How To Become a Real Medical Writer or Editor Without Jumping Through Hoops
Are you interested in medical writing or editing?
Becoming a medical writer or editor can be an excellent way to build a career and increase your income. Not only can medical writing and editing be lucrative, but the work is plentiful. Contrary to what you may think, you don’t need an advanced degree to break into this field.
There are two broad categories of medical writing: scientific articles and other information geared toward medical professionals, and medical information geared toward the general public. Writing for medical professionals typically requires a scientific background. If you’re a writer looking to transition into medical content, plan on writing material for consumers. Your clients may be health and wellness websites, medical practices, educational websites, or e-commerce websites selling supplements and other health-related products.
Skills Required for Medical Writing or Editing
You don’t necessarily need a health-related degree or experience in the medical field to write for the above types of clients, however, certain skills will help you be successful in this industry. You must be able to understand and analyze scientific information and absorb new material quickly. You must be able to discern whether data you find online is credible. And you must have the ability to convey complex medical terminology in a way that makes it manageable for the general public.
Learn How to Conduct Medical Research Online
You also must know where online to find the information you need, and which resources you can trust. It should go without saying there is a lot of incorrect or dubious information on the internet, especially when it comes to health and medical topics. You won’t be able to google a medical matter and simply use the first website that appears in the lineup.
You’ll likely spend a lot of time on PubMed, where abstracts of research studies are published. Websites with the extensions .gov (government sites, such as cdc.gov) or .edu (educational websites, such as health.harvard.edu) are generally recognized as reputable and credible resources in the medical community.
Steer clear of personal blogs or anything that does not clearly state the credentials of the author. If a website claims to be written and reviewed by medical professionals, the credentials of those people should be evident.
Pick a Focus Area
The medical industry encompasses a wide range of topics. Don’t expect to learn them all. You’ll be able to offer more value to your clients if you’re an expert in one area, rather than having passing knowledge about many.
Pick an area to focus on—something in which you’re interested or already have experience. Into powerlifting? Concentrate on increasing your knowledge of physical fitness. Maybe you’ve practiced yoga for years and have an interest in mind-body health.
Become a part of this community if you aren’t already—both online and in the real world. Join Facebook groups or other online communities where you can learn from others. Read industry magazines, and books and blogs by recognized experts in the field.
Start Your Own Blog
Even if you have a website for your freelance writing business, you may want to start a separate blog that emphasizes your medical areas of interest. The audience for these two entities won’t necessarily align, and you don’t want either website’s messaging to get muddled.
Having your own health-related blog allows you to explore your areas of interest and gain practice writing about them. You can then offer samples of your work to potential clients. And, it will help you establish yourself as an expert in the industry, which is an important aspect that we’ll discuss more below.
Join the American Medical Writers Association
The American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) offers education and other resources for medical writers and also provides an opportunity for you to connect with potential clients. It also offers a medical writing certification, which will increase your credibility in the industry.
Earn a Health-Related Certification
Certification isn’t required, but it helps, and it may allow you to increase your fees. Various health and wellness certifications can increase your credibility in the medical field—and many of them are reasonably priced. Look into getting certified as a nutrition consultant, a personal trainer, or a yoga instructor.
If you invest in any kind of training, keep accurate records and talk to an accountant. You may be able to deduct tuition, textbooks, and other education-related expenses as business expenses.
Remember that education is never “complete.” The medical industry is constantly changing as new research is released or new training modalities become available. Keep an eye out for short and affordable education opportunities, such as weekend seminars, that allow you to earn additional credentials.
Have at Least a Basic Understanding of Inbound Marketing Principles
If you’re writing for the web—in any industry—it isn’t enough just to write good content. You must understand that content’s greater role on the internet. Will people be able to find that content on search engines? Will they want to share it on social media? Will it lead to conversions?
Learn about search engine optimization (SEO) best practices and other inbound marketing principles. Clients will often want you to provide meta descriptions for your articles and make sure they are properly optimized for certain keywords. You may even need to do your own keyword research. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your clients, such as the content’s intended audience. Where does the content fall in the buyer’s journey? Writing with these considerations in mind will help set your content apart from everything else found online.
Establish Yourself as an Industry Expert
The key to success in medical writing is to establish a name for yourself in the industry. Not only will this help you market yourself, but it will also increase your exposure among potential clients. Being an industry expert doesn’t mean that everyone in the wellness community has heard of you or that you have an overwhelming number of Instagram followers—but it does mean that you can point to evidence that you, personally, are a credible resource.
Your own website(s) will help make this happen. Make sure you have a comprehensive bio that outlines your experience in relevant areas. Update this whenever you gain new credentials, are quoted on other websites, or expand your skills in other ways.
Look for opportunities to write guest posts on other websites within your area of expertise. This helps build what Google refers to as EAT — expertise, authoritativeness, and trust. Google’s quality raters use EAT to determine a website’s quality, and Google has also confirmed that EAT is a ranking factor for SEO.
Think of yourself as your brand. Make sure your own social media profiles are optimized for your brand. If necessary, keep separate social accounts for your business and personal life. With your business accounts, connect with others in your industry and build a network of people with whom you can collaborate.
Learn How to Write Medical Content
All the above won’t guarantee success, especially if you aren’t skilled at medical writing. Medical writing requires certain attention that may be new to you.
Rules for medical writing
- Always support claims with credible links. Whenever possible, link to the original study, rather than an article explaining someone else’s interpretation of the study, which may be flawed or incomplete. And of course, make sure the study actually supports the claim you’re making.
- Avoid making absolute claims. Few things are “proven” in the medical world. Well-accepted claims are always being challenged by new research. Rather than claiming that a study “proves” something, use language such as “demonstrates” or “suggests.”
- Be specific. If a study is conducted on white males over the age of 55, don’t assume that the results will hold true for, say, black women in their 20s. Historically, medical studies have been conducted on white males, with the results extrapolated to other population groups. We now know that factors such as age, gender, and ethnicity influence health in a number of ways. Studies conducted on men don’t necessarily lead to the same results in women. Studies using white participants won’t necessarily apply to people of other ethnic backgrounds. That doesn’t mean you can’t reference those studies, but make sure to qualify the findings as necessary.
- Be open minded. Before you state commonly accepted medical “facts,” check to see what recent research reveals. Many of us have grown up hearing the message that saturated fat is bad for your heart, but more recent analyses don’t find the same evidence. Recognize that some older research may be flawed or may have been misinterpreted. Look at newer findings and pay attention to what current experts in the field are saying. Be mindful that science is always evolving and our understanding of it needs to be evaluated as it continues to change.
- Never make promises to the reader. You cannot say that a certain product, treatment, or other service will yield definite results. Be careful using words like “cure” or “prevent.” Instead, note that certain actions or interventions may improve, ameliorate symptoms, or slow the progression of a condition. Not only can lofty promises put your client at legal risk, but it could result in penalties from Google, which has very strict regulations on how certain content can be presented if the website wants to run promotions on Google Adwords.
- Understand FDA guidelines when writing about supplements. Again, you cannot state that a certain supplement will cure or prevent a medical condition. You may be able to state that a certain ingredient may help alleviate symptoms associated with a condition, as long as there are studies to support this claim.
Some of these guidelines may seem like picky distinctions, but it’s important that your content be accurate and trustworthy if you want to create a name for yourself as a skilled medical writer. Medical editors will need to pay particular attention to how claims are worded, as some people hired to write medical content will not actually be experienced in this area.
Finally, write the best quality content you can. This may seem like it should go without saying, but quality of content matters now more than ever. Brush up on your grammar skills if necessary. Avoid common mistakes such as using cliches, unclear language, and unnecessary words. Elevating your content above the many people attempting to break into this market will give you an advantage that will allow you to establish yourself as a true leader in the industry.
Content Writers frequently offers writing and editing assignments for medical clients. Apply to be a writer or an editor on our website! We will provide you with a test assignment to determine whether your skills are a good match for our current needs.
She is the Director of Content for a medical marketing agency, and is certified in inbound marketing, content marketing, email marketing, site structure, and keyword research.