By Johanna Lackner-Marx, MPH, MSW
Do medical writers generally choose a particular path such as regulatory or CME writing and stick with it or do they sometimes "cross genres"?
Most writers I know specialize in one or two areas of medical writing but crossing over is not unheard of. Most writers either focus on clinical writing (regulatory, clinical trial reports) or consumer health writing (articles, marketing, etc.). CME is somewhere in the middle - it doesn't require the background a regulatory writer has, but one has to be familiar with a lot of the rules and regulations that shape CME. In my experience writers may start as generalists, but eventually realize that they need to specialize either in the type of writing they do (for example, in regulatory, consumer, or CME writing) or in specific health areas (cardiology, neurology, etc.). Those writers who have developed a profitable business in either regulatory writing or CME do not tend ‘cross genres’. It takes focus, dedication, persistence and some business acumen to become successful in medical writing and when one hits it, one tends to stay where the work is.
If I choose to focus on CME writing as a medical writer, should I write pediatric CME material (my specialty) or can I branch out?
I tell all my clients to first build on their strengths. Your strengths are your pediatric expertise and your experience and credential as a nurse. There is work specifically for nurses who know how to do CME. Since nurses must take a certain number of continuing education credits, you could immediately specialize in education for nurses.
For now, I plan to continue working as a practitioner. Will it be more difficult for me to begin my medical writing career as a freelancer?
Most freelancers continue a ‘day job’ until they build up a large enough clientele to meet their financial goals. The difficult comes when you are on deadline and the amount of work you have surpasses the time you have to do it in (after the time you must devote to your regular job, family, etc.). It is possible to start slowly with one job at a time and to look for work that has longer turn-around requirements. In addition, your continued work as a practitioner can act in your favor and can be used as marketing strategy. As a practitioner you are in the field and more up in touch with the clinical side of your profession than writers who write from a distance.
Generally, are the standards for writing continuing education materials for other licensed professionals such as for respiratory therapists or mental health counselors as rigorous as for the medical community?
Of the licensed professions for which I have created CME, the most rigorous and regulated are physicians, physician assistants, nurses, and physical therapists. For the most part what makes CME for these professions different is the number of regulations that have been put in place to create a firewall between the bias that can be introduced by commercial interests and the educational content. The purpose of these regulations is to ensure independent content development and dissemination. All the other helping professions that are licensed and require continuing education are less regulated. However, in my opinion, the guidelines encompassing accredited medical education are gold standards. If you know how to do CME for these more regulated professions, you can create continuing education for the other groups – you just have to learn what their standards are. In most cases, they will be less stringent than the standards for CME.
Are there opportunities for writing continuing education materials for health professionals other than NPs or PAs?
Yes! Any licensed health profession that requires periodic reaccreditation, uses continuing education as a qualification. The information I provide in my course will be directly applicable to continuing education for these health professions. Continuing education for nurses and physician assistants mimics CME in terms of regulation. In fact, nurses and physician assistants are allowed to take CME for credit.
A Word About Johanna's Program
For those who are interested in taking the Advanced Coaching in CME for Medical Writers, they will receive a lot of useful information about how to use their skill set to create a niche for themselves. How to market oneself is also covered. In one-to-one sessions she will act as a guide and will help each learner create a strategic plan of action.