Effective training programmes for medical writers
To teach or not to teach?
For entry medical writers, and those with less than 12 months experience, the journey to becoming a competent medical writer can be a straightforward upward learning curve or peaks and troughs of learning and confidence. Some companies, be they drug or device manufacturers or service companies such as contract research organisations (CROs) and medical writing consultancies/agencies, will have their own processes. Sadly, some have very little by way of training due to project demands, over-stretched staff, a focus on on-the-job learning, or simply no training programme whatsoever. In such cases, it will be a bumpy ride for the newbie, learning everything as they go along, from language to different documents types to scientifically-correct high-quality medical English. Being thrown in at the deep end can have its advantages and disadvantages. Those who already have a high standard of written English and a capacity to learn and reformulate scientific data will flourish, whilst those who don’t will get filtered out. This doesn’t give scope to the late bloomers, who might eventually “make it” at the subsequent company, which may or may not involve a training programme but may offer more patience, guidance and coaching.
Depending on the criteria by which medical writers have been chosen, be they high ability, excellent English, cost, fit into the team or pure desire and ambition, their immediate ability must be established. At Bham Pharma, we do this via a couple of small tests which involve aptitude and English proficiency, that is complemented by some on-the-job project work. After this, we roll them through our training programme, spending more time on training that will benefit their weaknesses, to help them develop into better technical, scientific and medical writers.
As a company, we see training to follow this flow: English language (British vs US), accuracy (no ambiguity), consistency (a spade is a spade each and every time, not a synonym), document types (regulatory vs medcomms vs medico-marketing), quality control (style, correctness, format).
Inevitably, the quality and speed of output from medical writers will improve with time, constructive feedback, and constant challenges to avoid a plateau. The first 12 months for any writer will be a steep but highly rewarding learning curve. After this, the intermediate 2 to 5 years will be spent learning many different styles language nuances, documents and therapeutic areas. Approaching the 7‑year should make an accomplished senior medical writer of your once callow junior writer.