The medical copywriter market is booming and is expected to expand through 2030.
This high demand for medical copywriters is driven by many factors. These include an increasing need for online medical content and patient communications. Plus a rise in clinical trials and new medical device regulations.
So if you’re thinking of hiring a medical copywriter, or becoming one yourself, where do you start?
What is medical writing?
Medical writing is generally divided into three main types: medical communications – also known as medcomms – regulatory writing, and healthcare journalism.
Medical writing involves the creation of print, digital or interactive media content that deals specifically with medicine or healthcare. This includes various scientific, clinical and technical therapy areas, as well as consumer and patient-centred communications.
This guide focuses on medical communications. It looks at what medical copywriting involves, who medical writers work for, the skills they need, different categories of medical writing, and the options for hiring a medical copywriter.
What is a medical copywriter?
A medical or healthcare copywriter creates advertising, PR, educational and internal communications material to support the development, approval and marketing of healthcare products, treatments, conditions, companies and services.
These accounts can range from pharmaceutical drugs to biotechnology products. They can cover national cancer charities and rare diseases. And leading hospitals to specialist clinical practices.
Is a medical writer really a copywriter?
For many people, the term ‘copywriter’ will be forever synonymous with the 1960s TV show ‘Mad Men’. And for some, the very idea of medical copywriting may feel a little uncomfortable.
However, medicine and healthcare rely on advertising to raise awareness, generate sales and attract investment. This means that medical writers need the skills to write both educational and promotional medical content.
What does a medical copywriter do?
Medical writing involves the development of branded and non-branded material for various media projects. For example, these may range from consumer health websites and clinical conference slides to academic articles and patient information leaflets.
Depending on the role and scope of responsibilities, medical writers have to communicate scientific and healthcare data to diverse audiences – from leading experts to student nurses and the general public.
This means medical writers need to be adept at turning complex concepts and terminology into copy that’s readable and interesting for their specific healthcare audience. To do this requires an understanding of the science behind the topic in question, as well as the ability to write clearly.
Furthermore, senior medical copywriters in healthcare advertising, PR or medical education agencies will often deal directly with agency clients, and may mentor more junior writers.
So, they need to be confident about presenting new creative and strategic plans to clients and colleagues. They also need to know how to follow these and answer questions about the content they develop.
Who do medical copywriters work with?
Medical copywriters work both independently, and as a part of a team. They can be based in a company office and/or remotely, from home. In a medcomms agency or department, this team can include a mix of creative, marketing and medical affairs colleagues.
Medical copywriters may also be part of a publications team. This may include editorial managers, medical editors, proofreaders and fact-checkers.
In addition, medical writers may work with clinical reviewers and research scientists. They may also collaborate with leading healthcare specialists – also called key opinion leaders (KOLs).
This close teamwork helps healthcare agencies, companies and charities to develop clear, engaging content that complies with the strict regulations concerning healthcare communications claims, format and structure.
What does it take to be a good medical copywriter?
A medical writer needs to have a talent for writing, as well as an interest in science, medicine and wellbeing. Accuracy and attention to detail are vital, as is knowledge of relevant medical communications guidelines, which can vary in different countries.
The capacity to understand each target audience and tailor content to that audience is essential for healthcare copywriters. For example, writing about skin conditions for GPs is different than writing for dermatologists, since their level of the subject knowledge differs.
Likewise, writing for diverse patient groups requires the writer to adapt their approach because some patients will have a higher baseline level of subject knowledge than others. For example, diabetes patients who are diagnosed with the condition as adults will have a different level of understanding than patients who have lived with diabetes since birth.
A good medical writer will also need to have the ability to communicate medical content in a engaging, creative way that the audience can relate to. Rather than approaching a topic from a solely scientific point of view, a medical copywriter may also need to tell a story from a human and emotional perspective.
Working with a designer, a medical copywriter must make this story stand out from the overwhelming information that a medical consultant, pharmacist or consumer sees each day.
The ability to instil trust in a healthcare provider, pharmaceutical company, or treatment is another important skill that good healthcare writers need, particularly within patient education and communications.
What are the key skills for a medical copywriter?
Copywriting skills vary and are not set in a box. But some of the most important skills to be an effective medical copywriter include:
- Subject knowledge: an understanding of various therapeutic areas and the latest regulatory, scientific and medical device guidelines, such as the UK ABPI and European EFPIA codes of practice
- Audience understanding: researching and understanding a specific healthcare audience is essential for tailoring healthcare content to reach that audience
- Creative writing skills: translating complex science into unique concepts and compelling copy that captures the interest of the audience, and persuades them to take action. Creative copywriters also know when to break grammar rules to deliver their message
- Close attention to detail: good grammar, editing, proofreading and referencing skills are important for delivering high-quality health content. Including tables, graphs and images
- Managing client feedback: be open to client comments on your copy but confident enough to state your own views on this content, based on your own rationale and expertise
- Continued curiosity & training: medical writers need to remain curious about their industry, and continue learning about new healthcare products, services, regulations and opinions
- Research skills: a medical writer should be capable of carrying out their own in-depth research into a topic. This may involve interviewing people, or finding and interpreting sources such as clinical studies, news articles, surveys and healthcare marketing reports
- Project management skills: strong organisational and teamwork skills are essential for medical copywriters to meet project briefs and deadlines
- Basic SEO knowledge: medical copywriters who produce digital content should have a basic understanding of search engine optimisation (SEO) but they don’t need to be SEO experts
- Working under pressure: the ability to develop and write high-quality content in a high-pressure agency environment can also be a bonus
- Professional flexibility: medical writers should be able to adapt content for different customers’ tone of voice, diverse style guides, and multi-media channels
Does a medical copywriter need a PhD?
Most medical copywriters will have some sort of background in medical or healthcare communications.
Although it’s not essential, some medical writers will hold a medical or science degree (e.g. PhD, PharmD or MD). They may also have experience of working in an academic setting or as a healthcare professional (e.g. a pharmacist or registered nurse).
However, there’s no set career path for medical copywriters. They come from a range of backgrounds, and could include:
- A university graduate who has combined their creative and scientific skills
- A medical physician, scientist or healthcare worker who has changed careers
- A healthcare journalist who has optimised their writing and industry insight
- A patient advocate who specialises in promoting a specific health condition
- A general copywriter with an interest in health, wellbeing and medicine
Do medical copywriters need a niche?
Some writers will specialise in a niche of healthcare communications, while others may be more general. Having a medical writing niche can help you thrive in an area of medcomms where you’re more skilled and feel comfortable. But it’s not critical for all copywriters.
Some healthcare copywriters may specialise in producing content for specific audiences, such as children or medical devices customers.
Other medical copywriters might focus on drafting digital or printed material. Whereas others may concentrate on one or two therapy areas, like heart conditions or mental health.
How do medical writers use AI?
Many healthcare writers use artificial intelligence (AI) software tools to assist them in writing, checking and formatting content.
For example, a medical education writer could use computer technology to carry out and compile a literature search in record time.
A non-native English speaker may use digital apps to translate their articles into clearer content. Most medical editors will use some type of editorial software to proofread and reference clinical and consumer data.
But AI has yet to master storytelling. Humans are emotional creatures. Medical copywriters can empathise with audiences, identify their pain points, joy and fears. And convince them how a new healthcare product or service can make their lives better.
A human copywriter can still offer innovative concepts, compelling stories and unique approaches that engage real people beyond AI.
Who hires medical copywriters?
Medical and healthcare writers are hired and employed by a variety of organisations, including:
- Pharmaceutical, healthcare and biotech companies
- Clinical research organisations (CROs)
- Medical device and equipment manufacturers
- Medical affairs companies
- Regulatory agencies
- Public health organisations
- Medical publishers
- Medical education agencies
- Medical communications, advertising or PR agencies
- Healthcare charities
- Patient organisations
- Medical schools or universities
- Private clinics and hospitals
- Medical and trade journals for health professionals
Types of medical writing
Medical writing is often split into the following categories:
- Medical communications
- Regulatory writing
- Healthcare journalism
The medical writing market may be further divided into geographic areas, such as North America and Europe. This market might also be segmented into different end-users: for example, clinical, patient or digital healthcare audiences.
Medical writers typically work across many therapeutic, diagnostic and medical technology areas. Common therapeutic areas include cardiology, dermatology, haematology, oncology, orthopaedics, neurology and urology.
The main types of medical and healthcare copywriters include:
- Pharmaceutical copywriter
- Medical devices copywriter
- Patient education writer
- Medical education copywriter
Pharmaceutical copywriters (or pharma copywriters) focus on developing engaging promotional content about prescription drugs or healthcare products. This involves taking scientific data and finding a creative and strategic way to turn it into concise, accurate messages to motivate, educate or inform specific audiences.
Pharmaceutical copywriting is used to create both branded and non-branded content for advertising, marketing and healthcare PR campaigns. Pharma copywriters adapt this content for different print, digital and interactive media channels.
This type of writing is also used to raise awareness of rare diseases, orphan drugs or unmet healthcare needs.
Medical devices copywriter
Medical devices are not medications. They’re often sophisticated pieces of technology that can be used to treat, diagnose, prevent or monitor an illness or disease. They include tools for personal and professional use, such as:
- Wearable diagnostic devices: blood sugar readers, fitness trackers
- Implantable medical devices: pacemakers, breast implants
- Treatment aids: contact lenses, electronic wheelchairs
- Surgical tools: catheters, scalpels, injection needles
- Treatment devices: examination gloves and enemas
- Medical imaging: X-ray and radiology equipment
The medical devices sector requires clear, regulated communications content. Medical device manufacturers tend to be highly regarded for their innovation and advanced technology. With a large and ageing global population, the medical devices market represents a significant source of medcomms work for medical writers.
Patient education writer
Improving patient education and awareness can encourage individuals to take a more active role in their own treatment and healthcare. In recent years, there’s been an increasing need to use patient-centred and digital healthcare content to motivate patients.
Digital healthcare content for patients can include online newsletters, healthcare charity websites, fitness blogs, social media posts, mobile phone healthcare apps and patient videos.
Medical copywriting can often have a formal tone, especially for educational materials aimed at clinicians.
But patient education writing tends to be more conversational, with less complex terminology.
A patient-centred approach also addresses the psychological, social and lifestyle aspects of a person, rather than just the biological or physical aspects of their health.
This can be a challenge for some medical writers who specialise in creating scientific content aimed at healthcare professionals.
Medical education writer
Medical education writers develop a range of training material for different healthcare workers, like nurses, clinical consultants, GPs and pharmacists. These writers may be employed by contract research organisations (CROs), pharmaceutical companies, or agencies that specialise in educational content.
All healthcare professionals must take certified continuing medical education (CME) courses throughout their careers to allow them to maintain and improve their medical knowledge and skills.
These CME courses can include live conferences; interactive, online programs (e-learning); recorded videos, audio lectures, and written publications on specific subjects.
Medical education writers focus on researching, planning and writing online and offline material for these CME activities. This content needs to be written to high standards of accuracy and clarity, based on the latest academic research in each topic.
Medical publishing & regulatory writing
Writing academic articles is not the same as medical copywriting. Pharmaceutical, medical devices, and biotech companies regularly publish articles in academic journals.
These “peer-review articles” are assessed for their quality and accuracy by scholars in the subject area of the journal. If they pass this peer review, the articles are accepted for publication. Some medical writers specialise in helping research authors to plan, write, edit, proofread and submit their manuscripts and images for journal publication.
This writing is a different category of writing from medical communications. Regulatory writing is technical in nature. It involves researching, reporting and editing papers that present the results of clinical trials or the real-life use of medicines. It also involves drafting submission documents for the official marketing approval of new prescription medications or medical devices.
So, regulatory writers require an in-depth knowledge of clinical trials and the development of medications to produce content.
Regulatory content is data-driven. As such, a regulatory writer will need to be able to clearly summarise large amounts of data from multiple sources. The Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society provides training for medical writers who want to learn more about regulatory writing and expand their skills in this area.
How do I hire a medical copywriter?
Medicine is a complex field and finding a competent medical writer might not always be easy. So here are some steps you should consider before hiring a medical writer:
Look in the right places
You’re unlikely to find one on websites such as Fiverr or Upwork. Instead, you should focus your search on professional directory websites, and other resources for qualified, experienced scientific and healthcare copywriters, such as the:
- European Medical Writers Association
- American Medical Writers Association
- MedComms Workbook
- Guild of Health Writers
Other ways to find freelance medical writers include:
- In-person events: attend face-to-face healthcare industry meetings, such as those organised by MedComms Networking, that attract independent writers, editors and account managers
- Business referrals: ask colleagues in your company or agency for referrals of medical copywriters they know of, or have used in the past
- LinkedIn: search for, connect with and contact freelance medical writers on LinkedIn. Review each of their profiles to see if they have the expertise you need
- Online searches: search for a specific type of healthcare copywriter on the Internet, and contact them to check if they have the capacity to work with your team
Review work samples
Reviewing samples from a copywriter’s portfolio will help you establish whether a medical writer has the creativity, skills and insight you’re looking for. If their work is well written, error-free, and shows evidence of thorough research, this is promising.
Find out about their background, specialisms and capacity
Take the time to discover more about a writer to establish if they have the expertise, insight and availability to work on your projects. Find out if they specialise in creating content for certain therapy areas or specific types of media. Ask them to provide references from their previous clients or evidence of their qualifications.
Ask for a paid test project
One way to identify a suitable freelance medical copywriter is to ask them to carry out a short, paid test assignment. But don’t expect all busy medical writers to agree to test. They’d much rather get on with the real thing.
If they do agree to a paid test, then give them a clear, detailed brief. And ask them to produce a short amount of content. This test project will give you an idea of how well they might handle a similar, project in the future.
And don’t expect freelancers to complete a test project for free. It will still take them time and energy to develop any quality content for your test. Medical writers are more likely to trust you and your company if you’re willing to pay them to carry out this assignment.
How much are medical writers paid?
The rates of freelance medical copywriters will vary depending on their experience, skills, education and location. These rates also depend on the urgency and complexity of your medcomms project. Some medical writers charge by the hour or day, while others will charge based on the scope of the project.
That’s why it’s important to provide medical copywriters with a detailed brief for each of your projects. A full brief can also help you define your own project scope. It will allow freelance medical writers to give you a more accurate estimate of their project time and cost for their specific services.
The future of medical writing
Medicines are predicted to become more complex in the next 10 years. So the need to communicate research findings, and promotional and educational medical materials will grow.
This means that medical and healthcare organisations will become increasingly dependent on reliable, experienced medical writers to provide scientifically-accurate, clear and consistent medical content. Across digital and traditional healthcare media.
This content will be crucial in achieving regulatory approval for new medicines and delivering successful product launches. It will also play a vital role in educating healthcare professionals, patients, consumers, KOLs and policy-makers.
More writers will use AI software to save time and improve their productivity and accuracy.
But AI will not replace human healthcare copywriters. They will still be essential to tell compelling, creative narratives that appeal to the emotions of real people.
Sourcing skilled individuals to create focused, multi-channel medcomms content will therefore be instrumental for the healthcare industry as it moves forward.