For many graduates who enjoy science and love writing, medical writing sounds like the ideal career. However, without agency experience it can be difficult to get a foot in the door. Here, Team Spirit share some hints and tips on how to break into medical communications or MedComms…
A successful medical writer needs energy, enthusiasm and excellent attention to detail. They should be proactive, innovative and deadline focused. A clear understanding of medical concepts is vital. While a PhD isn’t essential to become a medical writer, it will give you a leg up – the transferrable skills gained during a research degree can be invaluable when applying for a MedComms role. Desktop research is a huge part of medical writing – you’ll encounter a wide range of therapeutic areas, some of which you will have no prior knowledge in. Being able to use your research skills to become an expert quickly is a great strength. A good medical writer should take feedback well, have excellent organisation skills, be solution focused, a good listener, and have a good sense of humour!
If you’re interested in a future career in medical writing it’s a great idea to gain as much writing experience as possible. Spirit’s associate medical writer Holly Kramer took advantage of writing opportunities during her PhD studies, which gave her an advantage when applying for MedComms roles. She entered poster and science writing competitions, as well as attending workshops and masterclasses. Such science writing competitions include Access to Understanding and the Biochemical Society Science Communication Competition. Not only will these competitions boost you CV, but you could also be in with a chance of winning a prize!
One of Spirit’s new recruits, principal medical writer Caroline McGown, explains that when she was applying for medical writing jobs she was frustrated by the requirement for 2–3 years’ experience, but eventually she found a company advertising a job for which no previous experience was necessary. Caroline says that experience gained publishing review articles during her PhD, as well as her editorial experience at the British Journal of Anaesthesia, helped her secure her first medical writing role. Caroline worked at MedComms agencies in Madrid and Milan before joining Spirit in March.
A great CV is essential for getting noticed by a MedComms agency. Remember, your CV will be scrutinised by possibly a whole editorial department! Perfect spelling and grammar are essential. Spirit’s Director of Medical Strategy, Dawn Lobban, has seen her fair share of poor CVs. “I am constantly amazed at the number of applications we receive that contain spelling mistakes!” she says. “Remember you aren’t the best person to check your work – get someone else to read it”.
Most MedComms agencies expect applicants to complete a writing test as part of the interview process. Agencies will be checking your use of English, attention to detail and writing style, as well as your ability to complete the test within a reasonable timeframe. If you’re new to medical writing don’t panic – agencies will not expect you to be perfect straight away. The writing test allows them to measure your current level and future potential.
If medical writing sounds like the career for you, and if you’re a proactive, ambitious individual with a commitment to ‘going beyond’ expectations, Spirit would encourage you to get in touch!
MedComms Networking has an excellent free careers guide available here: http://www.medcommsnetworking.co.uk/careersguide.pdf
Next MedComms Job has extensive MedComms job listings, and the ability to filter by level of experience.
The European Medical Writers Association have a great advice sheet for medical writers available here: http://www.emwa.org/documents/about_us/Career.pdf
PhD to a career in medical communications: making the move from academia to MedComms