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Career Focus: Medical Communications

Career Focus: Medical Communications


The field of Medical Communications offers a whole host of opportunities for new science graduates - both in medical publishing and pharma.
Last Updated: 27-Aug-2010

Whilst typically broken down into several relatively distinct areas – such as Scientific Publishing and Medical Writing – broadly speaking, Medical Communications is the profession of communicating often complex scientific data and reports in a clear, straightforward and accessible manner. To a pharmaceutical company, this can mean the creation and continued editing of everything from research protocols, to clinical trial reports and product-specific marketing documentation for sales representatives. In contrast, work for a communications agency is likely to be less product specific – granting you the chance to work on a wider range of projects.
Thus, whether you are looking for a route into scientific publishing, or if you are instead more concerned with scholarly research and investigation, a career in Medical Communications offers many challenging and diverse career outlooks. Certainly on the scientific publishing side - say in the case of working for a medical journal - an undergraduate degree in the life sciences will generally be required (e.g.biology, biochemistry, physiology, or chemistry), as candidates will be expected to demonstrate a detailed understanding of new research findings and scientific data streams. Indeed, whilst not compulsory, the majority of medical writers will likely come from a background in the life sciences, as the bulk of their work will usually include: the interpretation and editing of clinical research reports, the development of medical protocols and the creation of patient guidelines. In addition to these more regulatory-based responsibilities, roles at both communications agencies and pharmaceutical companies may also entail a number of more multimedia-orientated tasks. For example, creating company promotional materials and editing training manuals. However, for those individuals without a first degree in the sciences, a career in scientific journalism may still be an option - particularly in the case of those positions where output is measured less by scientific research and more by reporting and re-analysis.
When considering a career in medical communications, the first thing to decide is precisely where you see yourself fitting into the marketplace. For instance, do you want to write for a scientific journal, or do you see yourself more as a clinical trial analyst? Do you want to write investigative feature articles for Nature or the New Scientist, or do you feel more challenged by the idea of writing up clinical trial reports? No matter which direction you decide on, it is important to understand both the difference in roles and the necessary steps required to meet your pre-defined career targets.
Moreover, roles in medical communications require far more than just an expert command of your native language. Indeed, far beyond mere writing ability alone, a career in medical publishing demands: first-rate interpersonal skills, a developed understanding of subject knowledge, sound editorial judgment and a developed commercial awareness. As with most industries, salaries in this field can vary considerably depending on your precise level of experience and expertise. However, most wages for mid-level medical writers typically fluctuate around the €30k mark in the current market climate.
In deciding the kind of organization that you want to work for, it is important to weigh up both the positives and the negatives of each circumstance. For example, working for a pharmaceutical company may provide you with a greater chance of specialization in a particular therapeutic area, whereas a role at a communications agency may involve a more varied and hectic schedule. The latter position may also permit you to branch off into a number of interesting fields and accumulate a more diverse knowledge bank in different fields of medicine. Further to deciding your precise role within the industry, building a bank of relevant role-specific experience is incredibly important. Entering competitions, applying for internships and volunteering are all great ways of contributing to the value of your CV. Getting involved with industry organizations such as the European Medical Writers Association (EMWA) or the Association of British Science Writers is another excellent way of both improving your networking capabilities with other professionals and furthering your career progression opportunities in the industry.

Below are just a few examples of the many different roles available:

• Junior Medical Writer

• Senior Medical Writer

• Editorial Team Leader

• Account Director

• Scientific Director

A wide range of vacancies in all of the above areas (and others) can be found at the Careers Section of