5 ways to get into medical writing (without quitting your clinical job)

Editor’s note: Today’s article is a guest post by Jordan G. Roberts, PA-C. Jordan is a neurosurgical PA, nationally-recognized speaker, published scientific author, and medical writer who serves clinicians by promoting the inclusion and advancement of healthcare professionals in all clinical and non-clinical affairs that pertain to them. Read more of his work at Modern MedEd.

Medical writing is a popular non-clinical job for healthcare professionals. And for good reason; medical writers use their knowledge and education to help industry, clinicians, and most of all, patients. If you think it sounds like a lot of what we do on a daily basis, you are right.

However, not everyone who seeks non-clinical work wants to completely leave clinical practice behind. Perhaps you want to test the waters before jumping in. Maybe you are happy with your clinical work and want to branch out to learn new skills, earn additional income, or try something new.

If this sounds like you, this article is for you.

Here are five non-clinical, work-on-your-own-terms areas of medical writing where clinicians are more or less always in-demand. They are generally desirable positions and can be quite competitive. However, if you’ve got what it takes, you can land one of these roles just about any time you want.

Item writing

If there is one thing medical education companies, certification bodies, and academic institutions always need more of, it’s quality items to make up their test banks. When you add up the number of students in school to earn a medical degree of some type – MD/DO/PA/NP, not to mention nursing programs, EMS trainees, and other new learners of various medical disciplines – you find a huge group of folks hungry for knowledge, with new members joining each year.

Thus, the ongoing demand for new test questions, called items by those in the know, is growing. And therefore, the demand for good item writers also grows. Keeping these positions secure is the fact that test banks are living, breathing entities. That’s because the nature of advancements in medicine mean all the items need to be replaced at some point before they become outdated – or even worse, inaccurate.

Clinicians with an area of specialized expertise can contribute to individual sections or the broader profile of material overall if they can research, learn, and synthesize new information from outside (and sometimes alien) specialties. You’ll also need to learn good item-writing practices and adapt to unique client-specific writing styles for each test bank for which you write.

Podcasting

Podcasting is gaining gaining momentum in the medical world, after becoming more or less mainstream in every other industry. Creative individuals can record, edit, and produce their own podcasts or develop them in collaboration with other companies. Some clinicians may only write or edit the script, while others fill a more comprehensive role, recording and editing their lectures, too.

As with item writing, more medical education companies are getting in on the action. Some produce CME-accredited podcasts while others target students, patients, or other learners.

You’ll need confidence behind the microphone, a clear way of speaking, and a quiet place to record if you choose to pursue this option. In general, advanced engineering, editing, and production skills are not required.

CME program development

This is a classic area where clinicians with good organizational, research, and writing skills can shine. If you enjoy teaching others as well as learning and synthesizing the latest literature into concise and entertaining courses, this may be the area for you.

This is a growing part of the medical education industry, which is expected to surpass $38 billion a year by 2024. So how can you get a slice of this?

First, think of your own personal favorite continuing medical education companies or resources. Chances are, they all need clinicians like you to help write, edit, and review the material. Their individual needs may vary from time to time, but there is a high likelihood that your services are needed somewhere right now.

You can also think of the audience that you’d most like to reach, and find out who caters to them. For example, if you are a specialist who enjoys teaching generalists, get in touch with companies who focus their efforts on reaching these clinicians.

Conference speaking

Conferences need great speakers to run and to continue to exist. Many clinicians, especially those early in their career, may be hesitant to apply for these prestigious speaking roles. However, sharing your expertise with your colleagues in this setting at any stage of your career can be immensely beneficial for all parties involved.

If you have a particular passion or topic that you feel you can discuss all day, you may be onto something. Turning that into a slide deck that you can take around the country to various conferences can help build your professional credibility, network, and confidence. With minor revisions, you can speak to a broad audience of generalists or tweak it to fit the needs of specialty clinicians whom you want to reach.

Remember that your first presentation probably won’t be the keynote address. Most speakers must start small and work their way up larger and larger meetings (and thus larger audiences).

However, if you can stick through the early investment of hard work, you may appreciate several benefits. In addition to the honorarium most conferences pay, you’ll find more professional satisfaction, build a larger network of your peers, and stumble across more opportunities for speaking and consulting as a result of your efforts.

Medical app development & content creation

Like podcasting above, you don’t have to be a technology mastermind to contribute to the growth of medical apps.

There are many app developers who need clinician input for the content creation, editing, and peer-review. Many will pay an honorarium for each piece of content you create or review. You are not obligated to perform a large volume of work, making it an ideal side-gig to nurture in your spare time.

For those who have always wanted to create an app but feel limited by a lack of coding knowledge, technology has solved this problem, too. Platforms such as Appypie, AppMakr, and AppInstitute provide user-friendly app builders with drag-and-drop features anyone can use.

And you won’t be alone in this space.

Several clinicians have developed both patient-facing and clinician-facing apps that significantly improve the practice of their peers or lives of patients. For example, Dana Rice, MD, developed a UTI tracker app to help patients with frequent urinary tract infections. There are a lot of good ideas out there, but plenty of room for new ones. Will yours be next?

Conclusion

We’ve covered five ways healthcare professionals can get their feet wet with non-clinical work without leaving their clinical jobs behind. These include item-writing, medical podcasting, CME program creation, conference speaking, and mobile app development.

All of these are opportunities that are practically always looking for clinicians to help. Once you’ve determined which of these best uses your strengths and expertise, jump in and get started!

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