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What physicians need to know about making money on Upwork

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Editor’s note: I’ve mentioned Upwork in a few posts about medical writing and freelancing as a medical professional. I’ve used Upwork both as a freelance writer and to hire help for my own projects and tasks. I’ve had both good and not so good experiences with Upwork.

A key to finding success with the platform is to realize that it’s simply a tool. It doesn’t guarantee that you’ll find well-paying, fitting work as a medical writer or consultant. And it doesn’t guarantee that those hiring you will be great to work with. It’s up to you make sure both parties communicate, set expectations, and follow through.

That said, it can be an excellent way for physician freelancers – especially those who are new to medical writing – find work and start building up their portfolios.

No matter which list of freelancing websites you look at, you will, in all likelihood, find mention of Upwork. This is not without reason. After all, this online freelancing platform caters to different realms, ranging from web design to customer service, to journalism, to legal, to even healthcare.

A Little About Upwork

Upwork came into being owing to the merger of two leading freelancing platforms of the time – Elance and oDesk. From December 2013, the company operated as Elance-oDesk. It rebranded and launched as Upwork in May 2015. Upwork reported that it had around 14 million users by March 2017, as well as over $1 billion in annual freelancer billing.

What Kind of Jobs Might You Find?

Upwork boasts of working with different types of clients related to healthcare. While Upwork is a great platform to find freelance medical writing jobs, you get to choose from other alternatives as well. Depending on where you live, your specific skill set, and existing opportunities, some of jobs that you might qualify for include:

  • Medical writing
  • Medical research
  • Translating for those with a medical background
  • Proofreading medical and health material
  • Healthcare recruiting and recruitment consultants
  • Healthcare product development
  • Medical records review

Inspiration from Successful Physicians on Upwork

Chances are, Upwork jobs will only be worth your time as a medical professional if you can charge a relatively high hourly or project-based rate.

But you will be competing for jobs with freelancers that are offering their services inexpensively. The way you present your skills and expertise in your profile is imperative.

Here’s a great example of succinct profile from a physician freelancer who has earned over $40,000 on Upwork:

[quote] I’m an academic physician with experience writing and editing medical projects/articles, especially for English language and grammar. My skill set lets me prepare materials both for professional and lay audiences.

Additionally, I have a wealth of experience assisting the college, medical students, residents and fellows with CV’s, resumes, and personal statements.

My experience also includes expert witness work in medico-legal proceedings.

I am easy to work with, responsive and happy to assist you with your medical oriented projects. [/quote]

Many of the most successful physicians on Upwork have gotten creative with their profile titles. A descriptive title is likely to land you more work than simply “Medical Writer.” Consider these titles from Upwork physicians who have earned $20,000 or more on Upwork:

  • Physician Expert Writer
  • Licensed Physician, Professor, Author, and Consultant
  • Doctor, Expert Medical Writer, Health Writer, Researcher
  • Published Author and Physician Speaker

Getting Started Making Money on Upwork

Joining Upwork requires that you begin by submitting an application, and not all applications are approved. If your initial application is not approved, you have the option of updating and resubmitting your profile.

Once approved, your initial success depends largely on how well you create your profile. Make sure you highlight your skills in a brief manner, so prospective clients get an indication of what to expect from you. List out all your professional accomplishments, and don’t fail to provide employment and educational histories.

Since prospective clients tend to use keywords when looking for freelancers, include relevant ones in your profile. For example, if you’re looking for proofreading or editing jobs, consider including “medical proofreader/editor” in your job title. You might also want to include realms in which you specialize.

You are required to upload a profile photo that is your own. This lets prospective clients know who they’re dealing with. Using a professional photo is the obvious way to go. If you have worked on the type of projects you’re looking for in the past, take time to include them in your portfolio. To set an hourly rate, take a look at profiles of comparable freelancers already registered with Upwork.

Finding and Landing Jobs

While Upwork gives you the ability to look for jobs based on specific categories, it also offers a robust search option that lets you look for work based on your expertise. What you need to keep a lookout for in particular are recently posted jobs.

Finding Jobs that are Suitable for your Skillset

It can take a bit of sleuthing to find jobs that are suitable for a medical professional. Occasionally some jobs specifically ask for a medical professional. Here are some examples of job titles for work that has been completed by physician freelancers on Upwork:

  • “MD’s only! Editor for Q&A.”
  • “500 word article on becoming a medical expert witness or other legal work”
  • “Endovascular Stroke chapter editing”
  • “Looking for MDs to review and endorse health and exercise courses in our app”
  • “Physician Video Reviewers Needed”
  • “Health copywriter needed to create content for a blog with a medical slant”

Once you come by a suitable job opening, take time to read the description in its entirety. Then, use the information you have to highlight why you feel you’re a good fit for the task.

The proposal you send should answer all the questions a prospective client might have. Provide details about similar jobs you’ve worked on in the past. It is important that you keep your proposal short because many people end up skipping entire sections of overly long proposals.

How Does Billing Work?

Clients on Upwork may post hourly or fixed-price projects. If you work on hourly projects, Upwork guarantees payments. You need to log in to the Upwork time-tracker, which takes a random snapshot of your computer screen once every 10 minutes. With fixed-price assignments, Upwork does not take responsibility for guaranteed payments, although it does have a redressal system in place. Fixed-price assignments do not require freelancers to login to the Upwork time-tracker.

The fees Upwork charges vary depending on how much money you’ve earned through any client.

  • For the first $500 billed with any client, Upwork charges 20% as fees
  • From $500.01 to $10,000, Upwork charges 10% as fees
  • Once you total billings with a client cross the $10,000 mark, you start paying 5% as fees


Upwork gives medical professionals the ability to look for different types of freelancing work. While the competition on this freelancing platform appears to be stiff, there is no reason why you cannot make it work for you – especially with an area of expertise. All you need to do is create a profile that highlights your skills, and then keep applying for relevant jobs until you get your first break. The trick, really, is to keep going and not give up, because the first assignment is typically the hardest to land.

About the Author

Gavan Smythe is the founder of iCompareFX. This online platform lets you compare the world’s best international money transfer companies across offered services and features. Outside of work, Gavan enjoys spending time with his loved ones.

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