Reflecting on one year as a medical writer: Experiences and insights
Having a week off as I approached my one-year anniversary of working as a medical writer at Bham Pharma Ltd provided me with the opportunity to reflect on my progression and what I have learnt so far. Although I have only been in the industry a year, it already feels a lot longer having progressed from an Intern to a Junior Medical Writer, to a Team Leader, and now a Medical Writer I. Although I do attribute a large portion of this progression to Bilal and the team, guiding me and trusting me to lead projects, I also believe that having had multiple jobs prior to my first ‘proper’ job gave me the confidence to try everything and communicate with anyone.
“Irrelevant” experiences still provide skills
Anyone who knows me will know that at 23, I had worked in hospitality for 10 years, throughout school, college, and university, and I believe this provided me with skills and maturity I would not possess had I only studied. I remember being frustrated this time last year applying for jobs and not having “relevant” experience for a lot of the roles I was applying for. Deep down, I knew that the skills I had developed working in Cornwall throughout the busy summer months were relevant, but when it came to applying for jobs, I undersold myself.
Therefore, this is my ask of you if you are reading this as a recent graduate who has worked (even if the industry is not relevant to the career you are applying for), think about all those situations where you have had to deal with a difficult situation at work and what multitasking, verbal communication, and time management skills you had to use whilst under pressure, to resolve the situation. I know I tried doing this when I was applying for jobs, and I know it is hard to explain how your skills are transferable when you do not really understand the role you are applying for. Therefore, this is also my ask for employers, give graduates a chance. I know there is a lot of us, but not everyone can afford to spend their summers doing an unpaid internship that is relevant to their career. Some of us must work and the skills we learn doing these jobs are extremely transferable. Think outside the box. If someone has just graduated and their CV is filled with part-time roles spanning their entire studying life, this shows that they have a good work ethic and excellent time management skills to be able to juggle studying and working. If they have managed to progress to a manager, they will likely have also developed leadership and decision-making skills.
For example, I have been told I am a ‘natural born leader’. I am not. I have always been exceptionally shy and nervous talking to new people. However, having worked in hospitality for 10 years, I have developed confidence in this area and grown to a point where I can quickly assess a situation, make a logical decision, and delegate if necessary. Irrespective if that decision is to determine if there is space for a table of six, 15 minutes before the kitchen closes, or whether we have the capacity to take on a new project.
The point I am trying to make is, it is hard for graduates to meet the tick-box exercises so many roles require, when we have no direct experience. However, it is likely that the students who have had experiences outside of studying have common sense and skills which are not captured by rigid application processes. If you can, speak to applicants properly, listen to them, and try to think how the experiences they have had might apply to the role you are interviewing for, because at the end of the day, as an interviewer, you will understand the role, and the true skills required, more than the applicant does from the rough job description they have tried to decipher.
The turning points as a medical writer
Anyway, that was not to be the main point of this blog, but it was important to note.
After my 3-month internship, I intended to maintain my blog to track my progress and highlight to others considering the industry what the job is like. However, I just became too busy with projects to sit down and reflect, but now I have time and I wanted to quickly highlight the key turning points for me.
Firstly, one key thing I noticed after returning to work as a Junior Medical Writer in January, was that I felt comfortable questioning briefs and going beyond the brief to improve a piece of work if I could. During my internship, there was one project I remember which had square brackets for some abbreviations, although there was nothing in the style guide stating that this was to be done. I carried this style throughout and was pulled up on it by Bilal when he was reviewing my work and all I could say was “that was how it was before”.
Therefore, one piece of advice I would give to someone else early in their career, is that if you receive work second-hand for amendments, do not be afraid to go the extra mile and question what was already there because if you notice that something is not right, someone else down the line will as well, and will probably assume it was your mistake.
Secondly, I found that tasks started to become less daunting when I started really taking a step back and thinking about the brief and the audience. By putting myself in the audience’s shoes I could determine what information needed to be included and what could be assumed. For example, if the audience is specialist, this will require a completely different tone to content which is for parents or carers of a child with a rare disease. It sounds obvious but taking the time to think helped me to make sense of projects. I have also been lucky to have had the opportunity to work on a variety of briefs and alongside different colleagues with strengths in both commercial and regulatory writing, which has enabled me to understand the different audiences and requirements. Therefore, if you have the opportunity, try to work across projects and take the time to think about who the content is for.
Finally, once I stopped stressing about being slower than colleagues and started breaking down my projects into rough notes before creating final content, and properly checking my own work for flow, abbreviations, and formatting, I noticed a huge difference in my quality and started saving my team valuable review time. Taking a break before printing and reviewing your own work really helps to notice mistakes and inconsistencies and I would say to anyone new to the industry, do not panic – take your time!
It turns out I have learnt a lot in the last year both about myself and medical writing, and I do not expect this will reduce dramatically in the coming years. Maybe I will keep on top of blogging this year, probably not, but until then I hope this has been vaguely insightful.