10 lessons from my first year as a medical writer
Over a year ago, I wrote my first blog post on my 10 top tips as a Medical Writer Intern. Looking back, it’s interesting to note that many of those tips still hold true now and are a good reminder of how far I have come as a writer (progressing from Intern to Junior Medical Writer, and now as a Medical Writer I). From making lists of things to check in documents and disliking always having the paragraph sign-on, to leading projects and taking much of what was once new, for granted.
I hope this blog post provides an opportunity for you to reflect or learn something new from my experience in the world of medical writing:
1. Be conscious of growth
I am a self-admitted perfectionist. Naturally, I want to do my best and hold myself to a high standard which in turn meant I would subconsciously track what went well, and what didn’t go so well. However, changing this to a more intentional approach has really helped me navigate the steep learning curve that is medical writing. I still have room for improvement here and know I don’t do as much reflection as I probably should!
2. Trust your gut
When writing, you may have a gut instinct when a particular phrase or data point just ‘doesn’t feel quite right’. At the start of my internship last year, I probably would have ignored that feeling. However, I think it’s important to point it out, perhaps leave a comment to yourself to double-check or ask for a colleague’s opinion on it. I have never regretted being overcautious and going with my gut instinct.
3. Organisation is still key
In my previous blog post, I mentioned the importance of being organised and thinking in advance – this still holds true. Being on top of deadlines is bread and butter for medical writers and being organised is how you can manage to keep projects on time, and on budget.
4. Follow the science
In commercial communications, the content is often based on publications. It is therefore critical that the science is followed, and the content does not stray too far from what is reported. If a client would like to tweak the content, have the confidence to say that this does not align with the publications. You will thank yourself later!
5. Know your boundaries
My list a year ago included ‘Be an eager student’, with the idea being that by helping with as many projects as you can, you’ll learn quickly. I still believe this to be true, but I know I could take this too far at points, offering to help when I could do with focussing on my own projects. Consequently, projects could feel rushed, and mistakes would creep in. I feel more comfortable knowing where my limit is, sticking to it, and believing the general standard of my work is more consistent because of this.
6. Good things take time
Similarly, clients can unintentionally put pressure on you and expect projects back by a certain time. The past year has taught me that you cannot rush quality, and good things take time. Don’t be afraid to push back on deadlines, focus on quality, and leave time to print out work for review.
7. Knowing what to look out for is half the battle
Having good attention to detail is hugely important and I feel grateful that now I know what to look out for, the general quality of my work is higher. Checking certain things (meeting a brief, spacing, formatting, abbreviations) is now second nature and makes medical writing that much easier.
8. Fake it until you make it
You will only learn by doing and as medical writing was new to me, there were numerous times when I felt like a guinea pig trying something new for the first time. I still have times when I start a new project, where I have that ‘how am I going to make this happen?’ feeling. Make a start and the rest will fall into place. With more projects under your belt, a new project won’t seem as daunting.
9. Continue learning
Although my growth this past year has been considerate, I don’t want to become complacent and take on a mindset that I have ‘arrived’ as a medical writer, because I haven’t. I recognise there are several things I can improve on and people I could learn from and am excited to reflect next year on what has changed.
10. Don’t take things at face value
With more experience, I have encountered a variety of projects and have the confidence to question briefs, push back if needed, and follow the science. Often you know the science inside out and should trust yourself.
Although this has been framed in the context of medical writing, I think the above list highlights some more general life lessons too. I am excited to find out where this year as a medical writer takes me and to continue growing within my position as Medical Writer I and Project Coordinator at Bham Pharma.