By: Brianna Alexander
So, you want to be a medical writer? You’ve read blogs and attended seminars; you’ve combed over LinkedIn profiles and even conducted some informational interviews with field professionals. You’re finishing up the last few months of your graduate school training and eager to step into the world of medical communications. Before you know it, it’s time to start applying and now, approaching the doorway of transition, you think: What will the application process be like? What can I expect during the interview?
It’s true, applying for a position in a new field can be as daunting as it is exciting. However, with proper knowledge, practice, and preparation, a successful transition is possible. To that end, one of the first iJOBS events of the Spring 2021 semester was a virtual medical writing simulation, a special event designed to acquaint attendees with the ins and outs of the medical writing application process. Before we jump into the event, let’s cover some basics: What is medical writing? Medical writing, according to the American Medical Writers Association, “involves the development and production of print or digital documents that deal specifically with medicine or healthcare.” Moreover, as mentioned during the event, medical writing can include various activities from editing manuscripts and generating slide-decks to creating mechanism-of-action graphics.
The panel for this event was a specially curated group of Rutgers alumni, all working in the field of medical writing. Some were experienced writers and others were recent graduates, and collectively they represented both small and large companies/agencies. The Panelists were: Drs. Paulina Krzyszczyk of Bristol Myers Squibb, Ina Nikolaeva of Merck & Co., Inc, Natascha G. Alves of Flywheel Partners, Apoorva Halikere of p-value communications, Vicky Kanta of ICON plc, and Pinelopi Kyriazi of 21GRAMS NY. Each writer shared some insights into their application process, provided advice and tips for the prospective applicant, and collectively lead an interactive exercise for attendees to get a sense of what might be encountered during a medical writing application. So, let’s dive into your burning questions!
How do I find a position? One of the first steps in the application process is finding the right position for you, but how? Threaded in all the discussions were the words: networking and LinkedIn. Networking, or the sociable act of meeting others and engaging in professional dialogue, is a critical component of professional development that can prove useful in the job search. Members of your network can help to move your application from the submitted folder to the hiring desk with just the mention of a good word. Several panelists spoke to this, explaining how members of their networks helped direct them to their current positions. LinkedIn, the highly popular professional networking platform, was also brought up during the discussion. LinkedIn is a great place to connect with recruiters and hiring managers and to get a sense of the culture and content of a company/agency. You can learn more about how to strengthen your LinkedIn profile in the iJOBS article linked here!
How can I make my application stand out? In discussing tips for building a strong application, the panelists highlighted the importance of leveraging previous experience as well as having strong recommendations. For example, Dr. Krzyszczyk was previously a writer for the Rutgers iJOBS blog (along with several other panelists) during her graduate training and stated that having that experience helped her immensely in her preparation for the medical writing transition. Dr. Kyriazi also spoke to the importance of experience in generating a strong foundation, sharing that she was a science writer for the New York Academy of Science, which added breadth to her application. Dr. Alves added to the discussion, stating that she learned about the medical writing field from an iJOBS event, and that after matriculating through the iJOBS phases, she landed a shadowing experience at McCANN HEALTH, which was crucial in solidifying her interest and strengthening her application. On this note, Dr. Krzyszczyk made an important point that regardless of your experience coming in, that companies are aware of the relative newness of graduate students to industry and that it is not uncommon to be offered an internship as a stepping-stone in the hiring process. In addition to prior experiences, it is also essential to have a network of people that can speak to your character and work ethic. Dr. Halikere emphasized this tip for polishing an application, mentioning that she listed 3-4 references on her application, and all were called to speak on her behalf.
What can I expect during the interview process? While specifics may vary from company to company, there are generally three components to an interview for a medical writing position: initial screening, writing test and interview. The initial screening, which is frequently a phone interview, is an assessment of the applicant and one of the first steps in narrowing the applicant pool. The next component is the writing test, where the applicant is asked to demonstrate skill. Interestingly, although the test is a writing test, it is also an assessment of other skills including scientific comprehension, the ability to extract and summarize key points as well as adapt information for various audiences. To that end, Dr. Kanta noted that the writing test may take different forms including writing an abstract for a poster, generating a slide deck, or writing a summary for a specific audience. The final component is the in-person interview, which may be a panel of interviews with different people, all designed to assess if the applicant is a good fit for the position. Dr. Alves made special note that the in-person interview is less an interrogation and more an opportunity for the employer to learn about you and your potential to solve problems.
Several panelists elaborated on tips to succeed during the writing test. Dr. Kanta explained that it is likely that during the writing test that you may encounter material/terms/jargon that you are unfamiliar with but that, “it’s important to be flexible in terms of writing something when you don’t know much about the topic.” Dr. Nikolaeva stated that she once had a 7.5-hour long interview, including the writing segment. While this sounds intimidating, she assured attendees that perfection is not a necessity. She explained that for many companies
“They are looking for the starting ingredients that they can build a medical writer from.”
She went on to describe that many agencies/companies want to know that 1) you like writing and 2) that you understand science and know where to find the information that you want from a document. Amidst the discussion, Dr. Halikere brought another aspect of the test to the table: off-site testing and writing sample submissions. In cases like this, you may not be asked to write at the site, but you may instead be asked to submit representative examples of your work beforehand/with your application. Therefore, she emphasized the importance of having your best writing work prepared as a supplement for your applications (publications, iJOBS articles, etc.).
Following the discussion, the panelists introduced the simulation activity. The activity was broken into three breakout rooms, each to mimic a different style of the medical writing applicant test: abstract, PowerPoint and prescriber information. Each group was to compile either an abstract, PowerPoint or the prescriber information based on the assigned article. More specifically, the abstract group was tasked with generating an abstract from the paper, including background, methods, results and conclusion. The PowerPoint group was tasked with using visuals to tell a story about the key points of the article. Finally, the prescriber information group was tasked with identifying the crucial information in the article which would be needed to fill out the FDA-mandated prescriber information document (required for all approved drugs). Embedded in each of these activities were several skill assessments: data summary, information extraction and informative communication.
Each room was assigned two of the panelists to help guide and assist attendees in the activity. I was in the abstract group and we were tasked with extracting the most essential information from the article and summarizing it in 5-7 sentences. As a cardiovascular biologist, some of the terms were new to me. The writing style was also different, as I am used to research papers which go into depth about results, possible outcomes and implications of research in the discussion. This paper was more concise and clinical in nature. Nonetheless, Drs. Nikolaeva and Kanta were very helpful in guiding us on what would be appropriate to include in the abstract and in general, some tips for approaching an abstract writing test (which is apparently very common). For example, they shared that the results section is where most of the writing should be focused as well as the importance of staying away from “termed” words which may have negative undertones.
While we have learned much in the way of what medical writing is and had the wonderful opportunity of meeting field professionals in prior iJOBS events, in this special event attendees were introduced to some of the logistics of the medical writing application process. Featuring a dynamic panel of six professionals in the field of medical writing, each panelist provided valuable insights into the application process, including tips on how to succeed during the writing test. Writing is a powerful and timeless way of communicating, and for those who are interested in medical writing as a career, hopefully the event and this article helped you to find a little more confidence in your step into the world of medical communications.
This article was edited by Junior Editor Zachary Fritz and Senior Editor Samantha Avina.