What’s going to happen to your career in the healthcare arena if you deal with medical terminology as currently new technology offers a dictation feature that shows each user’s words being transcribed almost in real-time as the person says them? Back in the 1990s, Kurzwell Computer Technologies broke new ground in voice recognition with applications designed to let doctors dictate medical reports, notes pages 218-219 of the book, “Our Final Invention,” by James Barrat.
Did the invention of voice recognition technology change the pay scale or future for medical transcribers? After all, a medical transcriber has to be pretty smart to master the spelling, grammar, speed, and efficiency of typing on a computer keyboard whatever a physician or other scientists dictates in various types of medical records. But what advancement is there on the ladder for the many medical transcribers with college training in medical terminology, spelling, grammar, and in many cases editing and writing who want to move up to permanent full-time employment in medical editing, medical writing, or technical publishing, work that doesn’t depend on how fast they type but how accurately they think and can handle medical terminology, editing, writing, indexing, language and publishing skills?
In the past, transcribers, often called in the past medical transcriptionists, had to decipher the thick accents of doctors from around the world and from regional areas, correctly spelling the medical terms and often correcting a doctor’s grammar. You had a wide variety of transcribers with backgrounds as varied as high-school graduates who had a course in medical transcribing and terminology to college graduates with English majors who needed to work full time and took courses at a two-year college in medical transcribing or records administration. Many hoped to move up the ladder to become administrators in medical records working in medical settings or medical librarians. Did technology help move the transcribers into editing and indexing or technical writing jobs?
Or do the technical writing jobs prefer someone with a life sciences degree rather than a degree in English and a knowledge of medical terminology and transcription? Or perhaps the alternative two-year community college degree in medical records and transcription? Or has technology opened more doors for people who enjoy medical language skills? There are people working in the medical transcription industry with a high-school education and a few courses in medical terminology and transcribing and others in the field with various college degrees. What’s the next step of advancement as technology evolves even further in the speech recognition field?
Why study to be a medical transcriber to break into the medical media, when you can study instead medical writing or editing?
If you want to find out about medical transcriptionists jobs in Sacramento and the surrounding counties, check out the site, Career GPS.com. Look at the projections which reveal that just 14 medical transcriptionist jobs each year in this local five-county area are predicted to be created with a median wage of only $17.83 an hour. There are better opportunities in other areas of the health care field in Sacramento, including entering the field of medical media.
One example might be the medical/technical writer working in the media focusing on health care topics. If you have a degree in technical writing or some type of certificate in science writing or editing, and can learn some medical terminology, it’s easy to find online freelance writing, editing, or book indexing assignments working with the healthcare industry, ghostwriting or co-authoring books with physicians, or writing health news for trade journals.
Another venue is to transfer medical transcription skills to medical writing, editing, or indexing. Instead of typing medical histories or records all day, you can attend medical conferences, cover the speakers’ highlighted information, and write newsletter articles or design online newsletters covering medical conferences anywhere in the world from your computer. You can design the format of the newsletter, write the articles, or work with trade journals in medical economics, running the medical office, or the latest health news for general consumer magazines, online newsletters, and other publications or co-author a book with a scientist.
Work in public relations with hospital executives or not-for-profit agencies. Many nonprofit agencies publish glossy quarterly magazines and online newsletters for employees called house organs. Include publishing, proofreading, or proposal writing or ghostwriting for medical personnel. Here’s how to start.
Technical and medical writing in the health-related fields
Technical or news reporting writing skills can move online from a medical transcriber position to an editor’s or reporter’s job with a publisher of medical or medical economics publications or with a public relations agency. You won’t be able to get a job writing medical reports or journal articles if you are a medical transcriber with a basic high-school diploma.
With a degree in medical writing and editing, you can make it to the public relations department, a medical news publication, or editing, indexing, and proofreading medically-oriented books. Or you could continue your education to become a medical librarian or medical language teacher or trade journal reporter or editor.
Another career possibility is to become a technical writer and specialize in one area of technical writing such as indexing medical textbooks. American River College in Sacramento/Carmichael offers certificates and degrees in technical communications. Another field for the freelance medical reporter might focus on traveling to conventions and conferences to design and create medical newsletters or summarize what was presented at the conferences for a newsletter or medical newspaper. Medical economics publications also use writers with good verbal skills to report on the business end of a dental practice.
You can make a career out of writing grant proposals. Check out the field of medical grant writing. If you want to work with federal contract grant writers or follow a career in nutrition grant writing, check out the website, contract health writer jobs in USA | careerjet.com. Listen to my online audio lecture medical ghostwriting techniques and how to break into the field of independent medical ghostwriting.
How would you like to ghostwrite freelance in the area of your interest specialty, for example nutrition and health?
Others are in regulatory medical writing focusing on nutrition. And then there’s the broader field of marketing writing by nutritionists working for various food manufacturers, food boards, and the government.
The three fields that guide nutritionists and nutrition journalists into are known as nutrition regulatory writing or nutrition marketing communications and grant writing. Some work focuses on writing medical clinical trials involving the testing of food extracts. Locally in Sacramento, a few years ago, UC Davis offered a great nutrition journalism course that also was helpful for making contacts if you wanted to switch from being a nutritionist to being a nutritional and medical ghostwriter or journalist. The 3-credit (unit) course was called Nutrition 129. Journalistic Practicum in Nutrition.
Nutrition studies and writing, editing, or publishing educational material
This field can branch out into medical ghostwriting, for example regulatory writing for nutrition and medical journals, clinical trials writing, or the other end of medical writing for freelance (independent) ghostwriters, called marketing writing. You’re forewarned, though that the publishing field is continuing to merge as more niche, digital, and smaller markets open. But educational technology needs instructional materials for those training in medical fields and the para-professional skills.
The University of California, Davis course, whenever it’s offered consists of the following, according to its website: Lecture—2 hours; discussion—1 hour. Prerequisite: course 111; a course in written or oral expression or consent of instructor. Critical analysis and discussion of current, controversial issues in nutrition; the use of journalistic techniques to interpret scientific findings for the lay public. Students will be required to write several articles for campus media. Course may be repeated once for credit.—III. (III.) Stern
For graduate students in nutrition, there’s also a grant writing course at UC Davis (in the nutrition department). Lecture—1.5 hours; discussion—1.5 hours. Prerequisite: graduate standing in Nutrition or consent of instructor. Preparation of grants for governmental agencies (particularly NIH and USDA) and private foundations. Students will write a research grant or fellowship application. May be repeated once for credit with consent of instructor. Offered in alternate years.—III. Stern
Here are some suggestions for training to help you specialize in regulatory, grant writing, or marketing writing in the field of nutrition or related fields such as metabolic and genetic dietetics or food sciences. For generalist information on breaking into the medical and broader ghostwriting fields, see the paperback book titled, 101 Ways to Find Six-Figure Medical or Popular Ghostwriting Jobs & Clients : A Step-by-Step Guide, ASJA Press imprint, iUniverse, Inc. ISBN: 0-595-41679-9. 2006. Browse the Book on the publisher’s site or on Google Books.
Medical and technical writers, medical librarians, medical language specialists, editors, indexers, retired nurses, teachers, journalists, and information researchers also can make great ghostwriters, especially in the medical, medico-legal, historical, or biographical specializations for technical, genetic, and pharmaceutical clients and also in the fields of corporate or medical marketing writing.
You don’t necessarily need a degree in science (although it helps) to earn six figures as a medical or technical ghostwriter. What you do need is to focus or specialize in one subject or area of expertise that you’re working with daily and be a focused writer who can make the complex familiar.
If you choose medical ghostwriting, you’d be writing pharmaceutical reports or informational books about research and clinical trials performed by scientists, physicians, and researchers. You could work with pharmaceutical firms, medical software manufacturers, or for public relations firms or literary agents. You’d be making a lot more than the usual $10,000 a ghostwriter may receive for writing a career development how-to book. Medical ghostwriters can receive up to $20,000 per report.
Pharmaceutical and clinical trials reports or medical journal articles often are written by ghostwriters. Ghostwriting medical or other factual information is big business. It’s one way pharmaceutical manufacturers communicate with physicians.
If you want to ghostwrite in this field, get paid to investigate information physicians receive about medicines and interview researchers, you can take the roads leading to steadier writing jobs, document management, or run your own business as a medical, business, or celebrity ghostwriter.
How Much to Charge for Medical Media Ghostwriting
The two biggest problems ghostwriters contend with is paring down redundancy-repetition in a speech, book, or article and inconsistencies in memoirs and novels and listening with an ‘ear’ for how the ghostwritten work portrays the ‘voice’ of resilience (point of view and style) of the non-silent author. You’re hired to write and eliminate redundancy. Most ghostwriters are paid to ‘microedit’ a manuscript.
You also must play editor and organize similar topics that have to be grouped together. You must check for indents and other spacing problems such as too many “hard returns” on the keyboard, tab spacing, spelling errors, word usage, and grammar inconsistencies in the notes or recorded voice of a professional or entrepreneur. Other times a ghostwriter is hired to write an entire book, booklet, speech, or article from scratch based on recorded interviews.
You’re paid to be highly creative and down-to-earth factual, stable and under control. Your writing must be animated, not flat, and you have to satisfy your client’s wishes as to how the book sounds to the outside world. You must follow directions and yet be visionary, be charismatic in print, and promote what your client is offering with facts that can be checked for credibility. You represent your client’s reputation and career.
The client, also called the primary author most likely has an agent and a publisher, but needs a silent co-author-a ghostwriter-whose name will never appear on the book to partner on a book-to-book or project-to-project basis. A literary agent or a celebrity’s manager may be the person most likely to ask you to ghostwrite a book. Sometimes, a physician, nutritionist, traveler, executive, entrepreneur, video producer, or any type of scientist may seek out a medical ghostwriter.
You may be contacted by someone who has been in the news, or a politician. Usually, though, you’ll have to let others know you’re a ghostwriter because you’ll be invisible.
Microediting and Macroediting
Steady work in ghostwriting usually comes from medical ghostwriting for physicians, pharmaceutical firms, and biomedical scientists. Medical ghostwriters may write articles and advertising copy that appear in medical journals, regulatory articles about clinical trials, or medical marketing and continuing education materials.
All kinds of ghostwriters deal with macroediting and microediting issues and need to manage these issues. Microediting is selective editing. It is similar to your writing and editing being examined under a microscope to check for confusing sentences, weak points, flawed arguments, inconsistencies, and bad logic, errors in math, spacing, and correction of tables.
In microediting, you need to validate and edit the item showing any changes from start to finish. You’d need to include historical information at micro-level. In order to find the historical information, for example, of a study from start to finish with applications and outcomes, you need to look at periodic surveys.
For a great definition of microediting, macroediting, and copy editing, look at the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) Journal, Volume 15, No. 4, page 19, Fall 2000. It’s online. Macroediting is editing the big picture.
Most of what you’ll do in general ghostwriting is macroediting. You’d need to check for parallelism. You’d have to make sure various elements are parallel if they belong in the same series.
You’d make a list of graphs, figures, or tables. You’d check words for verb tense to make sure there were no inconsistencies or changes, and explain unfamiliar words. Copyediting of biomedical material consists of correcting language, format, and mechanical style to meet publication standards. You’d be required to do “substantive editing” and proofreading of your work at take charge of it by managing the editing process.
Most ghostwriters don’t only write the life stories of celebrities, corporate case histories and success stories, current events, or the rise and fall of executives and politicians. The majority of ghostwriters write books for health care professionals, scientists, or attorneys.
Biomedical ghostwriters use a particular style that makes the text unique to medical information, such as continuing education materials, advertising, or clinical trials and regulatory reports. You can teach yourself the stylistics of editing by reading the work of other medical writers who consistently produce good work.
There are principles of editing medial text and books on this subject to read. Start with the American Medical Association’s AMA Manual of Style. Look for readability scales and grammar. Analyze medical text books and reports. You can form or join a medical writing critique group. If there’s none nearby, create your own online. What you’re looking for is to learn how to identify grammar and rhetoric while examining the trends in medical writing related to the standards of what is acceptable.
Medical writing has its own standards of what is correct. You need to understand what information you require and locate the sources. Then you should evaluate what information you find by searching medical, business, and government regulatory sources.
Medical and pharmaceutical marketing ghostwriters don’t necessarily need to have majored in a life science. A sizable number of specialty marketing ghostwriters come from the ranks of English or journalism majors that enroll for a master’s degree or certificate in medical writing and ask for an internship as a medical ghostwriter.
The fastest way to begin is to open your own ghostwriting business as a freelancer and outsource medical ghostwriters to work for you that already have experience in a specialty. You can run a temporary ghostwriting service hiring those with the experience you don’t have to take temporary assignments in regulatory or marketing ghostwriting. You can also learn by practicing the type of writing your clients are doing.
Ghostwriters of celebrity biographies may be chosen from a team or pool of writers who specialize in biographies of entertainers or other figures in the news. You may be hired to write speeches, books, booklets, articles, annual business reports, scripts, multimedia presentations, learning materials, news releases, and more for professionals, publishers, and corporate executives.
What might you expect to hear as a ghostwriter from the author with whom you are partnered for a project? There are lots of humorous situations you’ll find when ghostwriting.
Most ghostwriters are invisible. Here are some get started tips from ghostwriters who wrote to me (asking for anonymity here) to answer my emailed question on what was the most important advice to give a newcomer to ghostwriting. Here are some of their advice:
1. Don’t get involved if there is no time to write it and way too much money involved, even if your cut of the advance is a big one. The pressure of time and a ridiculously large advance will fall on you, unfair though it may be. You’ll be expected to work miracles overnight.
2. If you can’t get the expert to give you SPECIFIC ideas that would work as bullet points under each of his chapter ideas in the proposal, it doesn’t matter if everyone is over the moon about the proposal. YOU judge the proposal, and YOU find out what the expert’s main ideas are. If they’re awfully fuzzy, listen to your instincts and say “no.”
3. Do not do a minute’s worth of work until the check to you has cleared. Period. No excuses. It’s not your problem that the author’s contract with the publisher has been held up, or that the agency can’t front you the money for your first payment, and that the author is so strapped for money this month. Let them find someone else to do it, if they can’t pay you from the moment you begin work, forget them.
4. Be very careful about plagiarism. Experts who are not writers are prone to accidentally plagiarizing from the Internet or from other authors. If it doesn’t sound like they wrote it, they probably didn’t.
5. When the agent and editor say they want you to capture the expert’s “voice,” they don’t mean his actual voice, they mean the voice he would ideally have given what their flap copy has to say about him. Throw in his catchphrases to make it sound like “him,” but the actual voice should not sound like how he actually talks or, god forbid, writes.
6. Ask the expert why he wants a ghostwriter. If it’s being imposed upon him by the publisher and you sense he has airs about being an author, RUN.
Q. How Much Do You Charge?
Usually, it’s a flat fee. Sometimes, I’ve done deals where the flat fee is based on a certain number of my hours at my hourly rate, and the author and I work together to estimate the time needed and we communicate when I’m running short or long, and in the end, they pay me according to my actual hours. If I’m short, they may “bank” their hours for use on the next project (this is only for clients who write multiple books with me).
I have not yet written speeches or booklets or brochures. Once, I did ghost an article for a book I’d edited. I’ve never worked with a PR agency. I’ve ghosted books by professionals and a semi-celebrity.
How Much to Charge Depends upon What Your Client Will Pay for Visibility
You have the choice to charge by a day rate or by the word. Corporate ghostwriting usually offers you a flat fee or hourly amount. If your manuscript goes through several iterations (revisions) before approved by a group, a corporation, or even one person, you’ll get more money charging an hourly amount. Be sure to specify in your contract that you’ll be paid an hourly amount for each revision of your manuscript.
Ghostwriters are outsiders brought into a corporation or nonprofit agency to present favorable images and words. You are either looked upon by a company as an outsider who might make more trouble than you are worth because you haven’t been an insider long enough.
Or you’re looked upon as a connecting bridge. The bridge is there to convince, promote, and represent the company’s image, reliability, and credibility to the world. You’re there to connect the outside world to what benefits the company offers. Using words and images, you share meaning. You communicate. And you are paid according to the results the company gets from your words.
Ghostwriting White Papers and Annual Reports
In a corporate setting you’ll be ghostwriting annual reports and “white papers” for an executive, committee, or group. You’ll also be ghostwriting articles and perhaps speeches, presentations, or scripts for slide shows and training videos. Articles and white papers usually offer you pay based on a per-word basis.
When ghostwriting sales letters, charge by the hour. Direct mail marketing and other types of sales letters may be ghostwritten for advertising agencies and marketing firms. In an advertising agency or marketing corporation, you probably will be paid by the day for ghostwriting. If you’re experienced, the current rate is about $500 to $600 per day. At this high-end rate, you’ll be coming into an office and working under supervision so your hours can be clocked.
Rates: Ghostwriting Speeches
Doing corporate work requires negotiation on contracts. If you know more about the business or product that the managers, you can negotiate on a per-day fee basis. Corporate ghostwriting often requires speech writing. The current rate for experienced corporate speechwriters is about $1,000 per day to write a five-minute speech.
At the $1,000 per day rate, make sure there is no fluff, unnecessary, or distracting words in your speech. A five-minute speech must pack in the most important points the corporation wants to make about a product, service, or situation.
How to Evaluate Your Ghostwritten Speech
Read your speech aloud and record it. Play it back and listen how it sounds to the ear. Ask several listeners to give you feedback before you cut and revise. What you’re looking for is not only effective words but the cadence and rhythm of the speech. Listen to what you write by reading it aloud and playing it back several times. Is it smooth and consistent?
Your goal is efficacy. Pare the words to bare bones. Look for impact. Keep sentences short and simple. Use two-sentence paragraphs.
Rates: Ghostwriting Corporate Web Pages
When writing corporate Web pages, you become a “content writer” charging by the hour. The current rate is about $100 per hour. Rates vary tremendously with the size of the corporation, the geographic location, and your experience.
If you work an eight-hour day at $100 an hour, billing $800 a day is expected. Let the managers know what you’ll bill for an eight-hour day if the project will take you eight hours. Short word count items such as Web pages, sales letters, news releases, or brief feature articles allow you to invoice your employers by the hour.
Most short projects require several revisions and lots of rewriting before they are approved. Of course, rates will change with the passing years. Specialize in one area of expertise or interest.
If you choose medical ghostwriting, you’d be writing pharmaceutical reports or informational books about research and clinical trials performed by scientists, physicians, and researchers. You could work with pharmaceutical firms, medical software manufacturers, or for public relations firms or literary agents.
You’d be making a lot more than the usual $10,000 a ghostwriter may receive for writing a career development how-to book. Medical ghostwriters can receive up to $20,000 per report. Pharmaceutical and clinical trials reports or medical journal articles often are written by ghostwriters. Ghostwriting medical or other factual information is big business. It’s one way pharmaceutical manufacturers communicate with physicians.
There are two types of medical writing or ghostwriting. There’s writing of medical trials and/or scientific writing for journals and then there’s marketing writing for advertising copy, public relations, media news releases, and sales data about pharmaceuticals, products, services, and medical devices.
Whether you choose a career in ghostwriting or writing under your own byline as a medical journalist, when you think of finding a job as a writer, think about what materials you will develop in areas such as medical marketing or science and health writing for popular periodicals, medical economics and business publications, infomercials, newsletters, Web sites, preparing training materials, or writing articles, copy, or abstracts for professional journals.
Medical transcribers, medical record administrators, and medical case history writers, librarians, indexers, editors, interpreters, and proofreaders are medical language specialists. Language specialists can become writers, editors, or indexers. They can become book packagers and information brokers. What it takes is learning the ability to turn technical and scientific terms into plain language for a general consumer and audience. Write for general magazines and trade journals. Focus on trends or magazine journalism.
In my book, How to Find Six-Figure Medical Ghostwriting Jobs: A Step-by-Step Guide, ASJA Press imprint, iUniverse,inc. you can read the chapter on how to make the transition from medical transcriber to medical editor or writer, ghostwriter, medical public relations writer, and several other categories that make use of your verbal/language skills and medical terminology expertise.
Research articles and interview experts. Here’s how to transform your medical terminology knowledge, listening ability, and keyboarding skills into interviewing, researching, and explaining clearly for people with non-technical backgrounds what new findings are out there that concern the reader’s well-being.
If in the future, medical transcribers will be replaced by computers that take technical dictation and transcribe correctly all accents, your highly developed listening and medical language specialist skills could be transformed into administrative or editorial record maintenance work. You could go in several directions: medical record administration and coding, research, editing, sales of transcribing software and equipment, or medical journalism.
For those who always wanted to write or edit medical publications, scripts, medical record histories, case histories, or books, here’s a guide to becoming a medical writer or editor. For those interested in video, you could write and produce medical videos by interviewing experts on camera or by working behind the scenes to produce medical or self-help videos (on DVDs).
Medical, healthcare, and science or technical writers and editors (who have some skills similar to transcribers) earned a median annual salary of $37,400, had a 23 percent (long term-11-year) job growth rate, an excellent short-term outlook, excellent job security rating, an average prestige rating, and a low-stress and strain rating, according o Money magazine’s March 1994 job rankings article.
Currently, the growth rate is still in effect. Technical writers ranked number 18 out of 100 occupations ranked as “The Best Jobs in America.” (Their sources included the Bureau of Labor Statistics.) Money also stated that the best places to work in this kind of job are Silicon Valley, Boston, or Washington, DC.
How giant a leap is it for a medical transcriber (earning an average of $15,000 to $30,000 after ten to twenty years on the job) to transfer good language skills and advance to a career in biomedical communications-to any one of the following medical publications professional job titles where salaries of more than $30,000 can be reached without having to be on the same job for decades?
Jobs in medical journalism include researching trends, medical marketing, videography, and the following print or electronic editorial positions: Medical journalist, science writer, medical copyeditor, technical writer/editor, publications proofreader, scientific publication coordinator, pharmaceutical copywriter, documentation analyst, hospital grant proposal writer and fundraising publicist/press release writer, trade journal reporter/stringer, health communications publicist, medical desktop publisher, desktop video producer, vocational teacher, corporate trainer, medical communications public speaker, newsletter and publications designer, medical sales direct mail marketing writer, medical textbook editor, back-of-book and periodical indexer, medical journal article abstractor, member of the medical, computer, or scientific press, on-line (computerized) medical editing service entrepreneur, medical radio scriptwriter, health video training scriptwriter, infomercial writer/producer, niche publisher, abstractor, or freelance medical communications coordinator/writer/editor combination.
Any one of these professional jobs requires the same language skills every medical transcriber has, plus a flair for creative expression in print or electronic media. Therefore, if you are tired of typing all day, tired of having your keystrokes and bathroom breaks electronically monitored, and tired of carpal tunnel syndrome surgery, or if you are far enough over fifty to place less emphasis on high speed typing and more on creativity and intuition enhancement-perhaps you’d like to become a medical writer, editor, or publications coordinator.
Some medical transcribers have liberal arts degrees or coursework in English, communications, journalism, or professional writing and editing or education. Others have two-year community college degrees or certificates in health information technology management or in medical transcription.
Numerous medical transcribers used to have English teaching credentials and a decade ago were re-entering the workforce after taking time out to raise a family. Others are laid-off workers from other fields, including newspaper reporting. Now that people with liberal arts degrees can find work in the digital media or medical publishing, you don’t have to remain in a medical transcription career working long hours wearing ear phones/headphones and transcribing medical terminology dictated by health care professionals, or type medical records all day. You can move beyond repetitive work to writing marketing or regulator medical materials depending upon your educational background or training.
A decade ago in one semester’s beginning medical transcription class at a community college, at least one student had a master’s degree in a foreign language and another had a master’s degree in English and was a fulltime freelance writer. At a community college’s medical terminology class, a decade ago, more male students were beginning a course of study in preparation for careers as medical transcribers. But today technology has changed and the outlook for medical transcriptionists in Sacramento isn’t as ‘good’ as it was 10 or 20 years ago before dictation software evolved to where it is today.
A decade ago, in a community college medical transcription class, one male student with a degree in architectural drafting who was changing careers to medical transcription said he enrolled because he has a wife and children to support and thought that medical transcription would provide a better chance of finding employment and job security. More males are coming into the field. But why get trapped in a job where you’re typing dictation all day wearing ear phones?
Do you know what that does to your hearing and fingers after a full day of listening to dictation and typing fast on a computer keyboard? Would you rather be editing or writing articles for the medical media or putting together panels of speakers, or even creating events for conventions or meetings of professional associations in the medical field? All these possibilities can make use of your knowledge of medical terminology and good verbal/writing/language skills.
At the same time, a lot of more mature women seeking more of a career in less of a job market are taking courses in medical terminology and transcription. Some are coming from the ranks of college graduates with degrees in English and professional writing.
Those with these degrees are seeking road paths to advancement using their medical terminology skills. After taking courses in terminology, anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology, and advanced medical transcription, these students with degrees in humanities are using the training to seek jobs in medical writing and editing.
They’re finding jobs by joining professional and trade associations and advertising in the trade journals or answering the ads in the job “hot sheets.” The organizations they’re joining include The American Medical Writers Association, The National Association of Science Writers, The Council of Biology Editors, Freelance Editorial Association, National Association of Writing Consultants, American Association of Journalists and Authors, and other organizations (addresses appear at end of this article).
Being a medical language specialist means having the option to advance when you want to from transcriber to editor or writer. With the advent of voice recognition computers, more medical transcription work will be directed to editing and proofreading-such as using theAmerican College of Physicians and Surgeons guidelines to prepare the articles of scientists and physicians to meet the editorial requirements and standards of the majority of medical and scientific journals.
What Does A Medical Writer Do?
A variety of jobs exist for medical writers depending upon whether you work for a biotechnical industry company doing molecular genetics research or gene-splicing and DNA experiments, or whether you work for a biomedical firm which manufactures and sells medical instruments and equipment, software, or medical and hospital supplies.
In a pharmaceutical manufacturing firm, an ad copywriter works in-house in the advertising, public relations, or marketing communications department writing drug advertisements for brochures on the newest drugs sent or directed to physicians and medical journal advertisements. The copywriters also work closely with the art department to design brochures and the material that accompanies prescription drugs, the writing on the packaging, and direct mail marketing material going to physicians and hospitals.
In a hospital, the medical writer may write grant proposals for a new building, new MRI imaging system, or other needs as well as proofread literature published by the hospital for the doctors or for patient education pamphlets and other literature.
Some medical communicators are hired to be “go-getters” in order to make calls, do fundraising (find money), and write other material accompanying grant proposals for further fudning of new or existing projects of a medical or community nature.
Where Jobs Are
Jobs for medical writers and editors exist in medical publishing with book publishing houses or with the medical newspaper and trade journal press going to physicians or allied healthcare personnel. Freelance medical writers for trade journals telephone professionals such as respiratory therapists, nurses, physicians, and physical therapists, ask much focused questions (such as all the steps the therapist uses to teach patients how to use and clean respiratory therapy equipment).
After interviewing a variety of professionals by phone, the interview is taped through a telephone recording device. The medical writer transcribes the article, editing out wordiness and redundancy. The article is finally whittled down to the 2,000 or 3,000 words the publisher usually requires.
In an oral interview, there is a lot of skipping around, so the article must be organized. Each subject is cut and pasted by computer in categories. Like subjects are grouped together. Finally, the article is polished, proofread, edited, and checked for organization and active verbs. Sentences are shortened to about 10 to 15 words each, and a hook lead is put at the beginning to attract and keep the attention of the reader.
A medical article directed to physicians may go through several iterations, revisions and copyediting, then checked once more with the experts for accuracy. Unlike a home based transcriber left alone with a tape, the home based freelance writer, editor, or staff reporter can always pick up the phone and ask the doctor to clarify facts or explain technical material for an audience of general readers or allied healthcare workers from other fields, including nursing and technology.
The article is finally checked for its ability to stick to the subject and provide information for the reader to use to make professional decisions. Most medical articles are written for other medical professionals or technicians as readers. The freelance writer for healthcare publications read by the public is written in a clear-to-understand news style like a popular magazine or newspaper article, following the publisher’s guidelines.
Medical textbook or journal publications editors are hired for their ability to copyedit manuscripts written by professionals. The grammar and spelling are clarified, according to the publisher’s style. Medical book indexers create indexes at the back of medical books, periodical indexers index medical journal, magazine, and newsletter publications, and journal abstractors summarize in 200 words or less, the important information extracted from medical journal articles for library directories, reference books, and research periodicals.
Jobs for communicators, editors, and writers-with knowledge of medical terminology-are available in medical school libraries and public affairs offices. You’re not limited to being a transcriber, coder/indexer, tumor registrar, or a records administrator/technician, particularly if you have an artistic or creative flair with medical language and a need to express yourself in print or electronic media.
The Job of the Biomedical Publications Coordinator
The hospital publications coordinator edits and coordinates the production of a variety of publications from concept through design, pre-press, printing, and distribution. A publications coordinator working in a hospital or medical school teaching facility earns an average of $2,300 to $2,700 monthly.
You don’t need a four-year degree to coordinate publications. A two-year degree in technical writing, journalism, English, health or nutrition information management technology, or transcription plus a few short journalism, writing, proofreading and editing courses taken at your local university’s extended studies department is helpful, but not required.
The best experience is on-the-job or through volunteer work at medical meetings open to journalists. Volunteer on the publications of professional associations, hospitals, research institutes, and medical schools. Ask what you can do for your medical trade journals, volunteer at conferences in the press room or on the public relations team of the organization putting on the conference or medical convention.
Skills required include the ability to proofread, copyedit, and correct text for accuracy, clarity, punctuation, grammatical and syntactical correctness and continuity. The publications coordinator is responsible for written articles, coordinating the receipt of articles by other authors, and working with graphic artists to develop design and layout.
The publications coordinator works independently, copyediting and proofreading all publications that come out of the institution. Editing and writing is done on brochures, newsletters, policy papers, and conference volumes.
Skills needed are the same as for a transcriber, minus the constant high-speed keyboarding. The work is more varied and a lot more creative.
Medical writing is both an intellectual and creative outlet if you’re the artistic or literary type of person with a focus on medical communications, mental health information dissemination, or observing and reporting the news on new advances in molecular genetics, epidemiology, biology, medical software, medical economics, advertising and publicity, or pharmacy and the consumer.
It’s for the investigative type person also, interested in working in health promotion communications, pathology, radiology, or medical training communications and multimedia instructional design for training healthcare personnel. Or perhaps you’d like to write about the home health care industry and broadcast or share the news.
You’ll do a lot of proofreading, copyediting, and correcting text for accuracy. You’ll need excellent narrative skills for writing press releases to announce new products. In a hospital setting or in a research institute, writing may be done for the publicity department or for the manager of internal communications.
The Work of the Publications Coordinator Offers Variety
The publications coordinator writes speeches that physicians give at conferences. You’ll need creative skills in planning the layout of various materials such as flyers, newsletters, covers or book jackets.
You may even help plan for events, medical trade shows, conferences, press and scientific meetings, seminars, and conventions or work in public relations. Or you may be assigned to be a documentation analyst, production editor, or liaison between the graphic design courseware design, and editorial departments.
If you can conceptualize production schedules for publications from start to finish and coordinate all steps involved, you have the qualifications to become a publications coordinator. You’ll need strong computer word-processing skills, desktop publishing skills, a knowledge of how graphic arts work together with text, a knowledge of how databases work (for retrieval using databases), and word-processing computer applications. You’ll need familiarity with concepts and medical or scientific terminology in your field of choice.That’s where community college training in technical writing and editing is helpful.
Training for Writing Careers Using Medical Terminology
The kind of education you’ll need for this generalist type of job is the equivalent of advanced education in English, Journalism, communications, or public relations/advertising copywriting, or a combination of education and experience or self-learning in an editorial function and medical terminology.
You can get this type of training by taking an adult school or community college journalism course, by reading yourself, taking a correspondence course in journalism or copyediting, or asking a journalism professor to give you a reading list in how to copyedit or report medical news. Try volunteering in the information or public relations department or work on the newsletter of your local medical school, teaching or county hospital, pharmaceutical manufacturing company, or biomedical research institute.
Learning On the Job, Through Internships, Or By Volunteering
If you join the American Medical Writers Association, core courses are given at conventions that will help you make the transition from transcriber to medical writer/editor. It’s not an absolute necessity to pursue a four-year degree in the humanities.
It’s better to get experience as a freelance writer or editor on publications where you can volunteer your time or serve an internship. Ask your local professional organization if you can volunteer to work on a newsletter, trade association journal, or magazine doing editing and writing.
It’s still possible to be an autodidact. Train yourself medical writing and editing or book indexing by reading books recommended by the professional associations for medical and science writers, biology editors, or back-of-book indexers.
So far, there is no such thing as a certified medical editor, indexer, abstractor, publicist, ad copywriter, video scriptwriter, or print writer. However, many courses and continuing educational materials are always available from the trade and professional writers’ and editors’ associations. Many courses are offered at conventions for continuing education for medical writers and editors. Nurses seeking alternate careers in medical editing or writing can also enter this field.
Attend Medical Meetings and Press Conferences
Medical professional research institutes, groups, and associations often invite the press to attend medical meetings to mingle with and interview physicians and scientists on their latest research. Attend these meetings with other journalists and freelancers, physicians, and scientists.
Attend the conventions and visit the monthly or quarterly meetings of your local chapters of some of these organizations.
Open an On-Line Medical Editing Service
Open an on-line medical editing service, using your computer and taped interviews to produce biomedical, scientific, and technical manuscripts. Also, you may specialize in health information reporting for the health and fitness or nutrition mass media publications.
Biomedical Curriculum Writing and Editing
Curriculum design writing is a burgeoning, big industry. Write or edit training and curriculum materials for careers in medical insurance billing, transcription, medical editing, or science journalism. Write about, report on, or edit training materials in medical records technology training. Some examples are writing about indexing and coding training materials and curriculum design books or trade journals (magazines of the industry).
Write about or edit materials that help to train others to eventually become accredited records technicians or registered records administrators by writing books about the subject without actually being one. Medical communications includes reporting and interviewing skills, courseware design writing, instructional technology, distance teaching materials publishing, and health sciences editing.
Freelancing For the Medical and Science Market
As an independent contractor, even if you don’t have a degree, you can work at home freelance as a medical editor, journalist, or indexer in your own business. You can be a success story case history manager and interview people by telephone about why they switched from one medical product to another. Critique other technical, medical, or science, writers’ materials and edit it for practice in writing according to the guidelines of the particular publication.
Start freelancing by attending conventions and writing summaries of what medical papers were presented. You can abstract or summarize medical articles from journals for abstracting services. They’re listed in your Yellow Pages phone directory and in directories of abstracting services that you can research in public or college libraries.
You can find dozens of markets for your freelance writing in the medical field. Freelance writers interested in medical or scientific subjects are sometimes asked to contribute articles to encyclopedias designed for high-school students.
Associate Editors Are Also Needed
Starting out with the job title of associate editor can get you started in your medical communications career as a language specialist. Associate editors also are hired to work in other countries for chemical or medical news published by professional societies, such as the American Chemical Society, or other scientific and professional groups.
Apply For Open Forums, Seminars, Scholarships, and Grants for Science Journalists and Freelance Writers
The American Chemical Society offers science reporter’s workshops, an open forum for science writers seeking to expand their skill and knowledge in science writing. Twenty applicants a year are selected, for example, to participate in this particular workshop. You can apply for science writing fellowships at a variety of labs, such as the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA. The American Cancer Society offers a science writer’s seminar.
Work is sometimes available as a public information representative or grant proposal writer for a variety of universities. Go down to your local grants funding office focusing on medical funding and go through their books and guidelines on how to write medical grant proposals. Courses are also offered through extended studies departments of colleges on grant proposal writing for medical and nonprofit organizations.
Apply for fellowships for writers, journalists, and freelancers. There are fellowships offered, such as the Sigma-Tau Foundation’s Alzheimer Journalism Fellowship for stories written or broadcast about the medical, scientific, or psychological aspect of Alzheimer’s disease.
Look For A Niche, Seek Out Alternative Pathways
There are many alternatives and possibilities for advancing your career in the direction of biomedical communications or medical news writing and editorial work. For example, some medical journalists have written books on subjects ranging from nutrition research or agoraphobia to how to identify and reduce your risks for a variety of diseases.
Look at the monthly list of books written by journalist members of the National Association of Science Writers. Many are freelance writers working at home in biomedical communications, writing, or on-line editing. There’s even a specialty in television and radio medical news broadcasting/reporting for persons whose aptitudes are more oral than print journalism and book publishing-oriented.
An updated national directory of university science communications courses, workshops, and scholarships is published by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, School of Journalism. For further information, write to Sharon Dunwoody, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin, 821University Avenue, Madison, WI 53706.
To train yourself, go to annual science writers’ meetings such as those held by the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Association, and the AMA. These meetings last a few days. Other medical associations hold day-long seminars. Join associations for medical writers and science writers such as the American Medical Writers Association or the National Association of Science Writers, or the various freelance Biology Editors Associations and similar groups.
I learned more about medical writing by attending week-long medical meetings and one-day seminars for journalists than I ever did in my graduate writing course work in college. You can even write to schools of public health to find out what kind of meetings or fellowships are open to biomedical communicators and journalists or freelancers.
Numerous medical reporters lack science degrees. They could be liberal arts or journalism school graduates or nurses and therapists seeking writing careers. We learn by going to medical meetings, reading, and interviewing.
If you’re a transcriber now, don’t ever be frightened away by the fact that you didn’t major in biology. You can learn and write at the same time and check all facts with the experts like you do when transcribing unfamiliar medical dictation.
There are plenty of books and journal articles in medical and university libraries to re-read. Practice making the
complex clearer to understand for mass media readers or for your technical audience. (I once had a job as a technical writer re-writing computer manuals. I had to shorten sentences to ten words each and make the long words easier to understand.)
You can become a health reporter. Don’t try to cover all sides. Medical writing is a challenge to reporters and editors with liberal arts backgrounds or with a transcription background and no degree.
Never let your training or lacks of it bias you. Your job is to interview the experts and check back with them to make sure they mean what you say in print. Keep your interviews on tape so you don’t misquote. The first rule you learn is to never take a press release at face value.
Most of the work you’ll do may be as a writer of articles who will gather background for lay-language newsletters and other publications covering a medical institution’s advance in treatment and prevention or research and training.
You’ll use your terminology and knowledge of anatomy and pathophysiology in ways similar to the person with a B.A. in biology who tries to get a journalism job in the public affairs office. What you’ll use is your transcription skills now transferred to the job of “paying attention to detail and institutional information.”
Advancement is to publications project manager or director of public relations, marketing communications, or publications. You may start out as an editorial assistant if you’re organized and good at proofreading and fact checking publications.
The medical editorial assistant provides support for an editorial staff. For this job, you’ll need an interest in biomedicine and some editorial office experience (journalism workshop course or public relations/public affairs volunteer experience or internship).
To create an internship, call the public affairs department of a biomedical organization and ask for unpaid internships on a part-time basis to gain experience. Tell them that you’re using your medical transcription skills in an expanded environment. You’ll be hired when you present yourself as the least financial risk to a new employer. With medical writing, editing, and indexing skills, you’ll have a wider opportunity to advance vertically up the medical media career ladder instead of moving horizontally from one transcription assignment to another.
Technology is making it possible for doctors to dictate into microphones and have the text print out on computer screens, creating medical records with various software programs. That’s the future. In the meantime, the predictions for pay and growth opportunities for medical transcribing can be found online. Look for job growth in allied fields when you’re transferring your skills to new careers.