Medical writing FAQs – tips on getting started

I get asked all the time about getting started in medical writing – here the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions. Yell out if you’ve got any other questions. 

How did you get started?

Getting started in medical writing is really idiosyncratice. Every person I know has a different pathway in. I got started by submitting an article to Medical Observer (in 2001). They liked it and I summoned up the courage to ask what else I could write – and then built relationships with different editors and they taught me how to do interviews and write features.

How do you find clients?

Finding clients is networking, applying for advertised roles, networking, networking, finding publications you like and pitching article ideas, networking

How does the pay work?

Pay depends on the client – for media it’s generally per word published – it was 50c per word and I doubt it’s raised much since then – maybe you’ll get 75c somewhere. You make your income from doing lots of research and pitching lots of ideas and hopefully some of them get taken up. Pay for other organisations will either be an hourly rate or a flat fee. Depends on what you negotiate. I think 100K is a high income for a fulltime medical writer. I was doing it part time around kids and earned enough to help pay our mortgage and school fees. But you have to work hard

What should I write about?

You can write about anything medical – but it’s best if you find things you are interested in. For me I narrowed it down to mental health after a while – but I have written about most medical areas at one time or another.

Do you need any credentials to be a medical writer?

MBBS is more than enough to write about anything medical. For all the people I’ve interviewed including people like Ian Frazer – all they wanted to know to gain immediate trust was I was a doctor. You learn a lot and for many years I counted the research I did in order to write as my CPD

What resources do you need for research?

This depends on what you are writing and for whom. Sometimes the commissioning organisation will organise a log in for a clinical resource, sometimes you find what you want on pubmed and they will supply full text articles, sometimes you have to be really creative

Who edits and approves your work?

In terms of language and structure your work will be edited by an editor – usually one who has experience in health and medical writing. Listen to their feedback you learn an enormous amount about framing sentences, communication, making complex ideas simple. Depending on the organisation and project there may be clinical governance type person approving things – if you are lucky enough you might become that person. I’ve done lots of it for organisations like Bupa etc

Are there any courses you can do to help you get started?

Options for courses are: (a) any writing short course to improve your writing skills (I did a children’s writing course) (b) specific health writer courses – see health writer hub or Australian medical writers association (c) mentoring with yours truly

Ultimately everyone starts with no experience and no contacts. If you want some coaching to get started on taking action let me know. Consider a mentoring package to help you get started

Can you do this with small children?

Absolutely. When I first started I did it all with 3 kids – youngest as a baby. When they slept I wrote. I loved it.

Book in now to get started in medical writing.

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