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What Is Medical Writing? How To Become A Medical Writer? A Comprehensive Guide

Updated: Jun 12

If you’re a writer, here’s something for you to consider — medical writers make, on average, $68 per hour. And if you’re writing for some of the top pharma companies like Pfizer, the pay is around $160 an hour!

If you’ve spent any time being a professional writer, you know that these are extraordinary numbers. I have some friends who make more than $150,000 a year from medical writing.

That is pretty much what prompted me to create this blog. I spoke to some of them about their job and what it entails. This blog is a summary of those conversations. We’re going to look at what medical writing is, the types of medical writing, the pay for medical writers, the skills needed to become a medical writer, and how to become a medical writer.

So, let’s get started.

The ultimate guide to medical writing

What is medical writing?

Medical writing, a specialized field of professional writing, is the creation of scientific and healthcare-related content that is clear, informative, and compliant with regulatory standards.

Medical writing is a very important industry. The goal of medical writing is primarily to break down complex and technical jargon of the medical industry and present a clear, understandable picture to the common folk.

And don’t think that medical writing is just limited to drafting patient education brochures or physician manuals.

It also includes preparing regulatory documents for drug approvals, creating scientific literature for peer-reviewed journals, and crafting promotional materials for new therapies.

In essence, medical writing is the bridge that connects medical science with various stakeholders, ensuring the accuracy and accessibility of vital health-related information.

What does a medical writer do?

The role of a medical writer is multi-faceted and calls for a unique blend of skills. A medical writer interprets and translates the complex language of medicine into information that is comprehensible and useful.

Medical writing contributes to healthcare decisions, policy-making, and patient understanding, underlining their crucial role in advancing global health outcomes.

Types of Medical Writing

There are four primary types of medical writing: regulatory, educational, scientific, and promotional.

Regulatory Medical Writing

Regulatory medical writing involves creating documents required for regulatory agencies, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The focus is on documents related to clinical trials and product approvals, including clinical study protocols, investigator brochures, clinical study reports, and documents for new drug applications.

Regulatory medical writers must possess a deep understanding of clinical research, regulatory guidelines, and ethical considerations.

Their work is paramount in facilitating the approval and release of new drugs and medical devices to the market.

Educational Medical Writing

Educational medical writing, also known as patient education writing, is centered around providing health and medical information in a manner that's easily comprehensible to the general public or specific patient populations.

This includes materials like patient education brochures, leaflets, websites, and e-learning modules. Educational medical writers need to simplify complex medical concepts while ensuring the information remains accurate and helpful.

This type of medical writing is instrumental in empowering patients with knowledge about their conditions and treatments, enhancing patient compliance, and promoting better health outcomes.

Scientific Medical Writing

Scientific medical writing primarily involves writing for healthcare professionals and researchers.

It includes creating content for peer-reviewed medical journals, abstracts for conferences, and summaries of medical research findings.

This form of writing requires the ability to comprehend and synthesize complex scientific data and present it in a structured, logical manner.

Scientific medical writers often work closely with researchers and physicians, helping them share their findings with the wider scientific community. This type of writing is crucial for advancing medical knowledge and promoting evidence-based practice.

Promotional Medical Writing

Promotional medical writing encompasses the creation of content intended for marketing or advertising purposes.

This can include product monographs, sales training materials, press releases, and content for websites or social media promoting a specific drug, medical device, or therapeutic method.

Though promotional, these materials must still be based on scientific evidence and must comply with regulations governing the promotion of pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

Promotional medical writers play a crucial role in articulating the benefits and features of a product, often working in close collaboration with marketing teams.

Skills Required for Medical Writing

Apart from the common skills required for any writer, there are a few that are crucial to medical writing.

Excellent Written Communication Skills

Obviously, you should have great written communication skills. This is relatively more important for medical writing than it is for other types of writing because you’re dealing with very complex topics.

Most of your audience (unless you’re writing scientific papers, of course) is people who know the medical and pharma world but aren’t necessarily doctors or scientists. You need to be able to break down the science and that’s where writing skills really matter.

Understanding of Medical Terminology and Concepts

In other words, you should know the jargon. You should understand it, know when to use it, and most importantly, you should know when not to use it.

Medical writers often deal with complex subjects, including pharmacology, clinical trials, disease mechanisms, and biostatistics.

Understanding these concepts allows medical writers to translate dense scientific data into accessible content. This skill is crucial for ensuring the credibility of your work and facilitating clear communication between stakeholders in the healthcare industry.

Ability to Interpret and Present Scientific Data

Medical writing often requires interpreting and presenting scientific data. This includes understanding experimental design, analyzing research findings, and summarizing results in a comprehensible manner.

The ability to transform raw data into meaningful narratives is essential, especially in regulatory and scientific medical writing. It helps in creating content that informs decision-making processes, contributes to scientific literature, or supports drug approval applications.

Attention to Detail

You won’t be surprised but accuracy is paramount in medical writing.

A small mistake can have significant implications, from regulatory rejections to misinformation that can affect patient health.

So, a keen eye for detail is crucial. This includes meticulous proofreading, fact-checking, and adherence to style guides and templates. Attention to detail ensures the reliability and precision of your medical content.

Time Management Skills

There are some forms of writing that don’t take up a lot of time. You do a bit of research on the client, then the topic, decide on a structure, write an outline, fill out the details, and edit it — that’s how it normally goes.

Medical writing is different in that it takes a lot of time to research and get the facts right.

What’s more, if you’re even reasonably successful as a medical writer, you’re going to be working for multiple clients. And as it is with most writing gigs, there are deadlines and they’re usually way too close for comfort.

This is why time management is a bonafide, genuine skill when it comes to medical writing. You should set realistic goals, prioritize tasks, and maintain a productive work rhythm. It’s genuinely one of the most important things that medical writers should be good at.

Ethical Considerations

Medical writing has a direct impact on healthcare outcomes and decisions. Hence, a strong sense of ethics is a must. This includes maintaining confidentiality, avoiding plagiarism, acknowledging sources, and ensuring transparency in reporting scientific data.

Awareness of ethical guidelines set by organizations like the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME) and the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) is also important.

Education and Qualifications of Medical Writers

Basic Requirements

The foundation for a career in medical writing often begins with a bachelor's degree in a field related to life sciences, such as biology, chemistry, pharmacy, or medicine.

This provides a strong grounding in scientific principles, research methodologies, and medical terminology, which form the bedrock of medical writing.

A degree in English, journalism, or communication coupled with a strong interest in medicine and science can also serve as a stepping stone into the field.

Advanced Degrees

While a bachelor's degree is a good starting point, many medical writers further their education with advanced degrees.

A master's or Ph.D. in a health-related discipline can significantly enhance your understanding of complex medical subjects.

For example, a Ph.D. in pharmacology or a master's in public health can provide in-depth knowledge about drug mechanisms or health policy, respectively. These advanced qualifications can increase your marketability, particularly for more specialized or senior roles in medical writing.

Additionally, some professionals opt for graduate programs specifically designed for medical writing. These programs, often offered as master's degrees or postgraduate certificates, focus on the nuances of writing for medical and healthcare audiences. They cover topics such as regulatory writing, medical journalism, ethical considerations, and more.

Optional Certifications

Beyond formal education, optional certifications can further bolster your qualifications as a medical writer. The American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and the European Medical Writers Association (EMWA) offer certification programs that demonstrate your commitment to professional development and adherence to industry standards.

For example, the AMWA offers the Medical Writing Certification (MWC), a credential that signifies an understanding of medical writing and ethical standards.

Similarly, the EMWA provides the Professional Development Programme, where participants can earn certificates in different areas of medical writing.

These certifications, while not mandatory, can enhance your credibility and highlight your proficiency in the field.

They are particularly beneficial for professionals transitioning into medical writing from other careers, as they provide a structured way to gain industry-specific knowledge.

How to get medical writing jobs with no experience

Let’s be real — you need to have quite a bit of experience to get high-paying writing jobs. Medical writing is no different. The highest-paying jobs are usually reserved for people with a ton of experience.

It’s a bit of a catch-22 situation, actually. You need jobs to gain experience and you need experience to get jobs.

So, how do you get medical writing jobs with no experience?

Internships or Entry-Level Positions

Internships and entry-level positions offer excellent opportunities for aspiring medical writers to gain practical experience.

Pharmaceutical companies, contract research organizations (CROs), and healthcare communication agencies often provide internships or junior roles where you can learn the ropes of medical writing under experienced professionals.

These roles can offer hands-on experience in various types of medical writing, from regulatory documents to patient education materials, allowing you to understand the nuances of the profession and identify your areas of interest.

Write on freelancing platforms

Freelance working on sites like Up Work, Freelancer, Fiverr, etc. isn’t easy. In fact, it’s a race to the bottom in terms of pricing. And even if you’re doing the job for little to nothing, it’s difficult to get jobs.

But here’s the thing — stick at it and you’ll get some gigs, even if you have no experience.

Why is this so important?

Well, it allows you to build a portfolio. Once you have a few published works, you can use them to attract better-paying clients.

You can post these articles on LinkedIn and Twitter and get started on building a brand around yourself.

(By the way, we’ve got a great article on building a personal brand as a writer. We go through why you should do it, how to do it, and much more. Do read it if you’re interested.)

Write Scientific Research Papers

For those in academia or research-oriented roles, writing scientific research papers can be an effective way to gain medical writing experience.

This could involve writing your research findings for publication in peer-reviewed journals, creating abstracts for conferences, or contributing to research grant applications.

Not only does this experience hone your ability to present scientific data effectively, but it also contributes to your writing portfolio, showcasing your capability to write for a professional scientific audience.

Networking with Medical Writing Professionals

Networking with established medical writing professionals can provide valuable insights into the profession and potentially lead to job opportunities.

Joining professional organizations such as the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) or the European Medical Writers Association (EMWA) can provide access to networking events, workshops, and conferences.

You can also connect with medical writers on professional networking platforms like LinkedIn. These interactions can provide practical advice, mentorship, and even job referrals.

Building a Medical Writing Portfolio

A medical writing portfolio is a powerful tool that showcases your skills, expertise, and experience to potential employers or clients. Let’s look at the importance of a portfolio, what to include in it, and how to present your work effectively.

Importance of a Portfolio

A portfolio serves as tangible proof of your writing ability and understanding of medical and scientific concepts.

It highlights your versatility in handling different types of medical writing and demonstrates your ability to communicate complex information clearly and accurately.

A well-curated portfolio can set you apart from other candidates, providing a strong argument for your suitability for a role or project. It can help you secure job opportunities, attract freelance clients, and build your professional reputation in the medical writing community.

What to Include in Your Portfolio

Your portfolio should represent the breadth and depth of your medical writing experience. Here are some types of content you might consider including:

  1. Scientific Articles: If you've written articles for scientific journals or professional publications, these can showcase your ability to write for a highly knowledgeable audience.

  2. Regulatory Documents: Include any regulatory documents you've written or contributed to, such as clinical trial protocols or reports. These demonstrate your understanding of clinical research and regulatory guidelines.

  3. Patient Education Materials: Brochures, pamphlets, or web content you've created for patient education highlight your skill in translating medical jargon into understandable language.

  4. Promotional Materials: Any promotional content, such as product monographs or press releases, can demonstrate your ability to write persuasively while adhering to regulatory standards.

  5. Writing Samples: If you're new to medical writing, consider including general writing samples that showcase your writing skills, research ability, and understanding of health-related topics.

Remember to respect confidentiality agreements and copyrights when including work in your portfolio. Obtain necessary permissions and consider anonymizing sensitive information.

How to Showcase Your Work Effectively

Presenting your work effectively is as important as the content itself. Here are some tips to showcase your work:

  1. Organize Your Portfolio: Arrange your work in a logical manner, grouping similar types of writing together. This makes it easier for viewers to navigate your portfolio and understand your range of skills.

  2. Provide Context: For each piece, consider including a brief description that explains the purpose of the document, your role in creating it, and any specific challenges you overcame.

  3. Highlight Key Skills: Use your portfolio to highlight the key skills you bring as a medical writer, such as data presentation, simplifying complex concepts, or adherence to regulatory guidelines.

  4. Consider creating a website: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with simply having a portfolio on a platform like ArtStation or Behance. However, having a website is better. It shows that you’re more established, it allows you to share more of your work, and it’ll help immensely when you want to add more to your portfolio. With websites like Wix or WordPress, creating websites is quite easy.

Job Prospects and Career Growth in Medical Writing

Medical writing offers a range of job roles and opportunities for career advancement across multiple sectors.

Here, we delve into the different job roles and titles in medical writing, sectors that employ medical writers, and typical paths for career progression and salaries.

Different Job Roles and Titles in Medical Writing

Some of the common job titles you may encounter include:

  1. Medical Writer: Typically, medical writers create a range of scientific documents, including research articles, drug trial reports, regulatory documents, and patient education materials.

  2. Regulatory Medical Writer: Specialized in writing documents for regulatory agencies, such as the FDA, to support drug approval processes.

  3. Scientific Writer: Focus on creating content for scientific audiences, such as research manuscripts, abstracts, and scientific presentations.

  4. Medical Communications Specialist: Work in areas like marketing, public relations, and education, creating materials that communicate medical information to diverse audiences.

  5. Medical Editor: Review and edit medical documents for clarity, grammar, format, and compliance with guidelines.

Sectors That Employ Medical Writers

Medical writers are employed across various sectors that deal with health and life sciences. Some of these include:

  1. Pharmaceutical Companies: Medical writers are essential in pharmaceutical companies, where they create a variety of documents, from drug trial reports to promotional materials.

  2. Contract Research Organizations (CROs): These organizations work with pharmaceutical companies to conduct clinical trials, and medical writers play a critical role in writing protocols, reports, and other regulatory documents.

  3. Healthcare Communication Agencies: Medical writers in these agencies create a range of communication materials, such as patient education content, press releases, and marketing materials.

  4. Research Institutes and Universities: Here, medical writers often work on grant proposals, research papers, and other academic content.

  5. Freelance: Many medical writers work independently, taking projects from various clients and sectors. Freelance writing is all set for a great 2023, by the way.

Career Progression Paths and Salaries of medical writers

Career progression in medical writing often involves moving from junior roles to more specialized or senior positions.

For example, you might start as a Junior Medical Writer, then progress to Medical Writer, Senior Medical Writer, Principal Medical Writer, and eventually to managerial roles like Medical Writing Team Lead or Head of Medical Writing.

Salaries in medical writing vary greatly depending on your experience, the complexity of the work, where you’re based, and the sector you work in.

In the United States, the average salary for medical writers is around $80,000. entry-level medical writers can expect to earn around $60,000 per year, while experienced medical writers or those in managerial positions could earn well over $150,000 per year.


Becoming a medical writer or diversifying into medical writing seems daunting when you start and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not a particularly easy niche to get into. But it’s worth it. Once you have a bit of experience, it gets much, much easier. High-paying clients won’t be too far.

If you’re looking to diversify as a writer, medical writing is a great option.

And if you’re looking for medical writing jobs, check out Simple Job Listings. All jobs on Simple Job Listings are remote, most pay amazingly well, and a significant number of jobs that we post aren’t listed anywhere else.

Visit Simple Job Listings and find an amazing remote writing job. Good luck!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is it hard to get into medical writing?

It’s not easy to get into medical writing when you compare it with other types of writing like business writing or general B2B writing. But, it’s not impossible, either. You’ll most probably have to acquire a few new skills and learn the language of a medical writer. If you do, high-paying jobs aren’t very far away.

How can I get into medical writing?

Ideally, you should have a degree in chemistry, pharmacy, biology, or medicine. But that’s not compulsory by any means. Do a certification like AMWA or EMWA or MWC. Those should serve as good starting points. From there on, you can start building your medical writer career.

What is the best certification for medical writing?

AMWA (Americal Medical Writers Association), EMWA (European Medical Writers Association), and MWC (Medical Writer Certified) are the best certifications for medical writing.

Do medical writers make good money?

Medical writers make very good money. Salaries start from about $60,000 and go over $150,000 if you throw in the right skills and experience. Companies like Pfizer pay more than $200,000 to medical writers.

Do medical writers need a degree?

It’s always good to have a relevant degree. But there are a lot of medical writers who don’t. Instead, they do certifications like AMWA or EMWA, or MWC and use that as a way to enter medical writing.

Is medical writing in demand?

Yes, it is. As the med-tech world continues to get more complex, the need for writers who can communicate well increases, too. Most medium-sized businesses to pretty much all large corporations working in the medicine or pharma sectors hire medical writers.

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