How I became a medical writer for pharma and healthcare
Nat is the founder of Marketing 4 Health. She offers medical writing services to healthcare, pharmaceutical and creative design agencies. During an interview with Health Writer Hub, she described her journey to becoming a medical writer.
I was recently interviewed by Health Writer Hub. The goal was to share some of my experiences in my journey as a medical writer to medical writing students. Several students followed up with me afterwards to thank me for inspiring them and helping them get started with their own business. That made it all worthwhile! This post is a summary of the content that was shared during that interview plus several additional points.
Path that led me to medical writing:
Prior to my consulting days, I always worked in the pharmaceutical industry. My roles varied from medical information, to sales, to marketing. Whatever the role, accurate and clear scientific communication was key to my success.
When I first became a consultant, I focused on medical marketing projects for clients, such as developing strategic plans and promotional tools targeted to either healthcare professionals or patients. Again, my success in this role largely relied on my ability to create sound medical content that would be allowable as per our national advertising laws for pharmaceutical promotions.
Eventually, the majority of my business leads were contacting me for help with their medical writing. This includes medical communications for promotional sales materials, videos, social media, virtual reality and augmented reality tools for either the patients or the healthcare professionals. Although I still have clients who hire me for my strategic marketing services, most of my time is focused on medical writing and helping clients get their content approved by the advertising review bodies in Canada (Pharmaceutical Advertising Advisory Board and Ads Standard Canada).
Here’s a video segment of my interview with Health Writer Hub where I share a bit of my journey towards becoming a medical writer but also the types of medical writing projects that I work on for clients.
Who are Marketing 4 Health clients?
My clients vary from pharmaceutical companies, to medical non-profit organizations, to design agencies that create promotional and advertisement tools for healthcare clients. The one thing that all of my clients have in common is that their services or products either directly or indirectly benefit the health of patients. I have refused to work with organizations who want to sell false remedies on more than one occasion. As a consultant, your credibility is on the line as your clients expect you to be honest and ethical. A friend once told me that I should only accept clients who sell services or products that I would trust if one of my children were to have to use them someday. That was a decade ago, yet this mantra continues to guide me in the types of client projects that I accept.
How do I find new clients?
Having worked in the pharmaceutical industry for 13 years prior to becoming a medical communications consultant was especially helpful in my earlier days as an entrepreneur. My two clients who helped me kickstart my business over 12 years ago were contacts of mine from when I worked in the pharmaceutical industry. I am proud to say that both of these organizations are still clients of mine after all these years.
I try to stay active in local industry events. For example, I recently presented at two of our national pharmaceutical advertising review agency’s assemblies. One of these talks had to be online due to the location of the assembly and I’m proud to say that my online presentation was the first-ever for that particular organization.
LinkedIn has been an important platform for business leads for me. I try to follow and engage with my community there as much as possible. My Marketing 4 Health LinkedIn business page has a small following which is consistently growing. My personal LinkedIn profile has a much larger following, therefore that’s where I tend to receive most of my business leads.
I also have my Marketing 4 Health website, which you are reading right now (thank you!). There are so many things that I have planned for my website from an SEO and content perspective, but unfortunately, it ends up almost always taking a back seat as I would much prefer to work on my clients’ projects. However, I plan on making 2020 the year to update and revise my website so that it can act as an automatic sales funnel.
How much time is devoted to working on medical writing projects vs. managing my business?
I am a solo entrepreneur, therefore I do everything for my business by myself. My rule of thumb is that I spend about 1/3 of my time actually working on client projects, 1/3 working on business administration and 1/3 networking with potential business leads and serving existing clients. This is a rough estimate and it varies depending on the commitments that I have on that particular day. There are days where all I do is write and others where all I do is administrative work. But overall, at the end of the month, the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 ratio is probably fairly accurate.
If you are planning on starting a medical writing career, you need to be aware that you will not be working on billable client projects the entire day. There is a lot of behind the scenes work that is unpaid but mandatory to run a successful business. For example, you will have to prepare proposals for new leads, set up invoices, prepare financial documents for tax purposes and so on.
How do you manage medical writing jobs while raising a family?
That’s a tricky one! I am a widowed, single mother of four young children between the ages of 6 and 12 years old. My family does not live nearby, therefore, cannot help me with my children. I am raising four wonderful human beings and managing a business that I am very proud of all on my own. It’s not easy, but I am making it work and having fun at the same time!
I did not send any of my children to daycare prior to them starting school. They stayed at home with me and were taught from very early on that when mommy is on the phone with a client, they cannot interrupt until I hang up the phone or leave the video conference. That’s actually the easy part. My kids were able to do this because I usually set out food that they could grab without asking and they knew that there would usually be a little surprise at the end, such as going to the park or playing one of their favorite games with me.
The difficult part is researching and writing when there are children in the house. When I am working on a medical writing project, I prefer to concentrate and work long hours at a time. My older children can occupy themselves well enough to allow me the time that I need. However, my 6-year-old loves to talk, which I love because 6 is the most adorable age, but that can be challenging. I have to work around his schedule.
What do I wish I could do better as an entrepreneur?
We all only have 24 hours in a day, no matter how much there is to do. As a solo entrepreneur, there may not be anybody to share the workload so you end up doing everything on your own. Although I am very good at prioritizing, I tend to underestimate the time that will be required for administrative work. Now, when I think an administrative task will require a certain amount of time, I triple it for planning purposes. This seems to be helping.
What sets me apart from other medical writers?
My main advantage is most likely the fact that I have a vast amount of experience in sales and marketing within the pharmaceutical industry. When I write something for a client, my goal is for the communication to meet the client’s strategic objective. Something I was best known for during my tenure as a marketer was that I was able to give the sales reps something that they would find valuable during their sales calls with healthcare professionals. That’s still something that I strive for as a consultant. Of course, there can be regulatory challenges that may prohibit certain things that the client would like to communicate but oftentimes, we can find a way to meet the client’s objective by tweaking the communication or the delivery.
Something that clients also appreciate about my services is that I am familiar with SEO on-page optimization. This requires constant learning and experience but it is well worth the extra effort.
I am fully bilingual (French and English). Although I do most of my work in English, there are occasions when clients need me to proofread a translator’s work to ensure that the meaning has been maintained.
Do I accept all medical writing projects?
The short answer is ‘no’. As mentioned earlier, I have refused to work on a few client projects over the last several of years. On one occasion, the client wanted to exaggerate their product’s clinical data in a way that I felt was not truthful or ethical. I did not want to associate my name to that project. There are also products that claim to have outlandish medical benefits that are obviously just out to scam vulnerable patients. You know the ones that claim to cure cancer by eating the right foods? Never accept those jobs.
There were a couple of occasions when direct competitors of my clients contacted me to discuss a new project that they wanted to initiate. Those discussions had to stop right there because I do not accept to work on a competitor’s project at the same time as a current client’s project. There was never any ill will on behalf of the competitors as they did not know that I was working with their competitor at the time and they always understood and respected my position. It is a small industry so we are bound to bump into each from time to time.
It can be difficult to refuse paying jobs, especially when you are in the early stages of your career. Take on the healthcare communication jobs that you know will benefit either the patients or the healthcare professionals. That philosophy will ensure that you are nurturing your reputation and credibility. That will pay off for you in the long term.
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