“Medical writing… the activity of producing scientific documentation by a specialised writer”
–   Wikipedia

Medical writing: it does what it says on the tin. Wikipedia, one of the most avidly used sources of today provides a comprehensive definition of medical writing, yet why, as a PhD student, was I largely oblivious to this position and had no understanding of the role? Little did I know that such a field of work even existed until one day, in the final year of my PhD, a post doc from the lab opposite mine enquired about my plans for the upcoming year. My bleak expression prompted him to suggest a few options outside of academia, one of which was medical writing. Although its title appears to be self-explanatory, having been working as a medical writer for 8 months now, I beg to differ. Aside from writing primary papers or review articles, I didn’t realise the breadth of work that encompasses the role. To be honest, going back to that day in the lab, I didn’t have a clue what medical writing meant.

Why is the field of medical writing so elusive to its potential employees? Perhaps it is the academic institutions and universities who seek to invest in their own futures, fuelling the passion for scientific research and often little else. Within the confines of an academic lab, considering a career outside of research is a thought rarely voiced aloud. I was fortunate, however, to have an extremely supportive lab supervisor, who, knowing full well that I was not planning to continue with research, provided an open forum for discussion about future career options. Medical writing, however, was never mentioned. The PhD student body at my university organised occasional informal career sessions, but, again, medical writing wasn’t discussed. Are medical communications agencies intentionally keeping a low profile in the academic world or are they unaware of their invisibility to potential target employees?

In speaking with former PhD students, the vast majority of those who were aware of medical writing and the medical communications sector during the time of their PhDs admit to being ignorant of their true meaning. Former PhD students who are now medical writers tell me that they stumbled upon their career through personal recommendations, like me, or even through Google searches of career options. If more PhD students looking to escape research were fully aware of what the medical communications industry has to offer, the choice of writing applicants would inevitably increase and positions could be filled at a quicker rate. Should medical communications agencies, therefore, try and spread the word, or are they happy with their fill?

Is it feasible for medical communications agencies to engage more with young academics and is this even on their agenda? It’s a shame that the medical communications industry remains undiscovered by so many potential writing candidates who are looking beyond research for employment opportunities. Perhaps us medical writers, however, hold some pride to personally discovering this somewhat elusive role, yet is it fair to others to pursue a hunt for a career path that they’re not even aware of?

Katrina Lester

References

Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_writing. Accessed on May 16, 2014