On the surface, a medical writer has a simple calling: communicate medical information and research results clearly to the intended audience. How one achieves this goal is what sets apart a great medical writer. Arriving at a high-quality final document requires planning, clear communication, coordination between team members, and building consensus among stakeholders. These are not directly related to writing per se but are central to the success of our projects, so how does a medical writer learn and hone such skills?
As a Sr. Medical Writer with PROMETRIKA, I led a roundtable discussion at the AMWA 2023 annual conference to explore this question. My experience prior to becoming a medical writer runs deep in a wide range of roles in clinical research. My most recent tenure in clinical operations at PROMETRIKA, a full-service CRO, working with its many functional teams (e.g., data management, biostatistics, regulatory affairs) brought to light the interconnected nature of the work leading to a completed document. That said, no one person can have all the skills necessary for the “perfect” medical writer. Thankfully, our roundtable gathered a diverse group of medical writers from varied backgrounds and professions, ranging from academia to hospitals to the pharmaceutical industry.
Most medical writers have not arrived at the profession directly, but have held prior positions. Whether they started in retail pharmacy, marketing, small pharma, or laboratory work, roundtable attendees shared a few common skills they learned that are indispensable to their work as writers:
- Organization and prioritization: For example, scheduling a meeting for critical reviewers at a time that works for everyone and prioritizing the questions for discussion is not glamorous, but it is essential to keeping documents on track and making sure the right people weigh in on the most important decisions.
- Leading up: As medical writers, we rarely have much official clout to dictate the direction of a document, but we can implement strategies to guide key decision makers toward the best outcomes (e.g., presenting viable options rather than an open ended question).
- “People skills”: Possibly the softest of the soft skills, listening, understanding what others are thinking, and identifying the root of their concerns are essential to building relationships that will help successfully navigate projects.
Of course, we do not stop learning generalizable skills just because we have become medical writers. At PROMETRIKA, I have been able to continue to expand my experience by assisting other functional teams such as pharmacovigilance and business operations. During the roundtable meeting, we shared a number of other resources and avenues to continue growing our skillset.
- Educational resources such as those provided through LinkedIn Learning or Harvard ManageMentor
- Professional blogs and books on persuasion, leadership, and other topics, even if not specifically geared toward medical writing
- Podcasts (even some focused on medical writing) that allow for easy listening and keeping up to date on trends in our respective industries
From my professional life and hearing what others shared at the AMWA conference, I find that I am not unique in combining skills from previous experience and learning outside of medical writing. Regardless of the specific industry or field, our profession is one that encourages continuous growth across multiple dimensions, all toward making us more effective communicators with both our teams and our audiences.