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How to become a medical writer

I get a lot of emails from people hoping to break into the field of science writing (and medical and technical writing in general), whether as a journalist or in science communication. Often they’re fresh from university, or just writing up, and like me, didn’t fancy staying in the lab. Often they have a clear idea of what they want to do and have specific questions about breaking into the field. I can usually give a few personal pointers, for what they’re worth, and more generally send them off to the ABSW and NASW websites both of which have “So you want to be a science writer” advice sheets (at least they did last time I checked).

Sometimes however, the questions seem so shallow or worse broad that I wonder whether the person is even vaguely cut out for an investigative job of any kind. For instance:

“I would like to work as a Medical Writer. I have publications in international journals. Who shoul I contact?”

Aside from the typo, where do you start? What does the questioner mean by medical writer? Secondly, is publication in academic journals a prerequisite for taking on that role? But, more importantly, who should they contact almost implies that they imagine there is some kind of career oracle at the top of the hill who dispenses careers in any given field. Or, were they expecting me to give them a list of contacts at medical magazines to whom they could send their CV (or Character Map). I really don’t know. I hope I don’t sound like I’m being harsh and smug, but there’s seeking advice and then there’s being almost irrevocably naive.

Oh, okay, okay…I’m just being harsh. I sent the questioner a hopefully helpful response…and wish them luck in their career, of course…

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