was about to send my application to a company that would offer me my first position as a medical writer.
Months before I’d been toiling with the idea of leaving academia.
At the time I was working as a Principal Investigator at the University of Dundee, UK, leading a skin cancer research group.
Working longer and harder for dwindling funding, pension cuts, financial insecurity (with a mortgage, kids, and a car), increased teaching workload, departmental micromanagement, and a salary that didn’t keep up with the cost of living, had all led me to re-evaluate why I’d wanted a faculty position in the first place.
When the idea of leaving academia first entered my head, the UK was preparing for a referendum on its relationship with the European Union. And although no one could predict the outcome of the vote, one thing was for sure; that withdrawal from the union could lead to economic instability that would only be set to worsen my situation.
This was a big deal for me. I just couldn’t see things getting any better. Would I spend the next three decades of my working life worrying about finances and spending most of my weekends applying for funding? It was certainly looking like it. Things felt out of my control.
So what else? I had little knowledge of life outside of academia.
I’d spent 15 years building my academic career to get to that point. Most of my contacts were academics, the majority of my work experience was academic, and I wasn’t sure if my skills were transferable to other types of employment. Was I going to be viewed by employers as overqualified, too old, and too out of touch? I had lots of self-doubt.
I realized the only way to solve this problem was to talk to people who had answers to all this. And thanks to LinkedIn, I had a way to find them.
How I became a medical writer Pharma in the UK.
Given my oncology background, I decided to identify biotech and pharma professionals to learn more about what they did.
I focused on those with a similar educational background to myself, or who had studied/worked at the same institutions. I sent them a short message to connect and then asked if they’d be happy to chat so I could learn more about their career path.
Not everyone answered or had time to connect, and I didn’t take this personally (people are busy). But I was pleasantly surprised by how many folks generously gave me 15 minutes of their time for a quick chat.
I spoke to interesting people who worked in various areas including R&D, medical affairs, commercial roles including sales, and even recruitment. But it was after I spoke to a medical writer working in MedComms that a light bulb went off in my head.
She’d told me how she worked on congress presentations, scientific meetings, manuscripts, and medical education materials for pharmaceutical products and medical devices.
I was that scientist who loved presenting and speaking about our research. I enjoyed putting slides together for conferences and writing our findings up for publication. I’d even enjoyed some aspects of thesis writing! Looking back, I liked the communication of science more than the research itself. I’d just never taken the time to explore that aspect of my scientific career until this point.
I couldn’t believe it. Someone was describing a job to me that incorporated all the things I enjoyed; scientific writing, medical education, and a high potential for improving patients’ lives.
I’d had this conversation in my lunch break and I spent that entire evening researching more about MedComms writing and finding more Medical Writers on LinkedIn to speak to.
Networking actually works! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
This networking eventually opened doors for me. I ended up speaking to decision-makers, people who could forward my agenda of breaking into MedComms. It was these conversations that landed me my first medical writing position.
When I hit that submit button to Envision Pharma (a bespoke MedComms agency in London, where I learned my trade as a medical writer), their head of recruitment already knew my application was coming.
From the networking conversations, I also knew what skills and experience I needed to highlight in order to stand out. And to ultimately ensure my application was a ‘yes’ for the hiring process.
I’d highlighted my basic skills as a researcher that all medical writing employers are looking for; self-sufficiency, a can do attitude, resilience, research skills, scientific writing, and an ability to interpret data and articulate the findings.
But I also showcased diversity in my communication skills having done outreach activities in the local community, and organizing conferences and committee meetings. This highlighted an ability to communicate with a variety of audiences and to work collaboratively.
And in the writing test, I was able to demonstrate my competency with Microsoft Office, clinical research, and a creative edge with my writing style, which in hindsight all helped me to pass the test.
The medical writing journey has been a rewarding one.
Since starting at Envision Pharma in 2017, I haven’t looked back. MedComms has enabled me to work flexibly, remotely, work in different countries, be self-employed, and work in big pharma.
Fast-forward five years and financially I’m in a far better position than I was as a faculty member in academia.
I’m currently a manager of a MedComms writing team at a top five global pharma company. We communicate the value of the oncology portfolio to the healthcare market, and our work means that cancer patients have more chances of accessing life-saving medicines.
Medical writing has provided so many opportunities for me and continues to do so. Not only have I been able to successfully grow my career in a relatively short period of time, but I’m doing something every day that I enjoy. Something that is changing people’s lives for the better. I can’t ask for more than that.