Friday, June 29, 2007

#5: What will I be writing? (Part II)

With the advent of cutting-edge technology, many pharmaceutical companies and hospitals are also tapping into the potential of the internet and multimedia platform to achieve multiple objectives, e.g. marketing their products, setting up company training programs, conveying health messages to consumers, or conducting continuing medical education (CME) programs for medical professionals.

A medical writer may be involved in developing content for some of the common electronic projects:

  • Web site – a web site may be designated for a specific drug to inform people about its use, efficacy data and safety profile. Some companies also build web sites containing training materials for internal staffs, or CME programs for doctors. Nowadays, many events and meetings are also announced through web sites, allowing participants to register via the web site, book hotels and submit relevant information to the event organizer.
  • E-newsletter – to send out updates on regular intervals (e.g. quarterly, biannually, annually); it can be a simple letter to notify its registered members on new content on the web sites, thus directing them to read online; or it can be a newsletter containing informative articles and news saved in the PDF format.
  • CD-ROM – a convenient way to mobilize information as a CD can carry lots of information and be played in almost any computer or laptop nowadays. A CD-ROM may be a video recording of a lecture by an eminent speaker; this gives people a chance to ‘attend’ the talk at a later time even if they are not physically present during the lecture. Other things that may be stored in a CD-ROM include drug detailing information, clinical papers, patient education articles, staff training programs, special softwares for doctors, and many more.

As communications agencies also take on event management projects, some times medical writers are involved in preparing conference materials. The event can be a small scale advisory board meeting related to a particular disease with around 10 participants, or an international medical conference attracting hundreds and thousands of delegates from different parts of the world.

A medical writer needs to work on the preparation of the conference materials, such as:

  • Invitation letter
  • Meeting agenda
  • Conference kit – it may contain a welcome letter, abstracts of lectures, printouts of the presentation slides and notes, plus some other relevant information for the participants’ reference
  • A meeting report, if the event is a advisory board meeting or round table discussion


Friday, June 22, 2007

#4: What will I be writing? (Part I)

In the last article I said I will touch on the job scope of a medical writer apart from writing. I reckon I should first give you an idea the types of publications or materials you will be producing.

First of all, you need to know that a medical or healthcare communications company provides a variety of editorial and non-editorial services for its clientele. The clients are normally companies that sell pharmaceutical products (i.e. medicine or what we usually call drugs), medical devices, health supplements and milk formula, hospitals, or medical associations, to name a few.

The materials produced are tailored to their needs and requirements, and to be used as a supporting tool for their marketing campaign of a new medicine, or simply to remind people of an existing drug.

As mentioned in one of my earlier posts, the materials produced can target either medical or healthcare professionals (e.g. specialists, doctors, nurses, pharmacists), patients, patients’ family or common people like you and me.

These materials aim to educate the general public or patients on a particular disease (e.g. learn more about a disease, how to deal with it etc.), and to update the medical professionals on the latest drug development and patient care. Of course, the ultimate goal is to help increase sales of the client’s product.

So, as a medical writer in a communications company, you will be writing for both print publications and non-print materials.

Below is not an exhaustive list, but some of the more commonly produced print publications:

  • Event highlights – a summary of talk(s) held during a dinner symposium solely sponsored by one drug company or a large-scale international conference.
  • Newsletter – can be monthly, quarterly or biannually, featuring articles related to a disease or a group of diseases.
  • Clinical summary – a summary of one or more published clinical papers.
  • Detail aid – also known as a sales aid or visual aid, it contains information of a specific product (e.g. efficacy, safety, supporting clinical data and graphs, administration and dosing guide), coupled with creative elements.
  • Disease chart – used to explain different aspects of a disease, normally in the form of a desktop flip chart or a wall poster to be placed in the doctor’s office
  • Brochure – usually for patients or a certain group of readers (e.g. pregnant women, parents, elderly etc.).
  • Booklet – same as the above, but a booklet is able to carry more information.
  • Materials in a meeting folder – a compilation of different documents, such as welcome letter, abstracts and slides, to be given out during a meeting or conference.
Apart from the above, you will also be writing or preparing content for non-print materials, which I will talk about in the next post. Remember to drop by next week!


Monday, June 18, 2007

#3: But I don't have any writing experience!

Neither did I have any relevant writing experience when I first started out as a medical writer. But think carefully, you may not be as “inexperienced” as you think.

Say me, for example. I was on the verge of completing my thesis for my post-grad study when I saw a job classified looking for an editor, preferably someone with a pharmacy or pharmacology degree. I should say that I was just trying my luck. I didn’t fit into any of their requirements. But no harm trying I reckoned, since I studied biochemistry and have basic knowledge of pharmacology. I got an interview from the company, but of course they didn’t hire me for the post (I was so not the person for that position). Instead, they employed me to be a medical writer for their communications division. Only after that I was introduced to the world of medical writing.

But I have never written for living, so I have zero experience, right? Isn’t this a bit risky for the company to hire me? True, I didn’t really have any work related experience in this field, but I had written thesis for my undergrad course, and was WRITING for my thesis then. I also co-published a clinical paper in one of the local medical journals. I made presentation slide kit for an intervarsity conference. Those are considered as writing experience, though for a smaller and different category of audience.

I consider myself lucky as the company was planning to set up their local communications division editorial team, and somehow they were willing to take the risk of hiring someone with zero experience. Well, every experienced writer (in fact in any occupation) was once inexperienced, right? The point is - if you have written any thing, let it be a thesis, an article published in the newspaper or magazine, or a newsletter you wrote for your church, your diary, your blogs, etc, consider all of those your writing experience.

Whether your writing style and skill match what the company is looking for, they will find out by giving you a writing test. If the company hires you, then you can learn and pick up the necessary knowledge and skill as you work, most likely with guidance from other skilled writers. Such companies also usually provide training for their writers through in-house workshops or seminars conducted by experts.

So, if you have the relevant science degree, if you think you can write reasonably well (i.e. grammatically correct and easy to read), and want to make a living through writing, why not give medical writing a shot?

Of course, some medical writers do not merely write. Most of the time, they are also involved in managing projects. I’ll touch on this in the next article.


Friday, June 8, 2007

#2: Do I need to study medicine to be a medical writer?

The answer is: no. You need not study medicine to be a medical writer.

Since there is no medical writing or related professional degree offered in Malaysia yet, the primary prerequisite to be a medical writer is often a biological science related degree. While doctor-turn-medical writer is common in overseas, this won’t be so in Malaysia in the near future because here doctors (more!) are needed out there in the field to service the people.

So, who normally are the ones who get to work as a medical writer in a medical communications company? Well, many of them are pharmacist by profession. As for myself, I majored in biochemistry and did my post-grad research in the area of pharmacology. Others come from diverse backgrounds – biology, microbiology, veterinary, nursing, etc. Either this bunch of people turns out to have a passion or flair for writing, or believes that writing is more exciting and fulfilling as a career for them. Whatever the cause is, you can always switch to something else if, at the end of the day, you realize medical writing is not exactly your cup of tea.

The reason why you need a scientific background is obvious. You are writing to make your readers understand, whether they are doctors or laypeople. Before you can do that, you first need to understand the things you write. Almost all the things you write are going to revolve around diseases and drugs, basically biology and biochemistry stuffs. Having a scientific background will certainly help you a long way down the road in medical writing, as you will be able to comprehend the complicated ideas in medicine, and effectively turn it into sweet and easy information for the targeted audience to digest.

What about the aspect of writing? You have no experience in writing before, so can you be a medical writer? I’ll let you know next week!


Friday, June 1, 2007

#1: What is medical writing?

The most fundamental question to ask before you even want to consider giving medical writing a try is: What kind of job is that exactly? What does it involve?

My teacher in school never told me such an occupation exists. Neither did the local universities offer any related degree to this field during my varsity days (probably still none by now). People may be aspired to become a journalist or TV news reporter, but have you ever heard of someone enthusiastically declaring “I want to be a medical writer when I grow up!”? Never.

Is it because it is not a profession as highly acclaimed like doctor, lawyer and accountant, or as common as teacher, police and secretary? Nope.

In Western countries, there are in fact medical journalism degrees or courses offered in higher educational institutes. Well, they even have medical writer associations. There medical writers are highly in demand, either employed by companies or on freelance. Medical writers do play a major role in the process of disseminating important information on health and medicine. But it remains an unfamiliar profession to many here in Malaysia.

So, it’s really high-time that this occupation is made known to more Malaysians, especially the young ones who are still wondering about their future direction.

Ok, now let’s go into the really important stuff. What is medical writing?

Simply put, medical writing is about communicating medical or health information to different groups of audience in a variety of written formats. The readers range from healthcare professionals, such as specialists, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and healthcare workers, to laypersons like you and me. Depending on the targeted audience, the writing style and format of presentation varies accordingly.

Medical writers work in different types of organization, and so their job nature differs. Medical writers working for communications companies, like me, are just sitting on one side of the medical writing pie. I don’t know much about what’s going on at the other side of the pie, but in general medical writers in pharmaceutical companies and research centers write documents or reports for submission to regulatory authorities. They may also produce manuscripts for publication in medical journals. Those working in a pharmaceutical company may also need to write training manuals and marketing materials for the company’s products.

Sounds like a serious job? Well, take a look at this side of the pie. Medical writers attached to communications companies are more likely to have fun as they are involved in more creative type of projects. Yeah, more creative juices are needed! These companies are usually commissioned by pharmaceutical companies to produce promotional materials to market their products (ie, medicines, medical devices, etc) or by medical societies to help them publicize an event. Depending on the objective of the project, a wide variety of materials can be produced, such as newsletter, event posters, conference report, disease chart, patient education brochure, even websites and CD-ROMS! We’ll talk about that in detail some other day.

As I’ve been trained and worked in a communications company, therefore all my advice, tips, suggestions or whatsoever mentioned from now on will be referring to medical writing or medical writers who work in communications agencies.

So, have you gotten some idea what medical writing is about? Keep coming back if you want to know more. Probably next week I will talk about what qualifications or background you need to become a medical writer in a communications company. See ya!


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