5 Steps To A Successful Job Search In Medical Writing

Based on the Industry Careers for PhDs Podcast with Emma Hitt Nichols, Ph.D.

Right in the middle of my PhD, I knew that I had been working too hard, for too long, to do a postdoc.

I did not want to work 80 hours a week and earn a low salary.

So, I started thinking about the other skills I had that would combine well with science.

I had been told back in college that I had talent as a writer, and I didn’t think much of it at the time.

That compliment came back to me, and I thought, “Well, maybe I can combine science and writing.”

I started searching online, and I found the National Association of Science Writers.

I made the decision right then, that I was going to become a science writer, and then it morphed into medical writing, which is a subgroup of science writing.

I started editing people’s dissertations, taking on any freelance work I could, and then I also got a master’s in technical writing.

But, it was not always smooth sailing.

I faced quite significant opposition by my dissertation committee, about my decision to go into medical writing.

So, if you are in that situation, where people are telling you, “What are you doing, throwing away a perfectly good career in science?” — ignore them.

If medical writing is something that you’re drawn to, then just believe in yourself and believe in the process, because life is too short to be in academia, if you don’t want to be.

The thing I like most about medical writing, is that it’s non-emotional and there’s a lot of integrity in the industry.

You’re dealing with scientists who are very professional about their work.

My husband is a divorce lawyer, and he deals with emotional stuff, and I don’t have to deal with any of that.

Plus, my first year out of graduate school, I made $90,000 as a medical writer and I haven’t looked back.

Why Medical Writing Is A Great Career Option For STEM PhDs

Medical writing is basically any type of written communication involving medicine.

It can be split up into three general categories.

The first is writing for clinicians and doctors, including writing continuing medical education documents and journal manuscripts.

The second is regulatory writing, which includes all documentation for the FDA, such as new drug applications and prescribing information.

The third category is writing for a consumer audience, which includes writing for feature magazines, newspapers, and online portals.

A background in a STEM field, especially a science field, is well-suited to each of these categories of medical writing.

Not only does your STEM PhD provide you with a strong knowledge base for medical writing, it makes you an expert researcher.

The ability to research well is one of the most important skills a medical writer can have.

As a medical writer, you will often have to write about topics that you know very little about, and the researching skills you learned as a PhD are essential.

Medical writers are constantly learning about a wide range of topics, and you will end up knowing a lot about health, which is useful to the people in your life.

Medical writing is different from a PhD study, where you are just looking at the function of a single protein or something very narrow In medical writing, you acquire a very broad knowledge base.

You’re able to stay connected to science and research by getting to talk to scientists about their work.

Plus, medical writing allows you the opportunity to work from home on your own schedule, or to travel while you work.

More and more people are shifting to a remote working situation, 43% of people report working remotely at least some of the time, and medical writing supports this shift perfectly, as reported by The New York Times.

So, it’s an ideal profession for people with kids or someone who wants job flexibility.

And, of course, the pay is very good.

According to Payscale, medical writers earn an average of $72,000, but earning upwards of $100,000 is not uncommon.

If you are a STEM PhD and you like writing, a career in medical writing could be a great way for you to transition out of academia and into industry.

5 Tips To Be Successful In Medical Writing

PhDs are smart, and you can’t substitute intelligence.

With medical writing, you’re faced with synthesizing large volumes of data and making decisions all day long about how you’re going to present information.

So, you need to be pretty sharp.

But, there’s more to succeeding in medical writing than being smart.

Here are 5 tips to help you find success as a medical writer…

1. Decide between freelance and a staff position.

With a career in medical writing, one of the first things you have to decide is if you want to do freelance medical writing, or if you want to get a staff job.

People often think that a staff job is going to be more secure, but the only job security you have is how good you are at your job.

If you want to get a staff job, you should reach out to recruiters in the industry.

You can easily find recruiters on LinkedIn, since medical writing is a job that’s in demand.

A good medical writer is hard to find, especially one that’s willing to work on-site somewhere, rather than remotely.

Many companies want medical writers to come into an office, so if you’re willing to do that and you’re reasonably good at writing, then that job will be open to you.

If you want to do freelance medical writing, the method is a bit different.

During your PhD, you’ve done experiments, and you’ve dealt with your experiments failing, and you’ve suffered through.

If you’ve done that, that is the best training for freelance medical writing.

In freelance medical writing, you’ve just got to put yourself out there, keep going, and stay motivated.

If you can survive the struggle of failing experiments during your PhD, this will be a breeze.

2. Continue developing your aptitude for writing.

In medical writing, it helps if you have an aptitude for writing.

It helps if you are the person in the lab that the professor seeks out to look over their work, or people have told you, “Wow, I really like your writing. It’s really good.”

That’s a good sign. It’s not absolutely necessary, but you do need to have an aptitude.

You don’t have to love writing, though — you just need to be good at it.

If your goal is to be a freelancer right after you get your PhD, you should start trying to get clients and developing your writing skills now.

Invest in learning more about the rules of writing, by reading books like Elements of Style, that you can find at a local bookstore.

You should also learn about the specifics of medical writing. One resource is the book, Freelance Medical Writing, which is available on Amazon.

You might also look into taking a course to learn about the specifics of medical writing.

If you have taken a course like this, you can highlight it in your resume.

Set up a website.

Your website can be a place to send potential clients, so make sure it is professional and well-branded.

You can also use the website as a way to practice your writing skills.

In medical writing, you will often write about things that you don’t know that much about.

Your PhD research taught you how to look things up in review articles, and this skill is very important for medical writing.

It also helps if you’re not intimidated by medical literature, and if you can get your head around new topics pretty quickly.

Your website can be a great place to practice venturing out of your research comfort zone, and write about topics that you don’t know much about.

3. Know how to reach out to recruiters.

When looking to get a staff medical writing job, you will need to create a medical writer resume.

Your resume should be about one or two pages — it is very different from an academic CV.

It should focus on the writing that you have previously done.

Make your writing a highlight, and make an effort to relate your writing to medical writing.

If you’ve taken a writing course, highlight that course on your resume.

Make sure that your writing course qualification stands out.

Then, with your medical writer resume ready, you can reach out to recruiters.

When you do reach out, make sure that you are approaching recruiters the right way.

You can find recruiters for medical writer positions on LinkedIn.

Another resource to find jobs and recruiters is The Hitt List, which is an email list containing medical writing jobs, many of which are staff medical writing jobs.

The email goes out every Tuesday, and it’s free.

It’s a good way to see what jobs are available, who the recruiters are for those positions, and then contact them.

There is a demand for good medical writers. If you successfully demonstrate your writing skills, you will be desirable to recruiters.

4. Add value and network to get clients.

Whether you are a staff writer or a freelance writer, networking will be a part of your job search and then become necessary to maintain success in your role.

However, good networking is paramount for success as a freelance medical writer.

A good first step is to join a medical writers association.

Two very large and active associations are the American Medical Writers Association, and the European Medical Writers Association.

By joining these associations, you will have access to their member directory.

You don’t want to spam people, but you can certainly reach out to the other members with an email and introduce yourself.

There is a right way to email people, so that you are not spamming them.

Always add value before you ask for something.

You can look to the book, Freelance Medical Writing, for an example of a good email to send.

Another thing to do is to join the relevant medical writers association at the local level.

Most big cities have an active chapter, and if you’re not near that chapter, you can also reach out to the people at the national head office.

They’re always needing help with various initiatives they’ve got going on, so this is a great way to add value to the group.

The hardest part of freelance medical writing is getting started.

It’s like pushing a boulder uphill.

But, if you do good work, are responsive to your clients, and you’re friendly and easy to work with, you are going to be overloaded with work pretty quickly.

The medical writing industry is pretty small, so word gets around, and unfortunately it gets around for the good and the bad.

Always make sure you are doing your best work and adding value to others, rather than promoting yourself.

Think about how you can add value to your clients or on your website.

Can you provide an industry update? What is it that you can do that will attract people to your website?

This will bring clients to you, rather than you having to run after clients.

5. Be forward-thinking.

Before you know it, you will have a lot more clients than you can handle individually.

You will likely start out as a one-person shop and eventually bring on subcontractors, which will change the nature of your job.

You might start with an Excel spreadsheet, with columns and rows, for each of your clients and projects.

You will always be in the process of sending out an invoice, receiving an invoice, or receiving a check.

So, you have to keep really good records.

You can’t go to your client and act like they haven’t paid you when you’ve received payment, so keeping excellent records is essential.

A good resource to keep track of payments, as well as profit and loss, is QuickBooks Online.

You will also need to have a separate bank account for your business.

You don’t have to do this when you first start, but eventually, you will want to separate business and personal transactions.

As your business grows, you need to have the right processes in place to keep everything flowing smoothly.

As a STEM PhD, you are not limited to a career in academia. If medical writing is something you are interested in, go out and do it. Your STEM PhD experience has set you up with the skills to become a medical writer. The tips laid out here will help you succeed in medical writing. Decide if you want to do freelance or staff medical writing, develop your aptitude for writing, know how to reach out to recruiters, add value to get and keep clients, and be forward-thinking so you are prepared for the next phase of your medical writing career. You have what it takes to leave academia, and if medical writing is the career for you, these tips will help you find success.

To learn more about 5 Steps To A Successful Job Search In Medical Writing, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.

Join Cheeky Scientist Association
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly
Isaiah Hankel, PhD
Isaiah Hankel, PhD Chief Executive Officer at Cheeky Scientist

Isaiah Hankel holds a PhD in Anatomy and Cell Biology. An expert in the biotechnology industry, he specializes in helping other PhDs transition into cutting-edge industry career tracks.

Isaiah believes--from personal experience--that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life, it’s a clear sign that you need to make a change. Don’t sit still and wait for the world to tell you what to do. Start a new project. Build your own business. Take action. Experimentation is the best teacher.

Isaiah is an internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant, CEO of Cheeky Scientist, and author of the straight-talk bestsellers Black Hole Focus and The Science of Intelligent Achievement.

Similar Articles

5 Lucrative Career Options for Any PhD (Even Without A STEM background)

5 Lucrative Career Options for Any PhD (Even Without A STEM background)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Contributing Author: Maxwell Caughron A year before I got hired, I didn’t even know the career I currently worked in existed. My path to industry success has not been a straight line, so let’s start from the beginning… My PhD is in Asia Pacific Studies, and after about 6 years in academia, I needed a change of pace. I can’t put into words how anxious I was about finding a job but I started looking at various career tracks. I had absolutely no idea what valuable skills I had or where to look for relevant positions.  It was then that…

A PhD In Leadership: 9 Academic Skills That Turn You Into A Boss

A PhD In Leadership: 9 Academic Skills That Turn You Into A Boss

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

How many PhDs miss their calling as leaders because of academic failure?  I remember my own academic education well. Like other PhDs, no one taught me how to develop my leadership skills. Leadership is a core part of real life, of industry. But it’s not a focal point for academia, which is why so many students get their PhDs only to face a harsh reality… Instead of success and recognition, PhDs feel used. They’ve been used by a university system that chewed them up and spit them out. There is no clear path to success or fulfillment, only unanswered questions.…

I Learned These 3 Things, And Then I Got Hired As A Data Scientist

I Learned These 3 Things, And Then I Got Hired As A Data Scientist

By: Shobeir Mazinani, PhD

Data science has changed my life. That’s not an exaggeration. Since becoming a data scientist, recruiters have invited me to apply for positions in their own organization. It wasn’t always like this though… It used to be the academic life for me – lengthy hours, little pay, and even less appreciation. But I made a decision to join Cheeky Scientist and take my career into my own hands. Now, it’s normal to receive multiple job offers, which I negotiate for higher salary and improved signing bonuses. Does this sound like a luxury? Like a distant achievement that you could never…

7 Ways To Keep Your Job Search Alive In A Recession

7 Ways To Keep Your Job Search Alive In A Recession

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I’ve lost a job. I was offered a contract, and they pulled it back. Everybody is ignoring me on LinkedIn now.  I was communicating with somebody about an upcoming interview, and now they’re not replying to my emails. My postdoc is not going to be renewed.  This is the kind of message I’ve been getting from countless PhDs all over the world. The recession has made things challenging for everyone. A lot of PhDs thought academia was going to take care of them, but they’ve found out the hard way that it isn’t true. For weeks now, I’ve been warning…

How These 3 Leadership Skills Can Protect Your Career During A Recession

How These 3 Leadership Skills Can Protect Your Career During A Recession

By: Sarah Smith, PhD

The current crisis reminds me of something that happened to me years ago. I had an interview with a big company, and it was scheduled to take place on an upper floor of a tall building. I took the elevator, which turned out to be the wrong choice. Normally, I’d have chosen the stairs, but I was feeling nervous and didn’t want to make my heart rate increase – it was already beating fast. The elevator got about halfway up to my floor and abruptly stopped. The doors didn’t open. There were several other people in there with me, and…

5 Ways To Limit PhD Anxiety And Protect Your Career

5 Ways To Limit PhD Anxiety And Protect Your Career

By: Elliott Brecht, PhD

You should have seen my academic CV. It was a total disaster. By academia’s standards, it was fine. But I had a real monster of a CV, over 5 pages long and full of academic jargon. And there was no cover letter either. Can you guess what industry employers did after taking a glimpse at my CV? They probably threw it away – that’s assuming it even reached employers. More likely, it was filtered out of candidacy by application tracking software. You might think that, given the current situation, you should be focusing your time on other things, not career…

Secure PhD Jobs With The 15-Point Coronavirus Career Plan

Secure PhD Jobs With The 15-Point Coronavirus Career Plan

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Isaiah Hankel has your guide to navigating the world of PhD jobs during the coronavirus crisis and using this temporary downtime to your advantage. The financial markets have crashed worldwide.  I can tell you from experience what’s going to happen next. I was a PhD student in 2008 during the financial crisis, and history tells us the hiring market is next to crash. After 2008, I felt like there were no jobs, and I had no industry network to connect with. My PI couldn’t help me – he didn’t know anybody either.  He was in the academic bubble with me. …

5 Ways PhDs Find Successful Careers As Medical Writers

5 Ways PhDs Find Successful Careers As Medical Writers

By: Alejandra Viviescas, PhD

As a PhD, you already have the strong communication skills you need to succeed as a medical writer. You just need to focus them on other audiences besides academics, like doctors, patients, regulatory bodies, and the general public.

3 Huge Benefits Of Being An Industry Research Scientist

3 Huge Benefits Of Being An Industry Research Scientist

By: Aditya Sharma, PhD

The main reason you should be looking for an industry job instead of staying in academia is simple: There are too many academic research scientists. Nature reported that in recent years, the number of academic research scientists jumped by 150% in the U.S. alone. Meanwhile, the number of tenured and other full-time faculty positions has plateaued and, in many places, even declined. Around 10% of all postdocs had been going on for more than 6 years. Imagine doing a postdoc for 6 or more years. A lot of PhDs don’t have to imagine that scenario – they are living it.…

Top Industry Career eBooks

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the top 20 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, highest-paying jobs for PhDs – all of which will allow you to do meaningful work AND get paid well for it.

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.