Medical journalism is typically the field people think of when they hear the term medical writer. Prominent physician writers, such as Atul Gawande, Jerome Groopman, and others, have popularized the field of medical writing and journalism. Public figures have led medical journalism to be a wide-reaching field that the general public is familiar with due to platforms such as broadcast media, magazines, book publishing, and social media. A medical journalism career involves responsibility for communicating health information and news to the public.
It is important to note that medical writers work in a variety of industries of which medical journalism is one. Marketing or education in medical communications, scientific writing, and regulatory writing are related careers.
The field of medical journalism includes many different forms of media and, in fact, Hollywood shows and figures have sensationalized medical coverage to some extent. But true medical journalists are responsible for objectively relaying medical information and news to the public that can serve them in making decisions regarding their health. Medical journalists should remain free from bias or conflicts of interest as much as possible.
▪ Write health related news and magazine articles
▪ Work as a medical field reporter or journalist covering humanitarian crises
▪ Edit or consult on scripts with medical scenes to ensure medical accuracy
▪ Provide new study findings, recommendations, and health warnings
▪ Write or edit health blogs for medical professionals or hospitals
▪ Write or ghostwrite health-related books
▪ Medical reporter
▪ Physician contributor for network TV
▪ Health writer for newspaper or magazine
▪ Movie or show medical script consultant or editor
▪ Daytime TV show host or medical correspondent
▪ Book author
▪ Ghostwriter of book or blog content
▪ News network
▪ Newspaper or magazine publishing company
|▪ Media production company|
▪ Publishing company
▪ Independent writer
Job responsibilities vary depending on the type of media (magazine, journals, news, book publishing) involved. Most positions involve medical writing of some sort as a primary responsibility. However, positions as news correspondents, script editors, bloggers, or magazine and journal editors are all part of medical journalism.
Various job responsibilities may include:
- Writing newspaper and magazine articles related to health information, including new study findings, recommendations, and health warnings
- Serving as a physician contributor on network television, describing medical concepts or new study findings to the general public
- Working as a field reporter or journalist, providing news coverage and medical commentary
- Writing or editing content for specialty-specific medical journals or societies
- Serving as a public health or health policy commentator for a news network
- Writing a health or medical book, either chronicling your journey in medicine as a physician, or as a ghostwriter for another individual or organization
- Editing or consulting on scripts for TV shows or movies involving medical scenes to ensure medical accuracy
- Writing or editing blogs for health websites, hospitals, or medical professionals
Work Environment and Schedule
The majority of medical journalists have flexible schedules, dependent on their current assignments and the particular media area they work in. Those in news and magazine publishing may be subject to more consistent writing schedules and strict publishing deadlines than those working on larger projects, such as authoring a book. In comparison to years past at large publishing companies where work occurred in an office setting, larger numbers of writers today are working remotely. Collaboration with other involved parties, such as editors or designers either remotely or in-office may be necessary.
Freelance medical journalists and writers have the most autonomy and career flexibility. They can take assignments they find appealing and work in a location of their choosing. Medical journalists that choose to pursue humanitarian causes or cover local or international news stories from a medical perspective may travel to areas of natural disasters or where there is medical need to cover stories.
There are a growing number of physicians who are combining medical journalism with clinical practice, not choosing to give up their career, but instead supplement it with medical journalism. Some choose to write a few thought pieces or medical articles to submit to news agencies or journals. Others establish themselves as a thought leader in their particular area of expertise through media correspondence on news outlets. This can help jump-start a medical journalism career while still practicing.
Required Skills and Training
Medical Journalism is a harder field to break into as an outsider “non-journalist,” for those with no formal journalism training or contacts. Those with previous writing or journalism experience may have a leg up in securing positions in the industry. Physicians interested in medical journalism should begin writing articles, working as a medical correspondent for local news stations, or finding a mentor in the field. To be seen as a serious medical reporter or scientific journalist with authority requires dedication, practice, and time. Although a role as a medical journalist does not require a particular degree, certainly a degree in journalism or a writing field is preferable.
Required skills include:
- Adherence to journalistic ethics and principles
- A clear understanding of medical content and terminology
- Ability to present medical information in a clear manner, targeted to the specific audience, while avoiding medical jargon
- Possess good time management skills with ability to adhere to deadlines
Residency, Licensure, and Training Requirements
Medical training such as board certification and licensing not required, as there are many journalists who transition into medical journalism due to an interest in the field. These credentials may lead to more credibility as a medical expert. More extensive medical experience and training only bolsters your application as an expert medical consultant, journalist, or reporter.
Is This a Career for You?
Medical journalism may be well suited to you if you can take scientific information and translate it into digestible, understandable language for the general public. If you enjoy keeping up with current medical literature and reading the latest clinical studies and recommendations, you may enjoy advising the public on a larger scale of these findings. Those with a gift for public speaking as well as writing may enjoy medical correspondence on TV. If you desire a remote lifestyle or control of your schedule, medical journalism provides a great deal of flexibility over potential career direction.
Medical Journalism may not be the career for you if you need a consistent stream of work and income to feel comfortable. Yes, some journalists land lucrative deals, but often work comes in waves and journalists have to be comfortable with work that ebbs and flows. Becoming an established medical journalist may also require more training in writing or experience in the industry, so if you seek a career you can jump right into, medical journalism may not be the best fit.