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Careers in Medical Writing

Updated: May 4, 2021

Hello, BTM Blog!

I’m excited to be joining the team as a regular contributor. I’m a recent graduate of Emory’s PhD program and I now work as a medical writer. In the coming months I plan to write about why I chose industry, how I made the transition, how PhD programs could better prepare us for non-academic careers, working as a disabled scientist, what my experience has been in industry, and more.

I thought I would kick things off by talking about the field of medical writing and what I now do for a living. The field is pretty broad, but here are four main focus areas (and I have only worked in one of them, so of course I know the most about my own area!).

If you’ve heard of medical writing, maybe you think of ghost-writing publications. Many pharma companies will hire an agency to put together manuscripts when they’re ready to publish clinical trial data. If you like to write publications but don’t want to collect the data, pubs could be the route for you. Pubs includes not only manuscripts, but also conference abstracts and posters.

The second major area is regulatory medical writing. These writers deal with documents that go through the FDA. This includes initial drug applications, anything to do with a clinical trial (think informed consent, study protocols, summaries of the study results), filing for drug approval, writing the prescription leaflet, etc. If you like technical writing, have a desire to understand the regulatory process, and like the idea of being involved more directly with clinical trials, that’s regulatory writing.

Next up is medical education. This is definitely the area that I know the least about, but this could be continuing medical education products for doctors or training materials for pharma company sales teams before a product launch. If you like education but aren’t sure about teaching at the college or high school level, med ed is an area to consider.

And finally, there’s my area, which is promotional writing. Generally speaking, our goal is to help clients sell product. Our deliverables can come in two flavors: branded materials talking about a drug and how it works and its efficacy, or unbranded materials which generally talk about a disease process to set the stage for your product. Broadly speaking, before approval, we educate doctors about how important the pathway our drug targets is without actually discussing that drug. Then, after approval we switch to a branded focus and talk about how the drug works in the pathway that we’ve already been educating about. Part of my job also involves thinking about strategy. If something happens in the pharma world that’s relevant to my product – a piece of data comes out about my product or a competitor – we work with the client to think about what the best position is for their product. This also means we need to know what’s happening in the field: what competition is coming to market, how is their research going? How is our product and data different from the competitors? What’s happening in the literature?

So, what made me choose this career path? It’s a far longer story than we have time for today, but it came down to two major factors. The first is that I had always, always wanted to go into industry. Since the day I decided to be a scientist, I said I was going to go make drugs. That didn’t change over 10 years of school. The second is that as I went through school, I realized that I did not want to go live where pharma exists, and I might want/need to leave the bench to live where I wanted. Medical writing gave me the best of both worlds: I get to be in pharma, but I can live where I want. And now I can live anywhere I want, because I work remotely. Now that I’ve been off the bench for a little while, I’ve realized that while I did love my years in the lab, I’m okay with closing that chapter. I will talk another time about being off the bench versus on the bench and industry versus academia more broadly, but for now I’ll say this. If I had stayed on the bench, I would have been able to keep doing research, yes. But I wouldn’t have been thinking about the business and strategy of pharma in the way that I get to now, and I really think that after a few years I would have gotten bored, and probably frustrated. I look forward to sharing more about my decision to go straight from PhD to pharma and what that transition has looked like in the future.

Let me know what you want to hear more about – I would love to know!

Emma D'Agostino

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