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By Cyndy Kryder
Think you only need to understand science to become a medical writer? Think again. Despite the term medical in the phrase medical writing, when you work in this field you won’t be writing exclusively for medical professionals.
Depending on your niche and expertise, in addition to doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals, you might be writing for a lay audience (that’s the common person), hospital purchasers, manufacturers and users of medical devices, pharmaceutical sales representatives, people in the insurance industry, or individuals who create and enforce public policy. That’s a very broad range, and each of those groups will bring with them a different set of terms. To do your job well, you’ll need to have a basic understanding of the language that’s unique to each segment. Why? Because the more you know, the more marketable you’ll be. And in today’s economy, that’s important.
So not only will you need to understand medical terminology, you’ll also need a working knowledge of terms related to:
- Health care
- Business and marketing
You see, medical writing is not really one distinct genre, but one with a very broad scope and multiple components. In my opinion, medical writing falls into 3 categories: regulatory, promotional, and educational.
Regulatory writing, a very scientific type of writing, involves translating complex information from clinical trials into technical reports, some of which will be submitted to the federal government. Included here are study protocols, Investigator’s Brochures (which are distributed to the scientists who head up clinical trials), patient narratives, and, in some instances, manuscripts detailing the outcomes of clinical trials that will be submitted to medical journals.
Promotional medical writing includes any materials created to promote, or sell, a prescription drug, intervention, or medical device. These could be any of the multitudes of sales-training materials (in print and other media) that are used to teach sales representatives about how a new drug or device works and to train them to sell it to prescribers. Target audiences for promotional materials are broad, and include the folks who sell the product, those who prescribe it, those who have influence on people who might prescribe it, and those who ultimately will cover the cost, either all or just a portion (third-party payers).
Into the educational category I lump anything a writer creates for continuing medical education (CME) programs, including writing needs assessments, as well as the content for the actual CME programs. I also consider patient education materials to be educational writing, since one of their purposes is to educate the consumer and family. I recognize that the ultimate goal of these materials may well be promotional, that is, to educate consumers to the point where they will ask their doctors to prescribe the product for them; however, I consider them educational, since they differ in style and tone from promotional pieces.
So you can see the target audiences for whom you could be writing can be quite diverse. And that’s why you need to be knowledgeable about more than just medical terms.
Before you panic, throw your hands up in despair, and decide that medical writing is not for you, take a deep breath and calm down. You can do this. How do I know? Because I did.
Even though I had a bit of a science background when I entered the field, I still surrounded myself with great resources, like the ones that follow. If you’re serious about becoming a medical writer, add some of these resources to your medical writing toolbox. You’ll find them indispensible.
- American Medical Association’s Manual of Style, 10th Edition. This guide for authors and editors belongs on every medical writer’s bookshelf.
- Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 31st edition. A must-have resource, this dictionary provides definitions for almost any medical term you’ll come across.
- Managed Care Digest Series®; http://www.managedcaredigest.com/ Developed by the pharmaceutical giant, sanofi-aventis, this annual series of free hard-copy or electronic digests includes the Hospitals/Systems Digest, the Senior Care Digest, the eManaged Care Trends Digest, the Government Digest, and the HMO-PPO Digest. The individual digests contain information about all the major components of health care delivery and provide updated information and statistics incorporating data from Verispan.
- mediLexicon; http://www.medilexicon.com/medicaldictionary.php. A searchable, online medical dictionary, mediLexicon provides definitions for terms, phrases, acronyms, and abbreviations. Powered by Stedman’s Medical Dictionary and geared toward professionals, this site defines more than 100,000 medical terms.
Cyndy Kryder is an experienced freelance medical writer with more than 16 years of experience. As one-half of the Accidental Medical Writer writing team, Cyndy writes books for aspiring and experienced medical writers. You can find more medical writing tips at her website: http://www.theaccidentalmedicalwriter.com