5 soft skills medical copywriters need to stand out

Medical copywriting is becoming a popular career choice and increasingly competitive for new graduates, academics and senior healthcare executives. But if you’ve got a PhD or life sciences degree, it may not be enough for you to stand out from the crowd in today’s medical communications market. Plus, several years of scientific writing experience no longer guarantees you continued career success. Like many industries, healthcare communications employers are now placing a higher value on employees and freelancers who have more soft skills.

According to a recent LinkedIn survey 57% of 2,000 business leaders say soft skills are more important than hard skills in the workplace. Soft skills, also known as interpersonal skills, are the character traits that affect how you relate to other people.

Unlike professional hard skills, such as technical, digital or life sciences qualifications, soft skills are not formally taught. However, you can learn and develop these capabilities to complement your hard skills. So what soft skills do you need to stand out as a medical copywriter?

1. Problem solving

A recent Forbes article names problem solving as one of the most important soft skills you need to succeed in today’s job market. The ability to persist until a problem is solved instead of giving in is essential for managing the challenges that emerge in any business role. Problem solving has strong links to both creativity and adaptability in medical communications. These skills are frequently needed for successful medical advertising, public relations, healthcare education, peer-review publishing, healthcare social media and medical affairs.

Healthcare communications employers are looking for writers who have a critical eye, and can see problems from different perspectives. This could mean you need to step into the shoes of a diabetic patient, dermatology specialist or clinical researcher to develop a fresh approach to a difficult communications brief. Or simplify complex information to ensure patients understand their diagnoses or the directions they’ve received from a doctor.

2. Adaptability

 Depending on your background, you may already have an in-depth knowledge of a certain therapeutic area. However, as an adaptable medical writer, you should to be able to deal with diverse therapeutic areas or topical industry issues, as needed.

Pharmaceutical advances and healthcare sectors are constantly changing. So employers value medical writers who can quickly pick up the latest research findings or relevant customer trends for specific accounts. Could you revise press releases to announce last-minute product developments? Or adapt key messages from clinical publications for medical editorials, company websites or public healthcare videos?

3. The ability to connect

Most people expect scientific writers to be introverts. You might describe me as an introvert 20 years ago, when I first started as a pharmaceutical copywriter. But after working at fast-paced healthcare communications agencies, I realised I needed a good range of people skills to deliver quality content on time.

Overall, you need to be able to connect with people. In person and online. Whether you’re explaining a concept to senior managers, sharing a first draft with a medical editor or making a presentation, you must make people feel connected to your message. Having good people skills also makes it easier to convince other team members to meet their own deadlines, so you can meet yours.

4. Active listening 

All medical writers need active listening skills to take clear project briefs from clients or contribute to team meetings before taking the next steps. This means listening to the speaker with your undivided attention.

Be aware that this person to may be using their own industry language or technical jargon to try to explain what they mean. Therefore, you need to actively listen, ask the right questions and clarify their answers. You’ll be the one writing the details so it’s important that you clearly understand them first. Active listening also helps you avoid jumping to conclusions before offering your own opinion.

5. Being open to criticism

It can be challenging to work with healthcare professionals and clients who may be removed from real-world patient lives. So presenting new concepts to these reviewers for patient education or consumer health promotions can be more difficult. However, as a successful medical writer, you need to be patient and open to tough critiques of your drafts by various reviewers.

You also should be ready to support your drafts or ideas by explaining why you’ve used a certain approach, data or phrases. Sometimes, this may mean accepting conflicting edits to your drafts, ditching your initial ideas and generating new content solutions.

Develop your professional soft skills

In summary, these are a few important soft skills that all levels of medical writers need to stand out in healthcare communications today. This list is not exhaustive. Some employers may place more value on some abilities rather than others. But focusing on developing your soft skills can complement the hard skills you already have. Together, these can enhance your job search and career opportunities in medical communications.

Which soft skills do you think are essential for medical writers, medical copywriters or scientific writers?

Corinne Swainger is a specialist medical writer and senior copywriter, based in London, who creates clear, engaging communications for pharmaceutical, medical devices and healthcare companies. She operates as Mediquill Ltd. For more information contact her at: corinne@mediquill.com.

Medical copywriters must stand out in a competitive crowd