Monday, 19 September 2016

Medical Writing: Do you need a PhD?

When I was looking into becoming a medical writer, I was just at the end of my MSc and trying to decide whether to try and get a job in medical communications or to do a PhD and then move into Med Comms later. The short answer is no you don't necessarily need a PhD to be a medical writer, but some employers think you do and it certainly seems to be the ideal. 
After looking around on the internet I found a few forum posts asking about the same thing, "should I do a PhD to get into Med Comms?”. Most people said no not necessarily. But as far as I could tell, all of them did have PhD’s and were just telling people well maybe yes and maybe no.
Since getting a job as an associate medical writer without a PhD, I've heard a lot more of this conversation occurring within the industry and especially at careers fairs. A lot of people do have PhD’s and quite often post-doctoral experience. But that is normally because they started out in academia and then discovered medical writing, not because they thought that experience would help them get into medical writing.
I recognise that my position is not  common, I proactively went to an employer that happened to be thinking about taking on junior staff. I also advertised my CV on some job sites and I was later contacted by a few agencies. Some thought a PhD might be useful and some didn’t, so don’t be disheartened if one company says no.
As far as I have learned, moving up to more senior positions will not be hampered by not having a PhD either, as the skill set of an academic is somewhat different to that of a medical writer (although not entirely).

Getting that first job is what counts; you can gain far more relevant experience from working within the industry than in academia
I think that doing some science blogging may have helped me to get the position by demonstrating an interest in writing about science and anything that showed interest, capability and initiative is going to help you stand out from the crowd.
My advice to anyone thinking about this line of work would be to talk to potential employers and see whether you would be a good match in terms of culture, major therapy areas, the role that you can expect to take up etc etc. Remember these people want to see potential in their junior staff, someone they can sculpt into a successful writer at their company.
In my opinion, going through the stress of getting a PhD if you don’t want a job that requires one is an option to avoid. If you can get a foothold in the career that you want to end up in and gain some relevant experience, then that would be the obvious choice to me.
Feel free to leave any questions in a comment below and I’d be happy to talk about this in greater depth.


  1. Hi Sam, very nice blog you've got here.
    I was wondering if you could give me any advice on how to get my first medical writing role. I've recently finished my PhD and looking for my first medical writing role. I've written two off-site tests and unfortunately didn't get invited to interview. However, I have an interview coming up for an Associate Medical writer position (I didn't write a test for this), so I was wondering if you could tell me your experience and how you landed your first role. I look forward to hearing from you.
    Thanks, Nike

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Hi Nike, thank you very much! As far as writing tests go, make sure you stick to the brief and make sure that your English is spot on! As an associate writer, they're looking to see whether you show potential. My advice would be to practice writing short abstracts from papers that are related to your field, but perhaps not your direct area of expertise. Again, when you get to the interview stage they're looking for someone who shows potential and is willing to learn.

      I landed my role by going direct to a company that wasn't actually actively recruiting for associate writers. I was talking to them about the very question this post is about! they felt that I showed potential and by being proactive in seeking them out they must have seen something they could work with. So be proactive, look at the recruiters and the big agencies, but don't be afraid to go direct to the smaller companies either.

      Best of luck, Sam


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