How do I Become a Medical Writer?

Medical writing can be a rewarding and fascinating career path for those who are interested in medicine and health-related topics and enjoy writing. Writing a question and answer health column for a website, newspaper, brochure, or pamphlet, writing the text for pharmaceutical inserts, or writing technical education materials and textbooks for medical school students are all examples of what a medical writer does. There are dozens of medical writing jobs available.

Although physicians and scientists gather information for many medical research reports and textbooks, the actual report or textbook may be written a medical writer. The writer must be able to comprehend, analyze, and interpret the information before writing it clearly and correctly without making any mistakes. It can be extremely difficult, and it requires a writer with the intellectual capacity and willingness to work through the technical information.

Medical writers can work for a variety of organizations, including newspapers, magazines, textbook publishers, hospitals, medical schools, government agencies, pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies, laboratories, and volunteer health organizations. For an experienced medical writer, there are full-time, part-time, and freelance opportunities available. Salary varies depending on the writer’s experience and the field in which she works. A recent college graduate, for example, will earn less than an experienced writer, and someone who writes a medical textbook or a column may be paid a royalty in addition to their salary.

The American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) was founded in 1940 to provide a gathering place for medical writers and communicators to learn more about their profession. Currently, the AMWA has nearly 6,000 members from all over the world. AMWA was created to help freelance medical writers and those employed a company, school, agency, or foundation become more professional. Members of the AMWA receive career development information, continuing education in their field, networking opportunities, access to an online job board, an e-newsletter, and member discounts.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to becoming a medical writer. Employers typically require their medical writers to have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in technical writing. Others prefer writers who have majored in one of the sciences, such as biology, chemistry, or physics, as long as they are effective writers.

Many colleges and universities now offer undergraduate medical writing and scientific communication courses, as well as master’s degree technical writing programs. The courses frequently provide students with background and basic information that can be useful in a career as a medical writer. Self-study and courses offered various organizations, such as the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA), are also beneficial in advancing one’s career in medical writing.