The Road to Medical Communications
Once you’ve battled your way into the industry and spent a few years building up your experience base you can find yourself in a very comfortable situation indeed. Senior medical writers and account directors upwards command enviable salaries and, due to the talent shortage at their level, can often take their pick of agencies, should they wish to move.
However, actually getting in can prove something of a tough nut to crack. How can you know if it’s the right career path for you? I do find increasingly that making your way into your first medical communications role is something you have to be truly passionate about. If communications isn’t a field you care deeply about then it might not be the wisest path to pick.
On the other hand, talking to people or writing about science may be all you’ve ever wanted. In this case, we need to maximise any edge you might hold over your competition (because trust me, there really are a lot of eager graduates trying to grab hold of those coveted entry level roles).
Useful, transferrable skills
- Research. Often over the course of a life sciences degree you’ll undertake any number of research based projects. Being able to distill this knowledge into an easily digestible format is at the core of healthcare communications.
- One more for the writers. Medical writing isn’t just about stringing words together. A crucial string to the bow of a healthcare writer is being able to reference. This discipline is built up over the many hours a PhD student will spend writing up their thesis and other publications
- Education. Similar but distinct to research, you need to be able to get your point across. This skill can be showcased through successful mentoring or training of more junior students or colleagues. You can show future employers how instrumental you’ll be to for working with certain communities or demographics to help them learn about positive health choices.
- Marketing. Crafting messages specifically tailored to a target audience is hardly something specific to healthcare. Being able to take skills garnered over the course of a more generic role into the medical niche can be a considerable advantage.
- Creativity. The more campaigns rolled out, the more the communications industry needs to find different ways of delivering their messages. The products put forth by the pharmaceutical industry may change but diseases won’t to quite the same extent.
- Networking. The more comfortable you can be when speaking with senior people within this or any industry the better you’ll become in activities such as client liaison or eventually pitching.
- Digital prowess. As every sector shifts towards digital the further you can get ahead of the curve the better. Crafting videos, presentations, websites and apps are ever more popular techniques so there is an increasing requirement for employees with web development and social networking skills.
If you’re dead set on getting into medical writing but don’t have a PhD
You’ll find yourself up against people who will have written publications, crafted posters, mentored undergraduates and presented and congress and symposia. While this puts you at a significant disadvantage it doesn’t mean you should give up.
A few options to try:
- If you can afford to do so, try and get an internship or spend some time shadowing writers at a medical communications agency. Getting experience makes you a proven quantity to future employers even though giving your time for free may be the only way to get it
- Consider going for account executive roles or more junior editing roles. It’s another way of getting to know how an agency operates along with the software and programmes they use. It’s can be a lot easier to transition across into the editorial side from the inside.
- Pursue writing projects outside of the day job. Submit your work to scientific magazines, blog, collaborate, anything to flex those writing muscles.
- Attend events designed to help you into industry: conferences or networking events (e.g. MedComms careers event) or our very own junior assessment centre, next one due to be held February 25th, please get in touch for more details!
The main things hiring managers are looking for in entry level candidates:
- Scientific credentials in the form of a degree in life sciences or related to medical, research or clinical practice. For writers this is preferably a PhD or MD and for account handlers at least a BSc.
- Excellent interpersonal skills for communicating effectively with clients and healthcare professionals
- The ability to work as part of a project team to tight deadlines and budgets
- Enthusiasm, drive and flexibility
- A commitment to developing a career in healthcare communications. This is demonstrated at interview by proving that you’ve really done your homework. If you can’t tell them what you know about the sector, what the different roles encompass, about their own agency or why you want that particular career path you probably shouldn’t be there
For more advice or help with getting into medical communications please don’t hesitate to contact the team on 01189522792 or email me directly firstname.lastname@example.org
We look forward to hearing from you.