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Career Spotlight: Sarah Seton-Rogers


Medical Writer


Basic job description:

Write and manage the delivery of scientific content for medical communications projects for pharmaceutical clients and satisfy client needs in terms of quality, commercial focus, timing, and cost.

Type of Education/Training Required:

Typically, higher scientific degrees (PhD, MD, PharmD) are required. Experience in a particular medical therapeutic area (e.g. oncology or cardiology) is a plus.

Special Talents or Skills that Contribute to Career:

Ability to write scientific/medical information clearly and accurately evaluate scientific data. Although previous writing experience isn’t always required, prospective employers will require a writing test.

What is your educational background?

PhD in Biological and Biomedical Sciences obtained in a medical school environment.

Why did you choose this career?

I found that it best fit my interests in both science and writing, and my desire to leave the laboratory setting.

What steps did you take to obtain your current position?

I was hired directly after I completed my PhD. I had to submit writing samples of both my scientific writing as well as writing I had done for the public through the medical school newspaper.

What suggestions do you have for others who would like to break into this field/profession?

Network with people who do this job. An easy way to find people is through the American Medical Writers Association or the National Association of Science Writers.

What is involved in a typical workday?

We (hopefully) wouldn’t have to do all of these things in one day, but these are the types of things we do routinely:

  • Discuss status of various ongoing projects with colleagues and clients

  • Write outlines of primary manuscripts using clinical trial reports or review articles using literature searches

  • Conduct literature searches

  • Write manuscripts from outlines

  • Obtain and incorporate comments from investigators, pharmaceutical company client, or peer reviewers

  • Work on other communication projects such as abstracts or slide sets

  • Discuss goals and objectives of a new project with clients and investigators

  • Work on strategic publication or communication plans to support an existing launched drug or a drug that is pre-launch

  • Conduct internal review of projects written by others

What do you like the best about your work? The least?

I like that I am working on several projects at once, and that I’ve been given the opportunity to work with several pharmaceutical clients in several therapeutic areas. The strategic planning part of my job is particularly interesting to me, but I also enjoy starting new projects and delving into new subject areas. A particular bonus of this job is that I am learning a lot about the non-R&D side of the pharmaceutical industry. I also enjoy that, although I am busy, I rarely have to work long hours or on weekends (quite different from the lab!)

What are your career goals?

I can see myself moving in one or two directions. First, I could advance in a communications agency to become an editorial director or medical director, overseeing medical writing staff and participating more in strategic meetings with clients and generating new business. Second, I could move into a pharmaceutical company and work on a particular drug, hopefully as a manager for scientific communications on that drug (medical/scientific affairs).

In what ways does your degree help you with this job?

Although I’m not using the scientific knowledge I gained from my degrees, I do think that I am using my critical thinking and evaluative skills that I gained in grad school on an everyday basis. In addition, the length of time I’ve spent studying different subjects within the life sciences allows me to get up to speed on a new therapeutic area very quickly. My co-workers that are medical writers have either PhDs or undergraduate life sciences degrees. I’m currently based in London, where it is more common for writers to not have PhDs; however, in the US, most will have an advanced degree of some type (PhD, PharmD, MD, or MS).

How does your current position compare to working in other settings, like academia or industry?

Shorter hours, which can make it less stressful. However, there are still deadlines to be met and things that have to get done. At times, the job seems less rewarding than perhaps a career in researching the next cancer cure might be, but there are aspects of it that are quite rewarding (like when you receive praise from an investigator or client for a job that was especially well done).

November 2006


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