Excerpted from SEAK’s course, “How to Earn Money as a Physician Writer”
So, a lot of people come to me and say, “I want to be a medical writer.” And a lot of them are usually a little surprised to learn that there are many, many opportunities in the world of medical writing. It’s very broad. And a lot of folks, you know, find their way kind of touching all of these parts of medical writing, but I would say the majority of folks end up specializing in one area or another. So, here are just… This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but here are some examples of types of medical writing that you might find out there. There’s education, both for patients and other clinicians. As you all know physicians have to obtain a certain number of hours of CME. But other professionals such as, you know, physical therapists, athletic trainers, speech therapists, nurses, radiology techs. Most folks have to have some number of CE to maintain their licensure.
There’s also health journalism which may involve writing content for websites, whether that’s breaking news, covering conferences, covering really important and breaking medical studies, clinical studies. There’s also grant writing. If any of you have experience doing research, you know how important grant writing becomes. There’s marketing that involves presentations for any number of individuals writing in more persuasive voice. Writing training materials for sales forces that may be out there representing different pharmaceutical agents or devices. They’re also med affairs departments, which we’ll talk about a little bit later, but there’re medical affairs departments and pharmaceutical companies, regulatory departments in contract research organizations, medical device companies. Regardless, they’re tasked with producing a number of content pieces, such as publications, abstracts a lot of times, posters for conferences, etc.
So, the last piece is research and regulatory work, which again, we’ll touch on a little bit later, but this list is just meant to give you a broad overview of the types of medical writing opportunities you may find. Another way to think of this is to break it down into a non-scientific versus a scientific audience. So, a lot of people will come to me and say, “I really enjoy breaking things down for my patients. I would like to write for the [inaudible 00:02:48].” So, that would fall under a non-scientific audience, obviously. There are a number of examples here that would represent a non-scientific audience. On the other hand, a scientific audience would involve things like the scientific publications, anything that’s prepared to be presented at a major congress or conference. CME material writing would fall under the scientific audience, etc.
So just another way to think about things as you’re moving forward because the two types of writing are quite different. First, we’re gonna talk about CME. This is probably the one I get asked about the most. I do have a lot of experience writing CME materials and, you know, as a clinician, I really enjoy it, a former clinician, I should say, I really enjoy it because I am not afraid to write in therapeutic areas that are outside of what I specialized in. I mean, as you can imagine, there’s not a whole lot of CME opportunities in sports medicine, so I find myself branching out into a number of therapeutic areas. It’s fascinating because you’re learning while you’re writing. And I think that kind of appeals to a lot of us that have this, you know, quest for lifelong learning.
So, you know, you really need to know the space forwards and backwards before you can write CME materials on it. So that’s one of the main reasons I enjoy writing CME so much. One of the major aspects, perhaps one of the most important is a needs assessment. And this is where you research the clinical gaps, for example, is there, you know, an unmet need in this therapeutic space. You know, X number of patients aren’t being diagnosed correctly, or a number of untreated patients in some specific area, but you demonstrate the gaps in order to get the funding for the project. Because obviously, if you don’t get the funding for the program, then the program doesn’t happen. So, the needs assessment is really important to sort of tell the story about why the funding is necessary, why clinicians need to know about this particular topic, and why there should be continuing medical education programs on this topic.
So that’s one aspect of it. But then, you know, once you get the funding for the program and the program proceeds, you need material for it, whether it’s a chapter that the learners are reading online, or if it’s a symposia that’s being presented at major Congress. There could be journal supplements, podcasts, a lot of online activity these days. But again, the actual program needs to be written and built, often in conjunction with the faculty that’s presenting. Objectives are also really important and they need to be measurable. These programs are written with a pretty strict eye in that, you know, there has to be a need, you have to demonstrate the need. The material has to achieve what the objectives say it’s going to. Then obviously at the end, you’ve got to write the questions or some kind of assessment to determine whether or not the intended learners actually did learn from the program.
So, you’ve really got to know the rules. You’ve really got to know what’s required in these types of programs. You know, since I would say about 2007, 2008, when all those laws changed, and it’s really important for a lot of these materials to have fair balance, meaning you can’t talk about one drug in a class more than the other drugs in the class, that kind of thing. You need to present all the available data in the entire class. There can’t be any commercial influence from whoever supported the program, etc. So, if you’re interested in learning more about CME, I recommend checking out the website for ACCME, which is the Accreditation Council, and that will be in your list of resources at the end.
Next, I wanted to discuss a little bit about pharmaceutical companies. This is probably the second most common area that I’m asked about.