May 29th, 2020

How to Become a Medical Copywriter

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Written by Copycat Copywriters

From the Tide pod challenge to bleach injection, the last few years have given us ample evidence of just how much the public needs access to sound medical information—and just how difficult it can be to communicate clearly and succinctly when misinformation has taken hold. 

But you don’t have to be a doctor to participate in the vital task of improving public health.

If you have a passion for writing and for the sciences, medical copywriting could be a great fit for you.

You don’t have to have an M.D., or even a degree in the sciences, to become a medical copywriter. If you’re a solid writer with basic scientific knowledge and a passion for the health sciences, you can begin honing your skill set to help write essential medical copy. Read on to learn how to become a medical copywriter.

What Does a Medical Copywriter Do?

If you’re an altruist who believes in accessible medicine and healthcare, you may feel a little skeptical about the idea of medical copywriting. 

Isn’t copywriting about selling stuff? 

While some medical copywriters do work with pharmaceutical companies and other for-profit parts of the healthcare industry, there are a wide range of players in medicine. 

Thus, there’s also a wide range of copywriting roles.

Medical copywriting could include working for any of the following kinds of clients:

  • Individual medical practices and hospitals
  • Medical education institutions
  • Healthcare nonprofits
  • Scientifically driven companies in the fitness and wellness sectors
  • Medical publishers
  • Public health organizations 
  • Patient advocacy groups
  • Medical technology companies

A web copywriter’s job, first and foremost, is to create high-quality content that helps their client achieve their goals. Likewise, a medical writer’s job is creating high-quality writing that helps healthcare professionals in any and all of these organizations to communicate with patients, share the results of their research, promote public health, and more.

In all cases, medical copywriting must accurately represent scientific studies and information. No matter where you’re working, your goal is clearly and honestly promoting your clients’ products or services.

Sound like your cup of tea? Next, let’s focus on the steps you can take to get started.

Step 1: Immerse Yourself in Science—and in Writing

We already stated that you don’t need a degree in the sciences to be a medical copywriter. Likewise, you don’t need a degree in writing. However, you need basic strengths and interests in both these areas, and depending on your background, you may need to brush up on your skills.

Much of a healthcare copywriter’s job is shapeshifting complex medical jargon into accessible language for the general public. To do that, you have to understand the science, as well as the art of clear communication.

  • If you’re a poet with a passion for healthcare, you may need to build on the basic biology knowledge you learned in high school or college as you begin your new career.

  • If you’re a scientist looking to transition to a new career, be sure to refresh your writing skills as you enter the medical field. 

What’s the best way to get your skills up to pat? It’s all about exposure.

If you need a little more familiarity with scientific terms, consider exploring an area of interest on PubMed. Reading recent studies, seeking to understand their methodology, and looking up any unfamiliar terms can go a long way towards building your knowledge base and getting you comfortable with more jargony terms.  

For scientists and interested writers alike, you can also polish your skill set by subscribing to popular scientific publications like Hopkins Medicine or Psychology Today (depending on your interests) to see how other writers tackle the task of summarizing complex data for a wide audience. Doing so will help you produce effective copy and establish yourself as a medical content writer.

Identify Your Areas of Interest

As we’ve noted, the healthcare industry is a vast field. As you seek to specialize your knowledge and skill set, it’s important to identify your own areas of interest so you can seek out clients with related products and services. After all, you may need very different knowledge to write for a physician’s family medical practice than you would for a medical technology company focused on brain implants that treat degenerative disease. 

Consider the following:

  • What audience are you interested in and qualified to address? Would you prefer writing B2B copy targeted at physicians, addressing a general audience, or tailoring your copy for a niche audience (i.e. people in a certain age range; women; parents, etc.)?

  • What fields of medicine are the most interesting to you? Is there a specific health issue that hits close to home? Are you more interested in writing about diet and nutrition, or acute illness? When you have a clear sense of your own interests, you can begin to build knowledge in a few specific fields.

  • What are your interests and strengths as a science writer?  Are you most comfortable writing technical white papers, informative blog posts, or engaging content?

As you hone in on an area of interest, the next step is sharpening your medical writing chops before you take them out onto the job market.

Step 2: Collect Your Clips

Medical copywriting must be scientifically backed and research-driven.  Assembling a sample clip (or several) can be a great way to test your interest in the medical field while improving your skills. Try writing an 800-word blog post providing a medical topic of your choice. Use the following prompt to get acquainted with the basics of medical copywriting:

  • Read background information on reliable websites, and then find 2-3 peer-reviewed articles related to your topic.

  • Evaluate their research methodology. This could include experiment design, sample size, use of quantitative vs. qualitative data, etc. (Hint: the authors may note the limits of their experiment design in the “Discussion” or “Conclusions” section.)

  • Make sure you understand any charts and graphs included in the articles. Understanding data is a part of the job.

  • Begin to brainstorm and organize your thoughts by summarizing each article in clear, succinct language understandable to a layperson. Define any scientific terms in easy-to-understand terms.

  • Synthesize the research to provide an overview of your topic in your sample blog post. What conclusions can you draw by looking at your studies together?

If you find the process easy and enjoyable, that’s a sign that medical copywriting may be the right fit for you. If you find it tedious or difficult, you can always try a second blog post on another topic. This will help you to further understand your own interests and identify areas for improvement.

Practice Formulating Questions

Your goal is to make your clients’ work accessible. What happens if you’re lost when it comes to a specific part of their product, procedure, or mission? Well, you’ll definitely have a hard time writing about it. Healthcare professionals and scientists who have been immersed in the field for decades know that they may use terminology or shorthand that no one else can understand. 

That’s why they hire medical writers!

As a medical writer, part of your job is to ask the right questions.

If you come across concepts or mechanisms you don’t fully understand, practice generating a list of clarifying questions that you could ask the researchers. 

Step 3: Understand Rules Around Compliance

The first rule as a doctor is “do no harm.” When you’re a medical copywriter, this is an important adage, too. As we’ve discussed, medical misinformation is dangerous, so honesty and transparency is the name of the game when it comes to medical copywriting. And in fact, there are also government regulations in place to make sure that your copywriting doesn’t oversell or misrepresent your clients’ products. 

Be aware of the following regulations:

  • HIPAA & HITeCH compliance – the HIPAA act protects patient confidentiality. There’s a real need for it: 41.2 million medical records were disclosed without patient consent last year alone. As a copywriter, part of your job is ensuring HIPAA compliance. That means:

    • Using adequate safeguards and encryption when accessing patient data
    • Maintaining patient confidentiality and anonymity in all of your medical copy: never use a patient’s identifying information

  • FDA regulations – The Food and Drug Administration regulates pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements and nutraceuticals. They also evaluate advertising claims. If you’re interested in working in this field, be aware that references to specific diseases may be completely off-limits, even if scientific studies back your claims.

  • All healthcare marketing must comply with all FTC truth in advertising laws.

If you have experience writing other kinds of content, prepare to learn about these regulations as you turn towards medical copy

Tip: Scientists are experts at expressing uncertainty while still sharing powerful results. Peer-reviewed articles are a great resource here, too.

Step 4: Start Growing Your Network

Once you’re confident in your medical copywriting skills, start testing the waters. You can start combing through your social and professional network, requesting informational interviews with copywriting agencies, and taking advantage of professional networks. 

Try the following:

  • Join groups related to your interests on LinkedIn and other professional networking sites.

Copycat Copywriters

Are you looking for a medical copywriter? At Copycat, our writers are skilled at transforming technical research into approachable, authoritative medical content. With experience writing for medical professionals, rehab clinics, and CBD brands, we maintain HIPAA and HITECH compliance while establishing a clear, strong voice for your company. 

Request a free piece of copy today!

Sources: 

Formstack. 3 HIPAA compliance facts non-medical businesses need to know.

https://www.formstack.com/blog/2020/3-hipaa-compliance-facts-non-medical-businesses-need-to-know/

FDA. Questions and answers on dietary supplements. https://www.fda.gov/food/information-consumers-using-dietary-supplements/questions-and-answers-dietary-supplements

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