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Medical Writers Give Career Changers Plans of Action
2003, Q1 (February 21, 2007)
By Rachel A. Hardy

Those who are interested in breaking into medical writing received the inside scoop from L. Megan Day and Dr. Susan Dakin, the panelists at the chapter meeting on January 9 at Dreyfus Auditorium at Research Triangle Institute. Day has a bachelor's degree in chemistry, a master's degree in anatomy and has written for pharmaceutical companies for 10 years. Dakin has a bachelor's degree in biology and psychology and a Ph.D. in zoology. Self-employed since 1984, her specialties are scientific writing and proposal writing.

Before her talk, Day gave out copies of an outline of the drug development process. She said the industry is looking for people with life sciences degrees, such as chemistry, biology, and psychology. The industry prefers those with advanced biomedical degrees to those with English and journalism degrees. Having a background in some aspect of clinical trials helps, she said.

Day said the pharmaceutical industry has a shortage of medical writers. However, the companies are unwilling to take entry-level people and train them. For this reason, she has started the Learn Medical Writing website to offer classes on medical writing for the industry (http://www.learnmedicalwriting.com). Courses will be offered in a few months, she said.

She sympathized with audience members with related backgrounds, such as experience working in clinical trials, who have been unable to break into medical writing. Data management is a good place to start, Day said. A data manager reviews data and enters it correctly. Some move into medical writing. Another way is to have experience writing about toxicology.

Dakin used the term scientific writing to distinguish the type of work she does from medical writing, a term used by the pharmaceutical industry. She writes scientists' research papers for publication, proposals, and reports for government contractors. She trains people to write, including some in the pharmaceutical industry.

Writers interested in the pharmaceutical industry could apply for medical editorial assistant positions at medical communications firms, which provide marketing services for pharmaceutical companies, Dakin said. These firms and contract organizations, which contract with the pharmaceutical companies, have less-stringent hiring requirements than their clients do.

When asked about medical schools, Dakin said many have a group that supports faculty and writes grant proposals. Clinical trial writing is done in medical schools also, Day added.

The speakers were asked to take us through a typical day. Dakin said she spent the previous day revising a 230-page, single- spaced document for the Report on Carcinogens, a program of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Day said she started a new project with Pfizer, writing from the template and the data that the company sent her.

There are many industries and specialties within medical writing. To get a broad overview, search the Internet, the speakers advised.

Rachel Hardy is a member of American Medical Writers Association and National Association of Black Journalists. She can be reached at rahardy9_ at hotmail dot com. End of article.

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