Thursday, June 7, 2012

Interview with a Medical Writer

At an AWIS event recently, I met a woman who is a Medical Writer.  That is one of the jobs that I am told people with a Ph.D. can do, but given my non-medical background, I wanted to know more.  She generously agreed to tell me more about the position: how she got it, what it's like and why it's great.

First, a quick background on her; she has a Ph.D. in molecular biology, and realized towards the end of her time in graduate school that she didn't want to be at the bench and wasn't sure where else to go.  She joined American Medical Writers Association, and started looking for jobs.  Although she said she had not special training for the role, I think that the membership is the magic piece that helped her get the job.  The job she eventually was offered she found on Monster, although she applied for other jobs on the HittList and other places.  She started on site at a pharmaceutical company in Chicago, and for personal reasons has moved to Seattle as an off-site contractor with the same company and position.

Her job now is a combination of writing tasks.  Sometimes she writes 'primary literature'- data is provided in the form of polished figures and she writes manuscripts to tie them together.  Sometimes she writes 'content' for clinical trials.  When a doctor recruits a new patient, the patient will be given a brochure with all the legalese and descriptions of the trial methods.  Sometimes she helps in filings, which she says makes her feel less like a writer, and more like an aggregation.  Other people have done most of the writing, and she copies and pastes bits of documents together to make a new document.  She has more of a management role on some projects as well.  She said she likes the work because it changes, and she never feels too married to any of her work to take criticism.

Most people who are medical writers are not Ph.D.s, many have clinical backgrounds.  This may make them better at navigating the medical lingo, but as far as writing up figures, methods or any research stuff goes, she felt completely prepared to to do the job.  And she loves it- the work is interesting and challenging, and the pay is great.  According to AMWA, the average Medical Writer makes $92K annually.  Starting salaries are high for those with Ph.D.s and there is room for career advancement.

It sounds like a great gig to me.  Although I am loathe to work off-site, a well paid job with a contract route of entry seems achievable.  I like writing, and could be happy having someone else tell me what to write.  I've joined AMWA ($160 annually), in hopes that might legitimize my application to these types of roles.  Now I just need to find them.

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