7 Essential Skills to Look For When You Hire a Medical Writer

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As new treatment products and devices progress from research laboratories to manufacturing units to markets, the need to skillfully communicate product information to various stakeholders keeps rising. Add to that the rising number of patents expiring each year. Not surprisingly, medical writers have reached quite an indomitable demand in the healthcare industry. Not just big pharma organizations but also smaller healthcare startups need to hire a medical writer who can help them communicate the benefits of their products to their target audience.

Currently, companies prefer hiring an experienced freelance medical writer who is multifaceted, well-versed with the clinical and biopharma industry, and can turnaround documents within fast-paced deadlines. Being successful as a medical writer requires specialized skills and talents that are instrumental in carving one’s own niche path of success. So, here’s a look at the essential skills that companies look for in a freelance medical writer that make them stand out amongst the crowd.

1) Impeccable domain knowledge

As the European Medical Writing Association (EMWA) points out, medical writing has been differentiated into regulatory writing as well as medical communications. While medical communication “med comms” writers cater towards the needs of hospitals, biopharma companies, digital healthcare, and medical device companies to communicate better with consumers, regulatory writers have a tough job of breaking down scientific research documents and presenting them to global regulatory agencies. Needless to say, having in-depth knowledge of life sciences and medical subjects is a mandate for a medical writer. Many companies prefer to hire specialist medical writers or freelance PhD-qualified experts. The knowledge of basic medicinal subjects builds a strong foundation for medical writers to discuss critical medical information with patients, caregivers, healthcare practitioners, medical device marketers, and patients.

A very important attribute that recruiters scan is certification. To make a profitable career as a medical writer, a formal training at globally reputed organizations adds vital credentials to a medical writer’s profile. The best-valued certifications are by the American Medical Writing Association (AMWA) or the European Medical Writers Association (EMWA). Besides these, reputed global universities such as the University of California, San Diego and the University of Chicago conduct Medical Writing training and certification courses based on strict eligibility criteria.

Recruiters also gauge additional qualifications. Many aspiring medical writers attend Medical Writing workshops organized by global organizations such as the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS). The Society aims to train professionals on regulatory writing and allied writing disciplines based on the requirements of the clinical and biopharma industry.

Also, freelance medical writers should be updated with the growing requirements of the industry. An effective medical writer is one who knows which companies are facing strong headwinds in the regulatory departments, what the FDA and EMA are focussing on, which technologies are transformational, etc. This makes the documentation crisp, targeted and thoroughly suited for intended audiences.

2) Analytical skills

From assisting scientists in publishing their research to becoming regulatory decision-makers, medical writers have a mammoth task of bringing together a variety of data and information and using them effectively to document medical research. Since medical documents are read by a variety of readers including medical and non-medical staff, writers should be adept at frequent data analysis, documentation analysis, product analysis, and industry analysis.

Highly effective medical writing requires a sharp focus on accuracy and crisp use of global languages – preferably English. Medical communication specialists are hired to prepare brochures, flyers, patient questionnaires, patient information leaflets, newsletters, magazines, abstracts, posters and product manuals, among others. They’re expected to be well versed with all activities involved in pipeline projects, regulatory approvals, and product development/manufacturing. Along with crisp domain knowledge, medical writers need to have conviction in their writing and analytical skills which makes their deliverables excellent reads. When you hire a medical writer, evaluate and assess their analytical skills based on their previous job expertise, or tools/software they may be familiar with.

The best writers are those who can read through numerous documents and understand them clearly, which translates into crisp, intelligent, quick reads. Since we are living in an age of reduced attention spans and simultaneous content expansion, the skill to explain healthcare’s deepest know-hows with clarity has been increasing incredibly. Sharp analytical skills and effective time management are the talents that separate the most effective medical writers from the rest.

3) Multitasking

The global biopharmaceutical industry is progressing at an unprecedented pace. The regulatory conditions are changing by the minute and new discoveries/treatments are hitting the markets in record time. In such a situation, being a medical writing professional is one of high demand, increasing adaptability and flexibility. When you hire a medical writer, look for a professional that stays abreast of the fast-paced pharmaceutical industry.

Multifaceted, multi-disciplinary and multitasking are the buzzwords which recruiters, project managers or clinical research coordinators have in mind while choosing freelance medical writers. A degree in biomedicine should not restrict a medical writing professional from going deep into sports medicine or clinical pathology. PhD-qualified scientists in any field that choose to become medical writers are becoming increasingly competitive by revamping their skillset and broadening their domain authority into allied medical disciplines such as health economics and outcomes research (HEOR), biostatistics, clinical programming languages R or SAS. The growth of fields such as epidemiological research, oncology, and precision medicine has laid inroads for PhD-qualified scientists to explore wider while having the innate ability to dig deeper into research.

It is imperative that medical writers, irrespective of working in the medical communications domain or regulatory affairs, have the innate ability to organize their schedules effectively so that every project assigned gets the right amount of attention. When you hire a medical writer, you may want to hire someone who not just has experience working on tight deadlines but also has managed a team of writers. Mostly, experienced medical writers develop teams where the delivery of work is aligned and assigned according to individual strengths and skill-based processes. A standard process for every project ensures the correct amount of effort and time invested on each aspect of the deliverable. Although Ph.D. qualified scientists have worked on yearly or semi-annual timelines, they need to develop project management skills to a large extent to gain success in medical writing and form long-lasting relationships with clients.

4) Journalistic skills

Just as much as their scope of adding value keeps rising, medical writers today have the strong need to hone their talent and skills at a faster pace than before. Medical writers today comprise life sciences degree holders, allied medicine graduates, Ph.D. qualified scientists, literature, and mass communication graduates, and marketing professionals. With a plethora of opportunities opening up in the medical & healthcare industry, the ability to explain medical terminology to larger audiences becomes key to business growth. Which is why life science graduates and Ph.D. qualified scientists have to open up their minds and learn the basic journalism skills to become high-quality medical writers and editors. They need to get a better understanding of the English language, communicate more effectively using a minimum number of words, gain enough practice in editing, standardizing and formatting textual content and become intelligent readers. A medical writer with a keen focus on separating fact from fiction and looking for the right answers to important medical questions is what companies appreciate nowadays.

Although medical writing is a technical field, having creative writing skills takes freelance medical writers leaps and bounds above others in terms of opportunities. Sometimes, the deliverables are posters, abstracts, presentations, and infographics, which gives writers a chance to exhibit their visualization skills with facts and logical reasoning. The best part is that medical writers of the past have already made it easier for the new writers by publishing resourceful books such as Nude Mice and Other Medical Writing Terms You Need to Know and The Complete Guide to Medical Writing, among others.

5) Consistency & precision

Any growth-oriented professional will tell you that long-lasting business relationships depend on consistently delivering high-quality work, and the medical writing industry is no different. Pharmaceutical companies, biotech companies, medical media companies, and journal publishers are looking for medical and scientific writers that have strong foundations in medical domains and can deliver error-free publications every time. Be it news articles, website blog posts, patient information leaflets, FDA dossiers, abstracts, posters, or conference presentations, the sincerity and consistent performance exhibited by a freelance medical writer is paramount to his/her success.

By submitting high quality, growth-oriented work each time, a freelance medical writer can show greater strengths to their clients, which in turn increases their networking abilities. Medical writers who can talk effectively with clients and have some basic business development skills can go much further and establish themselves independently. Since the current trends in outsourcing medical writing projects show an upward climb, it becomes imperative for medical writers to broaden their skillsets and versatility so that they keep developing themselves for the future.

6) Self-motivated & Inquisitive

When you hire a medical writer, it is essential that you look for a candidate who is self-motivated and can work independently in a fast-paced environment. Medical writers have to delve deep into clinical data, case reports, scientific literature and regulatory documents and pore over them without denouncing a single piece of information. This requires them to be exceedingly curious and frame the right medical questions ahead of the targeted audience. Also, they need to analyze all documents with accuracy and clarity and present answers to those medical questions.

Medical writers have the responsibility to speak with principal investigators, clinical research coordinators and clinical data managers to understand all aspects of the clinical studies. Since these processes involve massive amounts of effort and energy, they need to be self-starters and self-motivators. They need to orient themselves with a variety of healthcare professionals to publish the required documents to the highest levels of accuracy.

7) Adaptive and competitive

New treatment products and innovations in medical devices continuously drive the healthcare market forward, which requires new information to be communicated regularly. This makes the role of a medical writer interesting as they shoulder the responsibilities associated with bringing the product to market. Similar to having journalistic skills, companies expect medical writers to have some knowledge of advertising so that they can accurately disperse information to consumers. This also means that medical writers have to gain knowledge of competitors in the same therapeutic areas, product segment, and so on.

Companies often bank on medical writers to help communication and advertising teams to fasten marketing activities and reducing the chances of providing misleading information. The challenging role of a medical writer is what makes their work so multidimensional and interesting.

One of the crucial skills you should look for in a medical writer is a strong sense of ownership. While consistent high-quality work may seem like the foremost requirement in the healthcare industry, a medical writer is expected to remain accountable for each and every fact presented in the work, irrespective of the format in which it is presented. For a conference presentation, abstract, manuscript, clinical study report, dossier, patient information leaflet or a product information manual, a medical writer must ensure the highest degree of accuracy which is non-negotiable.

All in all, an expert in science can now reach far and wide with their writing. But to increase their readership across service providers, media, industries, governments, and policymakers, being an intelligent reader and writer remains key.

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About Author

Mahasweta is a Biotechnologist at heart with varied academic research experiences in Tissue Engineering, Medical Imaging Devices and Industrial Microbiology. She majored in Biomedical Engineering from Vellore Institute of Technology and has served as an editor for journal publications in Elsevier, Wolters Kluwer Health and Royal Society for Chemistry. She also writes for Company blogs, news articles and guest posts.

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