Medical Writing 101 (PWAC)


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A very basic introduction to medical writing presented at the PWAC national conference in Montreal, 2011.

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  • In 2005, 14% of drugs sold in Canada were cardiovascular agents. This class includes drugs used to treat high blood pressure (hypertension), heart failure, arrhythmia and angina, as well as anticoagulants and similar medications. The next largest class of drug sales in Canada was the psychotherapeutics (10%). These are drugs used to treat mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Cholesterol agents represented 9% of drugs sold in Canada, followed by anti-spasmodics (drugs that reduce muscle spasms or cramping; 8%) and anti-cancer agents (7%). Here are the top 10 leading prescription drug (brand name products), according to a 2005 drugstore and hospital purchases audit performed by IMS Health. Keep in mind that these are 2005 figures. In the pharmaceutical industry, ‘market position’ of a brand can change fairly rapidly as new drugs are introduced into the marketplace and long-term adverse event profiles of existing drugs become known.
  • Medical Writing 101 (PWAC)

    1. 1. Medical Writing 101 Presented at PWAC National Conference June 18, 2011, Montreal, QC Amanda Strong [email_address] 514.239.2736 Giancarlo La Giorgia [email_address]
    2. 2. Amanda <ul><li>How I landed in medical writing </li></ul><ul><li>BSc Biochemistry w/ honours thesis in medical genetics </li></ul><ul><li>Took jobs with writing component to them </li></ul><ul><li>Leveraged prior writing experience in non-medical fields </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Corporate newsletters and report writing, brochures and posters for non-profits and community groups </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Landed a job in a pharma ad agency in 1999 </li></ul><ul><li>Freelance since 2001 </li></ul><ul><ul><li>‘ Marketed’ myself as specialised in science-heavy therapeutic areas (HIV, neurology, oncology, rheumatology) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Diversified beyond advertising by collaborating with other writers and small companies (Networking!) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Contract in 2008 (Acting Director of Medical Content) with company doing e-detail and multimedia solutions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Currently do mostly medical education, e-learning, meetings and ad boards, collaborations with physicians, multimedia, and some pharma advertising/marketing </li></ul></ul>
    3. 3. Giancarlo <ul><li>How I landed in medical writing </li></ul><ul><li>Started writing news and features for The National Review of Medicine (medical trade paper) </li></ul><ul><li>Began contributing to Canadian Health (Can. Med. Assoc. consumer mag) and </li></ul><ul><li>Took a job (briefly) as editor of Can. Journal of Diagnosis </li></ul><ul><li>Got work as a freelance proofreader for CHE and medical conference presentations </li></ul><ul><li>Applied for a job as a medical/copy writer; eventually hired as a freelance proofreader, now a staff writer for one of the biggest pharma ad agencies in North America </li></ul>
    4. 4. About
    5. 5. What is medical writing <ul><li>Professional medical communications </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Marketing/advertising </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Public relations (PR) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Market research and survey writing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>White papers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Advisory boards and medical meetings </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Clinical, regulatory, and research </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Clinical research report writing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>New drug applications </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Research reports </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Journalism </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Articles (newspaper, magazine, web) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Blogging </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Podcasting </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Education </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Consumer-level health education </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Continuing Health/Medical Education (CHE/CME) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Pharma sales rep education </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Medical publishing </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Textbooks </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Journals and proceedings </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Medical case reviews </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Hospitals, associations, academia and government </li></ul><ul><ul><li>SOPs, algorithms and procedures </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Grant and proposal writing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Journal articles </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Policy papers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Presentation materials </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Examination and assessment papers </li></ul></ul>And much more…
    6. 6. Canadian Medical Writers <ul><li>Of the medical writers who responded to the survey: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Most worked in the pharmaceutical industry (44% employed, 25% freelance) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Next largest employers were medical publishing (13%) and contract research organizations (CROs; 10%) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Main areas for freelancers were ‘industry’ (25%), communication and marketing (23%), and medical publishing (15%) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>61% resided in Ontario </li></ul></ul>Source: 2008 AMWA Canada Salary Survey Highest Education (%) BSc/BA 21.9 MSc/MA 20.3 MD/PhD 17.2 Other 3.1 Sex (%) Male 20.3 Female 76.6
    7. 7. Canadian Medical Writers Yearly Income and Average Hours Worked per Week Source: 2008 AMWA Canada Salary Survey Salary Freelance Income Mean (± SD) $79,524 ± $25,508 $62,482 ± $36,044 Median $75,000 $67,000 Min, Max $40,000, $135,000 $1,000, $150,000 95% CI $67,913 – $91,135 $48,223 – $76,740 Hours worked Mean (± SD) 38.7 ± 3.7 30.0 ± 9.9 (22.5 ± 8.1 billable) Median 39.0 30.0 Min, Max 30, 50 2, 45 95% CI 37.1 – 40.2 26.2 – 33.8
    8. 8. Three Main Divisions <ul><li>Research and regulatory </li></ul><ul><li>Journalism and publishing </li></ul><ul><li>Pharmaceutical and health info </li></ul>
    9. 9. Research and regulatory <ul><li>Generally requires a strong science or medical background </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Original research for publication </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Manuscript writing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Journals </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Textbooks </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Technical documents about medical equipment and procedures </li></ul></ul>
    10. 10. Research and regulatory (2) <ul><li>Regulatory writing generally requires an advanced degree (MSc or PhD) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Clinical research reports </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Investigator brochures </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>New drug submissions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Protocols and SOPs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Fairly lucrative </li></ul></ul>
    11. 11. Journalism (1) <ul><li>Easiest to break into (doesn’t require specialized knowledge) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Consumer health, fitness, diet, wellness, etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Newspaper health sections; Mags such as Alive, Best Health, Canadian Family, Canadian Health, Chatelaine, Health & Fitness; websites such as,,, etc. </li></ul></ul></ul>
    12. 12. Journalism (2) <ul><li>More specialized knowledge or interests </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Speciality/Custom publications </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Abilities, Birthing, Diabetes Dialogue, Creating Families, Moods, Occupational Health & Safety, Montreal En Santé, Solutions, Vitality, etc. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Trade publications </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Medical Post, Pharmacy Practice, Drugstore Canada, Canadian Healthcare Manager, Optical Prism, Dental Practice Management, etc. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Medical conferences </li></ul></ul>
    13. 13. Journalism (3) <ul><li>Sources for inspiration </li></ul><ul><ul><li>EurekAlert (news releases) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Science Daily (news aggregator) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>New Scientist, Seed, etc. (science blogs) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Canadian medical schools (media releases) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul>
    14. 14. Medical Publishing <ul><li>Qualifications vary immensely </li></ul><ul><li>Both physician or consumer publications </li></ul><ul><li>Writers work collaboratively with medical professionals: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Text books </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Handbooks </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Journal supplements </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Special interest series </li></ul></ul>
    15. 15. Pharmaceutical & Health Info (1) <ul><li>Qualifications vary immensely </li></ul><ul><li>Pharma industry is a large employer </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Pharmaceutical companies </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Advertising and marketing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Market research </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Learning solutions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>CHE/CME and symposia </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Sale representative training </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Multimedia and interactive </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Corporate and public relations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Conference, meeting and event planning </li></ul></ul>
    16. 16. Pharmaceutical & Health Info (2) <ul><li>Advertising and marketing </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Lucrative market, especially for freelancers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>In Canada, many copy writers do not have science background </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Highly regulated in Canada so hard to break into </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Most agencies look for experience with PAAB and Rx&D codes </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Proofreading and editing are good ways to gain experience </li></ul></ul></ul>
    17. 17. Pharmaceutical & Health Info (3) <ul><li>Learning solutions </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Wide variety of companies and opportunities </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Not generally very lucrative for freelancers </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Often require an MSc, especially for rep training materials </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Sometimes BSc + experience is acceptable </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Growing multimedia component (eLearning) </li></ul></ul>
    18. 18. Pharmaceutical & Health Info (4) <ul><li>Associations often do patient & consumer awareness programs </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Patient advocacy groups </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Professional association </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Hospitals </li></ul>
    19. 19. Tools of the Trade
    20. 20. General and Background Info <ul><li>A good medical dictionary like Tabers, Stedman’s or Dorlands </li></ul><ul><li>A good general anatomy and/or physiology textbook </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Goodman and Gilman’s Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Current medical diagnosis and treatment (available in print and online at most medical libraries) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Harrison’s principles of internal medicine (available online $$) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>MD Consult </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Available in print and on-line at: </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Merck Manual of Medical Information Home Edition </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Published by Pocket Books and available online. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Compendium of Pharmaceuticals and Specialties (CPS) by the Canadian Pharmacy Association </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Online at ($$) </li></ul></ul>
    21. 21. Finding Current Information <ul><li>Pubmed </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Index of published research articles in medicine </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Learn how to use this well; take the tutorials </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Cochrane Library </li></ul><ul><li>CMA Infobase: Clinical Practice Guidelines </li></ul><ul><li>National Guideline Clearinghouse </li></ul><ul><li>NHS Clinical Knowledge Summaries </li></ul><ul><li>Up To Date </li></ul>
    22. 22. Other Sources of Information <ul><li>Google Books </li></ul><ul><li>World Health Organization </li></ul><ul><li>Centres for Disease Control Medical Lexicon: </li></ul><ul><li>Medical Abbreviations Dictionary: </li></ul><ul><li>Canadian Health Network </li></ul><ul><li>Clinical Trials </li></ul>
    23. 23. Style Guides and Other Books <ul><li>American Medical Association Manual of Style </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Uniform requirements for manuscripts submitted to biomedical journals </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>How to Read a Paper by Trisha Greenhalgh </li></ul><ul><li>Successful Scientific Writing by Matthews and Matthews </li></ul><ul><li>Complete Guide to Medical Writing edited by Mark Stuart </li></ul><ul><li>How to report Statistics in Medicine by Lang and Sekic </li></ul><ul><li>The Pocket Guide to Critical Appraisal by Ian Crombie </li></ul>
    24. 24. Courses
    25. 25. Programs in Canada <ul><li>Laurentian University, Sudbury </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Graduate diploma in science communication </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Full-time, 1-year </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Tuition $6000; most students eligible for entrance scholarships </li></ul></ul><ul><li>University of Toronto </li></ul><ul><ul><li>2 MSc programs in Biomedical Communications, however they focus on medical artwork </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Interactive media tools </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Illustration and animation </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Tuition about $7500 </li></ul></ul>
    26. 26. Programs in the USA and EU <ul><li>University of the Sciences in Philadelphia </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Three medical writing programs (1 MSc, 2 certificates) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>University of Chicago, School of General Studies </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Certificate in Medical Writing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>MIT Grad program in science writing </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>UofC Santa Cruz Science Communication Program </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>University of Minnesota, Science and Technical Communications </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Boston University College of Communication. </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul>
    27. 27. Other Programs and Courses <ul><li>American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Several certificates available </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Council for Continuing Pharmaceutical Educations (CCPE) </li></ul><ul><li>Concordia University, Montreal </li></ul><ul><ul><li>2 introductory stand-alone courses in medical writing (~$300) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Manuscript preparation </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Pharmaceutical marketing </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS) </li></ul><ul><li>CME medical writing training </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul>
    28. 28. Scholarships and Awards <ul><li>Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Science Writer Scholarships / Health Research Communications Award </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>$21-26 000 for 2 students enrolled in a post-graduate journalism or communications program </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Also fund health communications awards / programs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Ie, Doctoral Research Award: CHE </li></ul></ul></ul>
    29. 29. Finding Work
    30. 30. Employers <ul><li>Pharmaceutical companies </li></ul><ul><li>Hospitals </li></ul><ul><li>Patient advocacy (usually national) </li></ul><ul><li>Publishers: textbooks, journals… </li></ul><ul><li>Corporate communications </li></ul><ul><li>Posters, abstracts, articles </li></ul><ul><li>PR </li></ul><ul><li>Conference coverage, journalism </li></ul>
    31. 31. Consider specialising Top 10 leading therapeutic classes (2005) Source: 2005 drugstore and hospital purchases audit performed by IMS Health Rank Leading Products Therapeutic Subclass Total Sales ($ Millions) 2005 Growth (%) 1 Lipitor Cholesterol Reducer 625.7 32.5 2 Losec Proton Pump Inhibitor 424.3 1.4 3 Zocor Cholesterol Reducer 291.4 42.3 4 Norvasc Calcium Channel Blocker 250.2 17.1 5 Altace ACE Inhibitor 234.9 40.6 6 Paxil Antidepressant 227.5 8.3 7 Zyprexa Tranquilizer 198.6 17.5 8 Celebrex Systemic Anti-Arthritic 186.1 0.2 9 Eprex Hematopoietic Agent 178.7 17.3 10 Pantoloc Proton Pump Inhibitor 161.1 37.5
    32. 32. CV and Portfolio <ul><li>CV </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Highlight your skills and publications </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>LinkedIn </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Portfolio </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Include medical and non-medical writing samples </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Challenges for electronic portfolios </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Copyright and confidentiality </li></ul></ul></ul>
    33. 33. Network. Network. Network! <ul><li>Best way to get work seems to be through connections </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Local and national AMWA meetings </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Workshops and talks </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Other professional associations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>PWAC, STC, PMCQ, SACME, RAPS </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Blogs/forums </li></ul></ul><ul><li>There are lots of groups on LinkedIn </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Biotech & Pharma Professionals Network </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Freelancers in MedComm </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Science Writers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>AMWA has a Facebook page with 500+ members </li></ul><ul><li>Twitter may be another way to connect </li></ul>
    34. 34. Finding Work <ul><li>P.R.N Directory ( ) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Directory of pharma companies and suppliers </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Canadian Health network ( ) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Provides a comprehensive list of health orgs in Canada: </li></ul></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Occasionally has job postings for hospitals, foundations, academia and advocacy organizations </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Health Canada ( </li></ul><ul><li> / </li></ul><ul><li>AMWA / CSWA / STC-Canada </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>List your services on AMWA-Canada or </li></ul><ul><li>Emma Hitt’s Hittlist </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>‘ Headhunters’ </li></ul>
    35. 35. Questions?