What medical writers look for in a medical communications agency

Article written by Paris Taylor, Head of X4 Communications.

Medical writing is an art of fine balance between adhering to rules, delivering client’s expectations, ensuring accuracy in science and being able to present it all in an engaging message. It’s a challenge that offers variety and the chance to develop a broad skillset.

Every day I connect talented freelance medical writers to communications agencies and get the chance to find out what writers are looking for in their employer. Most recently I spoke to Stephanie Wasek, who is a principal medical writer at Lucid Group, to hear her advice on what she looks for when joining a medical communications agency.

From a work-life balance to openness to new ideas, read the full interview below.

Culturally, what is important to you in a medical communications agency?

Over my career, I’ve had a chance to try on different agency cultures, both through freelance/contract and perm work, and a stellar agency culture has become critical for me in choosing where I want to be.

First is a real focus on work/life balance, backed up by actual material support — do they respond to ‘I’m only one person, my time and brain are not infinite’ with pragmatic help to make X, Y and Z happen?

Second is a place where people are driven by intellectual curiosity, to know and understand about science or history or food or languages or art — whatever their interest or hobby is. When you have this, it sparks ideas and conversations that inform the work and bring the team together and, ultimately, make you excited to start work in the morning.

Finally, it’s openness — to new ideas, to new ways of doing things. That starts with a recognition that, no matter how long you’ve been at it, you don’t know everything, and there are a hundred different ways to get to the same endpoint. Every day in medcomms is a process.

What advice would you give your junior (just starting out as a medical writer) self?

Creating is always an exhilarating and brutal thing. The combination of adhering to the rules, delivering what the client wants, ensuring the science is accurate, while still making the message engaging, and doing it all on time? That’s an art. And like all art, it takes practice, practice and more practice. Know that sometimes, you’ll mess up. Sometimes, your work will get torn apart even though you didn’t mess up (it’s not personal!). And sometimes, you’ll absolutely nail it. All three are valuable – never stop learning from the last time.

What do you enjoy most about working at a medical communications agency?

I enjoy the challenge, the variety, the way it develops a broad skillset for solving problems, understanding people, and the bit where I actually do the medical writing. I love that agency life provides an avenue through which to find connection and expand horizons. And, although med communications is not life-or-death, it’s deeply satisfying to know, in some small way, I get to make a difference.

For a medical writer just starting out, would you advise they get in-house experience before going freelance?

Absolutely. Someone who wants to get into medical writing would do well to practise their ability to analyse and communicate science, and can do so through picking up ad hoc work, such as publications, articles and blogs – all of which can be done inside and outside medcomms as a freelancer. But to be able to run all the content on a particular drug or client account? There are so many moving parts in medcomms, you have to find out what you don’t know first. When you can confidently do that, moving into freelance and learning a whole new raft of skills (finances, taxes, contracts, insurance, your own marketing and business development) can be a success.

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