From Cowgirl to Medical Writer - How did that happen?

Growing up I wanted to be a cowgirl – ahh, that’s the life for me, I thought. Never mind the inconvenient truth that there were few opportunities for cowgirls in Suffolk and I had never ridden a horse. The subsequent years saw the birth and death of many more dreams: the yearning for the open plains of New Mexico gave way to wanting to be an astronomer and then a diplomat (Ferrero Rocher? Why yes please!). Not once did it cross my mind that I wanted to be a medical writer.

And that’s because I’d never heard of medical writing. Certainly not as a child, nor adolescent, nor a student. After leaving university, all I knew was that I wanted to use my whole brain – to have a job that allowed me to combine the arts and the sciences, something that had driven the academic choices I made: an esoteric mix of A-levels, then archaeology and anthropology at Durham and biological anthropology in Cambridge. Nothing pure, nothing specialist, nothing particularly useful, but areas of learning that coalesced into a well-rounded mix of mental stimulation. So, I chose scientific publishing, which ticked the ‘well-rounded’ box (circle?), and then luckily happened across the allied industry of medical communications.

My first medical writing job was liberating. I was creating content from scratch, rather than copy-editing text supplied by authors. I enjoyed writing, a distinct advantage if you want to be a medical writer, and I didn’t feel as uncomfortable as I anticipated when writing about the previously unfamiliar. You will be amazed at how quickly you feel like an expert in a disease or therapy area: don’t think that your studies will limit you. A few weeks of working on an account and you will amaze your friends and family with your knowledge of a particular disease; they are unlikely to be interested, but the point is that you will quickly assimilate new information and learn how to communicate effectively to a range of audiences. To work with experts at the vanguard of healthcare research is a privilege, and to work with clients to create magical programmes is hugely stimulating.

At Lucid, we never forget that our ultimate goal is to transform patients’ lives; we usually do it indirectly through medical education, but occasionally we glimpse the real difference we make, through patient testimony. This brings with it a sense of enormous satisfaction – something I did not realise I valued before embarking on a career in medical communications but which I now place as a chief reason for continuing in the profession. That said, my job now is very different from that first medical writer role: you may realise you have a particular talent for people management, generating new business, or understanding and shaping your clients’ strategy, each of which can open new avenues of professional development. But you have to start somewhere, and medical writing − if you enjoy writing and science, love learning and want to make a difference to patients’ lives − is a great place to start.

This article was written for and published in the Medical Writing career guide. Download your full copy here.

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