Medical Writing Event and Resources

Today we hosted an excellent Medical Writing careers event at Manchester, organised by Peter Llewellyn. Peter arranged for over 20 medical writing specialists to attend, either to give talks (many thanks to Mike Gazeley, Annick Moon and Jane Fraser) or to chat over a lunch provided with the support of UK GRAD.

I now feel I have a clearer view not only of the role of a medical writer, but also of other related roles. Hopefully those who attended agree.

I hadn’t appreciated the extent to which medical writers accept that their role is part of the marketing of a pharmaceutical product. They are there to educate the healthcare professionals about the client’s product, to improve sales. They have clear ethical responsibilities (it is one of the most regulated industries) and as former research scientists, it was clear that the speakers wouldn’t be doing the job if they felt they were being compromised – but it’s still part of the process of making money for the pharmaceutical industry, and not a career for anyone who feels uncomfortable with the commercial implications. On the plus side, if you’re a PhD / post-doc life scientist who thinks they’d like to do something related to marketing, this is one career to consider where you can combine your technical expertise and your creative flair.

Other related areas touched on were writers in regulatory roles – writing up clinical trials, presenting data and so on, for submission to the regulatory authorities before a drug is approved. No marketing element here, but maybe not the same level of variety and creative input that you would get in a medical writing job.

Talking to the exhibitors over lunch, there are obviously several other avenues to explore if the bench has lost its appeal and information is more your thing – medical information, clinical trials roles or even moving more into the advertising end of the marketing spectrum.

There is some great material in the slide presentations from the three speakers which are on Peter’s MedComms Networking website (or will be by tomorrow). However, if you weren’t there for Jane Fraser’s entertaining run through the qualities needed for a medical writer, you’ll have to use your imagination when you see her slides to decide which qualities match which animals. I loved the final picture of a rhinoceros – “you have to develop a thick skin but if you’re good at it, you get to charge a lot…”  [Update : Jane has added notes to the slides she’s put on Peter’s website and taken out the pictures so you will now have more of an idea of what her talk was about – but it’s not quite as pretty!]

Some other highlights of the day were :

  • hearing from Michael Thompson from Complete Medical Group that they were delighted to be there as they were looking for a trainee medical writer at the moment (so if you were inspired by what you heard on the day, now’s the time to go for it)
     
  • talking to Miriam Banner, who was a final year PhD researcher at Manchester until she spotted an ad on the Careers Service website for a medical writer for Alpharmaxim. She’s just finished her first 9 months in the job and was bubbling with enthusiasm for her new career. (Result!!! In the Careers Service, we don’t often hear “how it all turned out” so it cheers us up no end to find out that the stuff we provide actually helps.)

I’ve gathered together some resources for those wanting more information on these careers, or for anyone who couldn’t make it on the day.

 There are several good web resources with articles about medical communications, often written by medical writers themselves. Have a look at

There’s also a book called “Careers With The Pharmaceutical Industry” (ed. Peter Stonier, Wiley & Sons) which has lots of detailed information about a whole range of roles, including those mentioned here.

If we run another event like this, next time we’ll have a slightly warmer venue (or hold it in July) but for anyone who attended, we’d love to know what you thought of it all. Just respond to the e-mail you should get in the next few days and we’ll feed it all back to Peter and the medical writers who attended.

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4 comments on “Medical Writing Event and Resources

  1. It is probably worth pointing out that this is a profession that relatively few new postgraduates go straight into on getting their qualification – it’s hard to tell how many, but it’s probably a few tens or so. But it’s a great option with a bit more experience under your belt.

    (Yes Elizabeth, it is Charlie, also speaking as a private individual!)

  2. Good to hear from you Charlie! (For those who don’t know him, Charlie is one of the UK’s leading experts in graduate/postgraduate employment – and does a great turn as a stand-up comic whenever he comes and does talks for us).

    Interested to know whether there’s any data backing that up (I know what a data junkie you are). I’d have guessed that more post-docs than PhDs got entry level positions in Med Writing, but Miriam shows that it can be done, straight from final year PhD. I’ll see if Peter or his contacts in the Med Comms world can add any more info on this.

    And yes, I’ve added a feed from your own blog about the UK Graduate job market to my iGoogle homepage – that’ll add to your blog stats!

  3. Thanks for the very kind words, Elizabeth.

    As to stats – yes, I have some rudimentary data, but it is difficult to break medical writing as a job out from other forms of professional writing. As it is, I would say something around 40 new PhD graduates may have gone into the field – or those related – last year – which when you write it like that is actually a reasonable number.

  4. Hi, Tuesday was very worthwhile for all of us. Thanks again Elizabeth for letting us run the session. Certainly the agencies involved all thought it a useful exercise and are looking forward to receiving follow up contact and CVs. They’re all looking to recruit writers, some more urgently than others. If anyone wants more advice do feel free to contact me and I’ll happily do what I can to help.

    To add my own perspective to the points raised here on the blog:

    1 – I know of no stats that would answer the specific point made but Medical Writing in Medical Communications is a specialist field, so by definition not large. It’s growing fast though and the simple fact is there aren’t enough medical writers around to fill the positions. Hence one reason for this Careers session.

    2 – There are more writers in Regulatory type writing but it is a different field. Different style of writing and a different context etc. It’s slightly simplistic because in the end it is all on a spectrum of writing services, but you can essentially look at those two areas as distinct and writers will see themselves as working in one or the other.

    3 – The important point is whilst the Med Comms agencies will say ideally they want post-doc experience I cannot stress enough that it is very much a case of individuals and their own experience and attitude that counts – and agencies by definition are all different. There’s plenty of individuals in medical writing in Med Comms with a PhD but without post-doc experience and, indeed, individuals without a PhD.

    Hope this helps. Good luck in 2008 wherever your path takes you.

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