iJobs Virtual Career Panel: Science Writing and Medical Communication at McCann Health

By: Gina Sanchez

 

On July 14th, the iJobs program hosted a virtual career panel with McCann Health, a prominent international healthcare communications company. Representatives from various agencies within the company gave presentations about different aspects of their jobs. Drug discovery is a costly industry, making it essential that there are people able to help throughout this process in order to communicate findings to a specialized audience. Therefore, an effective strategy to communicate findings is essential to the success of a new therapeutic. Dr. Melanie Watson, Scientific Director at CMC Connect, emphasized the 5 C’s when it comes to strategy for communications: culture, category, company, consumer, and connections. The role of the MedComms team, particularly with McCann Health, is to assist in the planning of development and trials of new treatments, communicate why they are important, and how they can help patients.

 

Genearl insight into McCann Health
Courtesy of McCann Health

 

The panel began with a presentation from McCann HR recruitment manager Phil Hall. He emphasized that McCann Health has a “passion for excellence” and a “commitment to shaping the future of medical communications”. There are 4 major agencies of McCann Health: Caudex located in Manhattan, NY and Toronto, Canada; CMC Affinity in Hackensack, NJ; Complete Healthvizion in Chicago, IL; and CMC Connect in Philadelphia, PA. Impressively, McCann boasts an 85% annual colleague retention rate, evidencing employee satisfaction. Mr. Hall discussed the fact that McCann Health is a full-service MedComms agency that provides assistance with scientific platform development, clinical trial support, disease awareness programs, scientific meetings, and medical eLearning.

 

Services provided by McCann Health
Courtesy of McCann Health

 

There are two main career pathways at McCann Health: writing and account handling. Writers begin as associate medical writers and can develop into principal medical writers or scientific directors. Principal medical writers stick to content creation while scientific directors are more involved in client strategy and mentoring junior members of the team. People in the writer pathway are generally those with PhDs or experience in the medical field. Account handlers start as account coordinators and can develop into account directors. Members of this field generally have a bachelor’s degree in the Life Sciences. Training for both tracks is rather similar. It includes several weeks of practicing on “dummy” accounts and low-risk live accounts as well as classroom sessions to learn about topics relevant to your craft. McCann Health even has performance coaching. Goals are set in the first quarter of every year and there are regular check-ins and talent round tables to discuss your progress. Approximately 70% of professional development comes from on-the-job experience and feedback, 20% from colleague or role model coaching, and 10% from formal training. Mr. Hall emphasized that as part of this company, you will always receive constructive feedback to help improve your craft.

 

“I wanted to do something that I would have an effect on the daily lives of people and patients, and work across multiple disease research areas” – Dr. Miller

 

Dr. Myka Ababon, a Rutgers iJobs alumna now working as a Senior Medical Writer at Caudex, provided some insight about digital solutions that McCann Health can provide, which are especially crucial in the current times of COVID-19. Many biomedical conferences have been forced into an online platform which Caudex has been working to implement as part of their workplace. There are virtual lobbies where you can access vendor booths and click to access information normally given by vendors. Speakers also present their talks in real-time with designated question rooms. Additionally, there are interactive scientific posters reorganized to better fit on your screen at home with links to various sections that would normally be on the poster, as seen here. Another service that McCann Health can provide to facilitate the virtual platform is developing questionnaires in which attendees can provide real-time feedback on posters using their phone or tablet. These digital solutions help the pharmaceutical company understand the way in which their data is being perceived by potential consumers.

 

McCann Health digital solutions
Courtesy of McCann Health

 

Panelists offered advice in terms of the application process. Attendees of the panel asked what an appropriate science background for an applicant would be. Dr. Tara Miller, Scientific Director at CMC Affinity, said people with immunological, biochemical, neurological, and clinical backgrounds are more heavily represented, but there are members across the Life Sciences field. Dr. Watson also chimed in that what really is needed is someone who is willing to learn a new field. Some examples of experience that Mr. Hall looks for as an active recruiter include blog writing, involvement in academic societies, and experience writing manuscripts. Essentially, McCann Health seeks to hire individuals who have demonstrated that they enjoy writing. Dr. Miller also identified desirable applicant traits as: a positive outlook, the ability to communicate and work effectively with others, and being proactive. Specifically, she looks for someone who is “confident in presenting what they’re working on, confident in asking the right questions”. Dr. Watson also noted that it is important to demonstrate on your application that you have helped colleagues with their writing and that you are able to dissect clinical papers to pull out and convey the critical components. One should also note that post-doc training may be helpful but is not required for a job in this field. Mr. Hall also mentioned that applying to one agency within McCann Health will not tether you to that one; your application is centralized within HR, so if one agency does not work well for you, your application can be re-routed to another.

 

When considering MedComms, the writing test is a common concern for applicants. Dr. Ababon was the most recent employee on the panel and explained the process. First, there is an off-site writing test and upon passing, you can be interviewed. With this interview often comes a second written test that is on-site. Employers are looking for your ability to know what information is being asked for, how to find said information, and how to communicate it to the appropriate audience. One example of a test is being given a journal article and summarizing it for a specific client, such as a physician. Another example writing an introduction to a paper to demonstrate that you can create a narrative and provide the relevant information so that the reader can understand the rationale of the proposed treatment. Finally, it is also possible that you will need to prepare a presentation based on a report that you are given. With these tests, the agency is essentially testing your ability to pick out information that is critical to understanding the proposed treatment or study and communicate it to a specific audience.

 

General workflow of projects at McCann Health
Courtesy of McCann Health

 

The work-life balance is rather reasonable for this field. Dr. Miller elaborated that as with any other job, there are ebbs and flows of business and busier points of the year where you may sometimes have to work later or on weekends. However, these demands are not consistent. In fact, each agency of McCann Health has a committee that will make sure that the workload that each employee takes on is reasonable. After some larger projects, time off will be encouraged. Additionally, working remotely is an option. Junior members of teams are encouraged to come in more often as mentoring and staying up to speed is easier in-person, but there are possibilities to work remotely. Furthermore, if you need to step out to pick up your child from daycare one day or run to a doctor’s appointment, it is understood so long as you communicate with your team.

 

Medical Communications with McCann Health is an exciting career path that will truly allow you to facilitate the communication of a new therapeutic in any biomedical field to a new audience, constantly keeping you on your toes.

 

Senior Editor: Helena Mello

Junior Editor: Samantha Avina

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