Monday, December 29, 2008

Medical Writing Programs: Are They Worth It?

There is an interesting forum discussion at the Medical Writing Network site, about the value of certain certificate programs versus the master's programs available (particularly the USP program in biomedical writing).

Training, of course, is vital if you want to advance in (or break into) medical writing. As I've explained in this blog before, you should seek training in your weakest areas (either biomedical science or writing, depending on your background).

However, because some areas of medical writing have become so specialized (regulatory writing and CME, for example), it's no longer enough to have knowledge of medicine and good writing skills. Now you need to know the intricacies of regulatory affairs, the regulations for CME courses and other "insider" information.

The question is then, should you enroll in a master's program or can you get away with a certificate?

A few months ago, talking with Dr. Susanna Dodgson (the former director of the Biomedical Writing Program at USP), she told me that students there were spending thousands of dollars in education but not getting a job after graduation. One student said in the forum that she now has a $70k in education-related debt.

What good is spending 30 to 70 thousand dollars in an accredited graduate program and end up with no job whatsoever? There are certificate programs that provide the same knowledge for less money and with potentially better results. And when I say better results, I'm talking about employment.

For instance, Dr. Dodgson offers courses in medical and regulatory writing for a thousand dollars or less, and this is what she will do for you: fix your resume, assign 3 articles in regulatory or marketing writing, work through them with you, publish them in the Medical Journal of Therapeutics Africa (which she edits) and get you a medical writing job.

Not even AMWA certificate programs will do that. (Disclaimer: I don't receive any profit for promoting Dr. Dodgson's courses, this is just an FYI)

Johanna Lackner-Marx is doing something similar with her CME coaching program, developing an internship, and helping students set up their own freelance businesses. This is an excerpt from an article by Johanna:
To enable writers to get the experience they need in order to be competitive in the CME market, I am developing a pilot program that places participants of the coaching program with medical writing companies in an internship situation. This program will be launched in early 2009. I shared my plan for this program with Dr. Overstreet. She told me, “This is an excellent idea. It’s a win-win. I anticipate education companies will line up for this opportunity. They get extra help, and writers get real experience they can put on their resume and a chance to make connections in the industry.”
There may be other reasons (and benefits) to get into a graduate program, such as personal gratification, seeking a better pay for having a higher level of education, etc. but, realistically, not every person can afford or take the time to enroll in a master's program.

What do you think? Why would you choose a master's over a certificate or vice versa?

P.S. also offers a basic course on regulatory writing that, although it doesn't give you a resume critique or a job offer, it teaches you the basic information you need to break into regulatory writing, for an affordable tuition. In fact, someone from the USP program told me after seeing the contents of the course: "Wow, $197 and they learn all that! That costs students 13K at USP. Gosh!"

P.P.S. Almost a year ago, a guest blogger and USP student posted this positive article about the USP online program.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this information. I've been considering taking some medical writing courses in '09. You provide some great tips and alternatives to enrolling in a Master's programs - especially for those who already have a Master's degree and just need to brushen up on weak areas.

Dr Dipti Sawant said...

Hi Diego,
Thanks for the New year greetings.I feel that graduation or certification programmes do not make a difference as its what you do with your knowledge that matters finally.Rember not all big pharma CEO's belonged to ivy league management institutes.
Dr Diptisawant.

Sue said...

Wow! I'm currently a freelance writer and would like to break into medical writing. This is one of the best short articles I've read as to the "realities" of relevant courses.

I looked into USP - - - a freelancer's salary doesn't afford me the opportunity to attend this program.

Thanks Diego!

Cleveland, OH

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