Some time ago, I had the privilege of working alongside Mr. Gordon Snell of SNELL MEDICAL COMMUNICATION in Montreal. During one of our many meetings, Gordon had asked if I had occasion to work with any really good medical writers. His question launched us into an interesting discussion about the various categories of professional scientific communication. I had always regretted not capturing that conversation in some way – I had never heard a more eloquent overview of this profession.
I recently contacted Gordon to pick his brain on behalf of a friend looking to freelance as a writer. This time, I would be sure to capture Gordon’s comments! Graciously, he gave his blessing to include our conversation in my blog.
Here are the categories:
1. A medical journalist is someone who writes articles for the medical press and popular media. This type of writer is apt to attend advisory board meetings so as to draft a report for the sponsor.
2. A medical copywriter writes copy for pharmaceutical ads or patient brochures. Included in this category is writing for sales rep and physician-training materials or rep detailers
3. A medical writer specializes in creating physician-to-physician (or HCP-to-HCP) PowerPoint presentations or conference summaries. Since quality slide communication requires quite a bit of experience, this person has to be highly proficient in adult learning principles, creating and synthesizing concise information, balancing text with graphics for visual learners and conveying scientific/clinical “storytelling”. This type of writer must also possess knowledge of the language/vernacular physicians use to communicate with one another …sounds easier than it is.
4. Another type of medical writer is someone who can write peer-to-peer (almost always physician-to physician) journal manuscripts. This demands the most experience. This person must be an excellent writer with a solid understanding of the language that must be used, as well as the criteria and standard of writing that the name-author (and journal) will accept.
To Gordon’s list, I might add a fifth category for which I occasionally accept work: bilingual meeting scribe. Some clients request that I organize and also attend their French language meetings, so as to capture notes and produce an English summary. Such work requires attentiveness, bilingualism and familiarity with French humour and jargon. One must discern between important physician feedback and red herons. A really enthusiastic and efficient meeting scribe would also pay attention to body language, perhaps noting behavioral reactions to different materials and messages. Scribes with sales and marketing experience can suggest follow-up ideas tailored to attendee’s suggestions. Or they can make suggestions on improving the delivery of materials and information. When you arrange to have a savvy and discrete scribe in the presence of VIP meeting participants, the extra set of eyes and ears can often pay for itself in valuable information and spin-off opportunities. Sometimes the ROI blossoms from the littlest details.
What a wonderful overview which will help my friend position her university research and writing experience in this field. I particularly enjoyed the last part of my discussions with Gordon, in which he states that if this were music, the range would run from competent lounge/club performer at one end of the spectrum to classical music virtuoso at the other end. Different skills for different audiences.