The field of medical communications encompasses many categories of professionals working to disseminate health information to a variety of audiences. Writers, editors, marketing professionals, educators, and health professionals all comprise this growing field. The general goal and purpose of medical communications is to communicate medical content to the intended end-user, learner, reader, or viewer. The audience can be medical professionals, patients, healthcare students, industry professionals, or the general public. Medical communications can be a rewarding career for healthcare providers who are natural born communicators seeking a way to combine a love of medical science with a gift for writing and consulting.
Medical communications closely relates to fields such as medical journalism or scientific medical writing in the dissemination of health information, but differs in the specific type of medical writing and style of communication. When people mention ‘medical communications,’ they are often specifically referring to agencies that provide consulting services to pharmaceutical or biomedical companies, regarding the promotion of drugs or products and education of consumers.
Medical communications can be broken down into two larger categories – marketing and medical education.
▪ Consult on advertising campaigns
▪ Assist with market research
▪ Write medical text for promotion of pharmaceutical or healthcare products
▪ Work in PR crafting press releases and social media content
▪ Design CME content for physicians
▪ Compose patient education materials
▪ Write medical education courses for healthcare professionals
|Intended Audience||▪ General public||▪ Physicians, medical students, general public|
▪ Medical communications agency
▪ Medical Advertising Company
▪ Pharmaceutical company
▪ Medical communications agency
▪ CME provider
▪ Pharmaceutical company
Medical communications tasks and job responsibilities vary according to the specific professional role. Those who work in the marketing sector may be responsible for compiling market research regarding drugs, providing targeted branding to a specific patient population, and consulting or writing medical copy for drug campaigns via a variety of media. Instructional designers may take scientific content and make it more easily digestible for a non-expert audience, or prepare continuing education content for physicians. The majority of the roles in medical communications center around writing, although those in marketing may find that they are consulted upon to ensure that tables, graphics, or videos accurately convey medical information.
There are opportunities to hold positions employed directly by biomedical or pharmaceutical companies or through medical communications agencies that provide consulting services to these industries. Physicians employed directly by pharmaceutical companies who provide their medical expertise by developing slide decks regarding new drugs and presenting at conferences on behalf of the pharmaceutical company are referred to specifically as medical science liaisons. Potential also exists to work in a freelance or independent contractor capacity providing consulting, writing, or marketing services to larger medical communications companies. Regardless of the nature of employment, deadlines are typically a major component of working in this field, since both marketing and writing assignments generally have set publication dates.
Various job responsibilities may include:
- Performing product market analysis for pharmaceutical companies
- Reviewing web, advertising, or other content aimed at patients to ensure consistency of branding, medical accuracy, and clarity of message (testimonials, product videos, how to guides, case studies, etc)
- Writing or editing content for continuing medical education courses, including presentations and self-assessments
- Drafting press releases, social media content, or other materials for hospital systems, pharmaceutical companies, or biomedical firms
Work Environment and Schedule
The work environment for professionals in medical communications can vary widely depending on whether you are a contracted freelancer or are employed by a company. Writers have a large amount of autonomy and work independently a majority of the time, but often collaborate with editors, graphic designers, or other professionals to meet content publishing deadlines. Although there is the possibility for remote or location-independent work, due to the collaboration required among different professionals for marketing, larger companies may require in-office work. Depending on the specific role, there can be the potential for travel to medical conferences to present educational material.
Due to the variety of career options and largely autonomous nature of writing, many medical communications professionals have some flexibility in their schedules. However, if you work for a hospital system, advertising agency, or pharmaceutical company, you may be required to work more standard hours, such as 8 to 5. Freelance medical writers working in medical communications may have more flexibility in their work schedule, taking assignments or contracts as they please, but perhaps a less predictable flow of work. Working in medical communications may be stressful at times and require long hours to complete a writing assignment or project, yet many physicians have found the career a rewarding way to combine their interest in medical science and writing.
Required Skills and Training
For a career in medical communications, background medical knowledge and effective communication skills are required. As a writer, there are often no specific requirements, but individual companies may prefer some type of formal writing training, such as a journalism degree or a portfolio of content for review.
Medical copywriters in pharmaceutical or product advertising may require:
- Knowledge of biostatistics, epidemiology, and public health principles
- Knowledge of clinical medicine, healthcare management practices, and policy development
- Logical thinking skills and capability to review and interpret data
- Good written communication skills
For positions composing medical education material:
- It is helpful, although not necessarily required, to have some teaching experience
- Physicians who previously worked in medical education or academia may be a particularly good fit for composing course content, writing test questions, and developing health presentations for companies
- Organizations usually require applicants have either a science or writing-related degree
Residency, Licensure, and Training Requirements
There is not necessarily a requirement for residency completion or board certification, as many medical copywriters are PhDs with no medical training.
Medical professionals with no formal writing training who wish to change careers and enter medical communications can find resources online through organizations such as the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). Many medical copywriters today were once medical professionals who chose to enter the medical communications industry and either self-trained or attended seminars and workshops to improve their writing skills.
Is This a Career for You?
Medical communications may be the career for you if you are an excellent communicator and are passionate about medical science and conveying health information in an easy to understand format. If you are creative and visually driven, you may do well providing consulting services for medical marketing companies. Those who are tech savvy may enjoy working with digital and social media for medical communications companies, or in public relations for hospitals or other corporations.
A position in medical communications may prove difficult if you are not deadline driven, or cannot complete tasks under pressure. Writing may not be the career for you if you prefer your time to be structured and consistent. If traveling or job flexibility is important to you, considering a career such as a medical science liaison for a pharmaceutical company. Alternative employment conditions such as freelance medical writing, which would allow for travel in your free time, may better suit your needs.