A Physician’s Guide to Medical Writing and Content Creation

medical writer types on laptop computer

Say what you will about their handwriting, but most doctors are pretty good at writing.

Sure, our clinical notes always have some typos, but one of the first skills you learn in residency is how to distill a lengthy medical history into just a couple of paragraphs. And once you have that figured out, you’re basically a shoo-in for a medcomms gig.

Today’s blog explores the ins and outs of medical communications, and how physicians can get involved as consultants.

What is medical writing?

The job of a medical writer (aka medical communicator) is to explain topics in medicine, science, and health to a particular audience. Much like clinical medicine, medical writing is often face-paced, with tight deadlines and sudden developments.

As you can probably guess, medical writing is a pretty broad term. From writing a textbook to writing an ad, it can all be medcomms. Here are some of the major categories of medical writing gigs.

  • Medical journalism. Medical writers are responsible for relaying medical news to the general public through mediums like blogs, newspapers, and magazines. This gig is a fun one because it allows you to get a little creative with your writing to draw in readers. So bring in the anecdotes, the quotes, and tell a story.
  • Regulatory and scientific writing. Regulatory writing is basically the opposite of medical journalism. In this role, you’re communicating super technical information to professionals. Jobs include preparing documents needed for clinical trials and writing training materials for pharma reps.
  • Peer review. Many major medical journals rely on medical writers to edit abstracts and papers before publication. This is basically getting paid to stay up to date in medicine, which you already have to do anyway.
  • Marketing. Marketing is all about selling stuff, so for medical writers, this can mean creating promotional materials for a new treatment, or helping healthcare startups with their websites or blogs. If you’re a creative type or good at SEO stuff, this could be a good fit for you.
  • Education. A lot of this is producing content for continuing medical education (CME). That includes textbooks, conference materials, and more. You might also find yourself writing sales literature for new drugs, devices, or biologics. This is a super technical area of medical writing that’s great for someone with a strong research background.

How do I start a career in medical writing?

Medical writers often get started by working for a medcomms agency, with the goal of switching over to freelance in the long run since it pays better. Unfortunately, freelance medical writers generally need about 5-10 years of experience at an agency before they can go solo. In my opinion, that’s a pretty drawn out timeline,

Another option is to get into medical writing through consulting. As a physician consultant, you can get experience with a range of agencies to see if there’s one you’d like to work for. You may also end up getting paid a much better rate than working directly for an agency. Consulting is also a great way to break into freelancing, since you’ll get your name out there and establish yourself as an independent worker.

Whether you’re interested in doing medcomms full time or just looking to supplement your income, consulting with flipMD is a great way to get started. Signing up as a physician consultant is free anytime and gives you access to basically any non-clinical physician side gig you can think of.

Gregory Hanson, MD, MPH

Gregory Hanson, MD, MPH

Greg is a PGY-4 interventional radiology resident at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia. He graduated from UCLA with his BS in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences before moving across the country to New York City. While in New York, Greg obtained his Master of Public Health degree in epidemiology with an advanced certificate in applied biostatistics. He then went on to do his medical school training at Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, New Hampshire. In June 2018, he started his post-graduate training with a surgical intern year at Jefferson before continuing there for his integrated interventional radiology residency. During his first year of diagnostic radiology, he began offering his services to various clients by any means possible and was able to make additional side income to help support his family through residency training. This is what sparked the idea for flipMD.

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