Monday, August 18, 2008

Freelance Medical Writing

By Brian Konradt (Guest blogger)

Technical writers are those who distill complex information, concepts and multi-step procedures into a form that is what we would now call "human-readable." Every manual, instruction booklet, professional FAQ and troubleshooting guide was produced by a technical writer who took raw instructions and made them understandable to even the most technique-ignorant layman.

A medical writer does a job very much along these lines, but instead of operator's instructions, medical writers produce simple summaries of medical procedures, scientific data, descriptions of medical equipment, and piece together reports on performed research (such as drug trials).

To be taken seriously, you're going to want some standard technical writing of a fairly high level nature under your belt. Make sure your skills are up to scratch, and then consider the following: unlike a lot of generalized technical writing, medical writing can require specialized training to help you encapsulate the basic meaning of professional medical documents. You may want to invest in a basic course or certificate that gives you what you need. Try putting together your own portfolio of comprehensive mocked-up writing samples to validate your expertise.

Medical writing centers more on writing skills and experience, rather than knowledge of specific medical paraphernalia. Always remember what it is being looked for. By the same token, however, the more clinical expertise you have, the better! Real world experience is always valuable. Enlisting in laboratory work as a volunteer in your spare time not only gives you that experience, but it also allows you to buddy up and network with lab employees who may have access to bigger and better companies in related fields.

Similarly, if you have access to a university library, view their medical section and see how professionals master medical writing. There are many examples of distilled data available online, as well, so work that Googling impulse into the ground to get a good idea of the range of material you may find yourself working on.

Freelance job marketplaces, like GetAFreelancer.com and Elance.com, can provide useful once-off jobs that get your name out there; however, to reap the rewards of steady clients and better pay, contact agencies, market yourself directly to companies, and hunt down jobs in the local newspaper or trade magazines. This is a relatively new field that is only now beginning to grow. While it's an exciting time to freelance as a medical writer, it's also one where your biggest priority should be establishing yourself in time for the boom, when the profession flourishes.

As a freelancer, your job will be that much harder, and often you'll find yourself wondering where all the work went. At times like this you'll want to have an ability to consult others in your field, which is where membership to such organizations as the American/European/Australian Medical Writers Association (A/E/AuMWA) comes in. Networking (are you sensing a pattern here?) and contacts within the industry are what you need to give you ties to the private companies (mostly pharmaceutical in nature) that outsource their medical writing.

As always, big paychecks will come from large corporate entities. Writing formal regulatory documents for federal bodies -- while a stuffy and time-consuming task filled with legalized mumbo-jumbo -- is worth plenty to drug companies which want their product to pass muster with the Powers That Be. If you're the one who can put together the report that does the trick, then the price-tag around your neck will drastically increase.

In the meantime, before the checks with all those zeroes on them (and plenty of numbers in front of them, as well) start rolling in, concentrate on exposure: blog your work for the world to see; and diversify into general issue science/technical writing as a way of putting your name out into the marketplace. Published items in diverse fields with your name on them says that you're a writer capable of adapting to whatever comes your way. Look into publishing or transcribing work for magazines and publications of any kind as a way of bolstering your public persona. Best of all, when you feel ready, make a concerted effort to get published within peer-reviewed medical/science journals, even as a co-author or collaborator, because your name next to New England Journal of Medicine (for example) tends to set off the right kind of alarm bells in a potential employer's head.

Public presence in a new and exciting field of employment is what will net you lucrative contracts and pay off all that hard work and pavement-pounding.

Brian Konradt is a freelance writer for www.FreelanceWriting.com, a free website offering freelance writing jobs and hundreds of writer's guidelines to paying magazines. Read his blog for freelance writers. Article source here.

1 comment:

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