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.

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.

Book a Transition Call
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly

ABOUT ISAIAH HANKEL, PHD

CEO, CHEEKY SCIENTIST & SUCCESS MENTOR TO PHDS

Isaiah Hankel, PhD is the Founder and CEO of the largest career training platform for PhDs in the world - Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by 3 million PhDs in 152 different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, DOW Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Isaiah Hankel received his doctorate in Anatomy & Cell Biology with a focus in immunology and is an expert on biotechnology recruitment and career development.

Isaiah has published two bestselling books with Wiley and his methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

Isaiah About Photo

Similar Articles

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies January 7, 2023

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies January 7, 2023

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

4 Red-Hot Intellectual Property Positions For PhDs

4 Red-Hot Intellectual Property Positions For PhDs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I just got off the phone with an old friend of mine.  We were researchers at the same lab back in our university days. We had lost touch, but when he found me on LinkedIn I couldn’t wait to hear what he’s done since graduation.  He told me he had not wound up in chemistry, which had been his major. Biomolecular chemistry, he reminded me. Instead, he decided to pursue a career in patent law.  Here’s his transition story: I was in the process of earning my PhD in biomolecular chemistry. That’s where I learned that patents were unrecognized by…

4 Oddly Popular PhD Careers In Finance And Business

4 Oddly Popular PhD Careers In Finance And Business

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

PhDs in the sciences and humanities are not qualified to work in finance or business. At least that’s what I thought. That was until I started hearing more of my former colleagues talk about their transition into consulting and financial service roles. These were people who specialized in very niche areas of science. I was surprised to learn that their skills were needed in the financial and business sectors of industry. What can a PhD in the sciences or humanities possibly contribute to finance and business? As always, it comes down to your transferable skills. These sectors are seeking highly…

PhD Careers In Clinical, Medical, And Regulatory Affairs

PhD Careers In Clinical, Medical, And Regulatory Affairs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I was defending my PhD in 6 months, and I still had no idea what I wanted to do. What job did I want? Where did I see myself in 5 to 10 years? My goal was to get out of academia and into industry – and as quickly as possible. Beyond that, I hadn’t thoroughly considered my options. In fact, when I finally sat down to apply for jobs, I blindly searched for open positions using standard terms: “Researcher,” “Scientist,” “Biologist,” and so on. As a science PhD, that’s what I was qualified for, right? What I didn’t appreciate…

6 Research And Development Roles For PhDs (Not Just Research Scientist)

6 Research And Development Roles For PhDs (Not Just Research Scientist)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

When you envision yourself in an industry role, what do you see? Like many PhDs, you might imagine yourself in a research position where you are developing and performing experiments, analyzing data, presenting the data to your research team, and so on. After all, that’s what your PhD has trained you for, right? But if the thought of spending a life-long career conducting experiments fills you with dread, start looking beyond the bench. There are plenty of fulfilling career paths within Research and Development (R&D) that keep you close to the innovation. As one Cheeky Scientist member recently shared:  …

4 Great PhD Careers In Sales And Marketing (Don’t Overlook #3)

4 Great PhD Careers In Sales And Marketing (Don’t Overlook #3)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Like many PhDs, you may think that Research and Development is the only department in industry that hires PhDs. But the reality is, your skills are needed in every area of industry. That means that every single department within a company is seeking PhD-level candidates. In fact, there are five core industry career tracks that can provide PhDs with meaningful and rewarding work: Information and Data Management (this is a broad category that includes everything from Patent Analyst and Informatics Specialist roles to Medical Writing and Data Scientist roles), Research and Development, Clinical and Regulatory Affairs, Classical Business (e.g., Management…

Data Scientist, Patent Analyst & Medical Writing Positions For PhDs

Data Scientist, Patent Analyst & Medical Writing Positions For PhDs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

What industry position can I apply to? That’s one of the most common questions PhDs ask once they decide to leave academia. What you probably don’t realize is that you have many options when it comes to choosing a career. So, the real question is not what industry position you can apply to, but what industry position is the right fit for you. Which position better matches your professional lifestyle and career goals?  In previous blogs we’ve discussed how to establish your desired professional lifestyle and how to use it to evaluate your target career track and companies. In the…

3 Factors PhDs Must Consider When Deciding Company Fit

3 Factors PhDs Must Consider When Deciding Company Fit

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

If you recently started your job search, you probably feel the pressure of proving that you’re a good fit for the industry roles you’re applying to.  You have to carefully craft your cover letter, resume, and LinkedIn profile, and prepare for countless interviews just to prove you’re  qualified for a position.  This pressure can make you feel that employers hold all the power, and the only thing that matters is convincing them that you’re the best candidate for the role. Don’t let this pressure make you neglect other key components of a successful career, like company fit.  You’ll likely accept…

8 Work Qualities PhDs Should Assess When Planning A Career Move

8 Work Qualities PhDs Should Assess When Planning A Career Move

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

If you have a PhD, you’re among the 2% of the population who has committed to push a field of knowledge forward.  That makes you one of the most innovative people in the world. This is something special. As such, you deserve to work in a position where your tenacity and ability to solve problems are out of good use. Where you feel satisfied and are rewarded for your job. That’s why I encourage all PhDs to look for an industry position, because academia is a dead end where dreams go to die. However, you have to be strategic when…

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.

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the best 63 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.