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The pandemic has accelerated the shift to on-demand freelancers, remote working and contractual hires. The demand for freelance medical writers is growing steadily in the market. If you have the drive and natural flair for writing, and a love for science and medicine, you can also go for it. Yeah, you heard it right. You don’t need to have much experience and an advanced medical degree get into freelance medical writing.
Starting out as a medical writer
Although I was familiar with writing, I had no idea about the separate field of medical writing until I joined LinkedIn. When I wrote medical content for one of my Upwork clients, I didn’t know I was doing medical writing and took it as just another form of content writing.
After learning more on LinkedIn, I decided to learn more about it and give it a try. Going freelance was the most suitable option for me because of my location, studies, and lack of proper experience.
Having a medical background and love for health content, I opted for medical and health writing and helped various clients achieve their outcomes.
After joining LinkedIn, I focused on building my network and understanding the industry for the first few months, through which I landed my first freelance editing job. Currently, I’m working as a freelance medical editor for an international journal and a freelance medical writer for one of the best health websites.
It’s no rocket science. If I can do it, you can do it too. I’m sharing some tips for you that helped me in my journey of becoming a freelance medical writer.
What Does a Freelance Medical Writer Do?
Not all medical writers have degrees in medicine; some have degrees in English, journalism, and other subjects. At the same time, other medical writers have scientific degrees and learn how to write. The diverse background of medical writers enables them to perform various tasks. Medical and health writers write blogs, web content, health news, promotional literature and patient educational content. Medical journal editors help with creating scientific documents like journal manuscripts and abstracts; some writers may help scientists refine their results for publication in medical journals.
Medical writers work across industries such as medical devices & medtech, pharmaceuticals, healthcare agencies, hospitals, health tech firms and healthcare communication agencies.
Medical writing has different categories, including but not limited to regulatory writing, promotional writing, and medical journalism.
Regulatory Medical Writers
Regulatory medical writers primarily work with research organizations, pharmaceutical companies, biotech firms, and medical device companies. Regulatory writers work on approval processes for medical devices and new drugs. They help with preparing FDA submissions and technical documentation for EU MDR. They also help with analyzing data from clinical trials and studies. Due to the technicality of their work, they are often scientists or clinicians. However, this is not the basic requirement for all regulatory writing roles. Moreover, many professional associations like American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and European Medical Writers Association (EMWA) offer courses to learn regulatory writing, in case you want to give it a try. Regulatory medical writing can often be more lucrative than medical content writing.
Promotional Medical Writers
Promotional medical writers mainly generate promotional and educational materials for brands and products. This is often referred to as healthcare content marketing. They help create sales training materials, good advertising copy, and other such materials that compel the readers to take action. Good copywriting skills are a plus point for getting inside this field. Promotional medical writers often combine creative flair and a scientific background to deliver marketing and advertising campaigns. They can work for healthcare agencies, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and health tech firms, often collaborating with medical sales representatives, healthcare specialists and marketers.
A health writer develops content for a wide range of topics including nutrition, fitness and wellness, and medicine. Health writing requires some subject area knowledge as well as good writing skills as it is typically consumer-facing. Health writing may involve writing about areas like lifestyle and diet, yoga and exercise, meditation and mental health, and more.
Medical journalists mostly write content for the general public in the form of health news and magazine articles. They prepare the content in a way that is easy to understand for the laypeople. Their main goal is to convey new development in the medical field to the general public.
How to Start Your Freelancing Journey
The ongoing global pandemic has made it a lot easier to become a freelance medical writer today than it was a few decades ago. If you have a flair for writing and a bachelor’s degree in your hands, you can surely become a freelance medical writer.
However, nothing comes easy, and the same goes with freelancing, which is also not a piece of cake. Freelancing comes at a heavy price in terms of late payments, months with fluctuated and no income, no sick leave, and working alone. Here you’ll not only have to write but also find clients, market your business, pitch for jobs, build your network and manage everything by yourself. Hence, it would be best to consider these shortcomings before starting your freelance journey.
Here are some tips to get started.
Define your career goals
Before starting out, answer yourself a few questions.
Why do you want to go for freelance medical writing? If it’s just because you want to make more money in less time, stop then and there. Although freelance medical writers receive a pretty good amount for their services, it takes passion for reaching the level of a qualified freelance medical writer. You should only consider it, if;
- You have a passion for medical writing and health writing
- You want to be your own boss
- You want flexibility in your life
Moreover, you should make sure that you’re ready to put in the hard work needed to make yourself a great freelance medical writer. Don’t forget, hard work is the only key to success.
Choose your niche
Clients hire writers who have command over what they do. Becoming a jack of all trades will get you nowhere. Medical writing is vast; within medical communications, there are many options that you can choose from.
Choosing a niche is not an overnight process. You’ll have to start broadly and eventually narrow down your niche, the one you find interesting and love writing about. While choosing a niche, consider a profitable one.
What’s the point of choosing a niche which can get you no work or money?
While choosing a niche, list your ideal clients whom you want to work for and the services they need. After completing the investigation, start self-analysis to know if you have the required qualification and could provide these services to your clients or you need to upskill. If you can’t provide the desired services, you can consider taking courses that help you gain those skills.
Build your portfolio
A portfolio is the most important asset in a writer’s life. It’s the collection of some of your best work, which not only shows off your writing skills to the clients but also reveals your capability of managing various projects and the outcomes you achieved with your previous clients.
Every time you apply for a freelance medical writing job, the client would ask for your writing portfolio to judge your skills.
You can’t blame a client for not hiring you if you don’t have any portfolio. Don’t worry, you don’t need to have any experience to build a portfolio. You can write anything relevant that the clients are looking for and get them published. Use the correct medical terminology in your writing samples so that clients know you have expertise in your niche.
Most clients care more about your writing skills than where they get published. But if you want to publish your writing samples for free, you can approach platforms like LinkedIn and Medium. In most cases, the hiring manager will ask you to complete a writing assessment test to assess your writing skills.
So before starting out as a freelancer, build a portfolio to make your application stronger. It helps demonstrate your credibility as a competent medical writer or health writer.
Have your own website
Freelancing will get you your own company, and every company needs an online presence in the form of a website. You’ll have to create your own website if you want to get noticed in the field. Don’t worry if you’re short on budget. You can take help from YouTube to create your own website. But it surely takes hard work to maintain it.
Once you created your website, add your basic details, demonstrate your writing samples, and provide details about your services and pricing. You can also start a blog on your website to generate traffic, a tried and tested technique.
If you’re not ready to take the responsibility of having your own website, you can find other platforms, like Medium and LinkedIn, to pitch your work at no cost.
Review your resume
The most important step that we often forget is to update the resume. Before starting freelancing, get your resume reviewed by a professional as it will be the first contact between you and the client. Be sure to add a link to your portfolio on your resume for clients’ convenience.
The skills section is an important part of your resume that you need to update to let your client know what you can do. While listing hard skills like regulatory documents and literature reviews, don’t underestimate the soft skills, which carry equal weightage.
Remain engaged in the field
There’d be times when you have no client related to medical writing or the client you desire the most. Remember, every successful medical writer was once a beginner who never gave up. So, don’t feel discourage and lose hope. It might end up in failure. Seek other opportunities that help you remain engaged in the field. For instance, you can go for medical editing and start editing medical documents for different clients who need your services. But before starting anything, make sure you have enough capabilities that are required for it.
I can’t stress enough the importance of networking in freelance medical writing. Being from a developing country, the one thing that worked for me miraculously was networking. It is one of the most critical steps that help you learn and earn simultaneously.
Networking will help you get clients and works incredibly well when you know your target company and your dream job. You can join many groups related to freelance medical writing over different websites. At the same time, you can ask for referrals from your fellow freelancers. But remember that asking for a referral in your first conversation can end up spoiling your relationship with that person; hence, try to develop the relationship first.
Your fellow writers can also outsource you their work when they got busy. I got several projects this way as I never hesitated to ask my fellows for their help and referrals.
Join professional writing associations like the American Medical Writers Association, Australasian Medical Writers Association, and the European Medical Writers Assocation, which provide interactive platforms to help you learn from each other and reach your target a little faster. These associations offer webinars, online courses, and workshops to help you excel in medical writing at a minimal annual subscription fee. Their certifications will also take you a long way in growing in your career as a medical writer.
You can sign up for their free newsletters to keep yourself updated with the medical field. These associations can also help you find amazing networking events for offline networking.
But don’t put extra effort into networking, neglecting other things that may help you grow.
Go to job boards
There are several job boards over the internet where clients look for writers when they need their services. Leave your contact details on the job boards to let the clients contact you on their own.
Don’t rely on freelancing websites like Fiverr and Upwork, which usually end up with you having low-paying clients. Some of the job boards that proved beneficial for me include NetworkPharma, Indeed, ZipRecruiter, and LinkedIn.
Cold pitching to seek new clients
Believe it or not, cold pitching is one of the most promising ways to convert your freelance clients if done right. However, identifying the right client is the primary step, as not even the best pitch would get you the response if you’re targeting the wrong person. While cold pitching, you need to use your basic copywriting skills to grab their attention and show them you are worth trying. Rather than bragging about your skills, try solving their problem and your value for their business. In case of getting no response, follow up on your emails every 3-4 business days. You need to be consistent in your approach to get your reward.
So there you go, that’s all the information you need start your journey to becoming a freelance medical writer.
About the author:
Dr. Fazila is a dental surgeon and medical writer from Pakistan. She currently works as a Freelance Medical Editor in an International Journal of Medicine and Freelance Health Writer for Medical News Today. In her spare time, she enjoys going for long drives, playing badminton, and reading mystery novels.