Freelance medical writing is a money-making specialty that’s interesting and offers plenty of work. And even better, you don’t need experience to get started. If you love to write and can understand health and medicine, you can become a freelance medical writer. That’s exactly what happened to American writer Lori De Milto when she started out as a medical writer — within 18 months, she was making six figures.
How to become a medical writer
A guest post by Lori De Milto
From bedpans to healthcare content marketing
When I wrote a press release for a new bedpan in my first job at an advertising agency, I didn’t know that I had stumbled upon something called medical writing.
More than a decade later, when I launched my freelance business, I decided to specialise in medical writing.
Today, I focus on healthcare content marketing, consumer health content, and health journalism, writing mostly for patients and consumers.
My main clients are hospitals/health systems, healthcare marketing agencies, an integrative health organisation, and a professional association.
Here’s how I became a high-income freelance medical writer—with no experience—and how you can too.
What freelance medical writers do
At first, I thought all medical writers (freelance or staff) were like me: people with a journalism or English degree who learn about health and medicine.
It was a shock to learn—at my first annual conference of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA)—that there was another type of medical writer: people with scientific or medical degrees who learn how to write.
Medical writers like me do the most creative work.
We write blogs, health news, newsletter and magazine stories, patient education, patient profiles, web content, and more. Scientific/clinical medical writers work on projects like journal articles, continuing medical education, and regulatory writing.
4 tips for getting started as a freelance medical writer
It’s a lot easier to become a successful freelance medical writer today than it was when I started back in 1997.
Today, the Internet has lots of information about the specialty and potential clients.
Here are four tips for getting started.
1. Learn about health and medicine
You don’t need to know much about health and medicine when you’re starting out. But you do need to be willing to learn. There are many credible websites where you can learn about diseases and conditions, wellness, and more, including:
· MedlinePlus (a U.S. government portal to credible medical information for the public)
· Disease associations like the American Heart Association
· Patient websites from professional associations, like CancerNet from ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology).
Joining professional associations like AMWA and signing up for e-newsletters will help you learn about what’s happening in health and medicine and in medical writing.
2. Choose Your Focus
Medical writing is a big specialty.
Start somewhat broadly and narrow your specialty over time.
But you shouldn’t be just a “freelance medical writer” like I was when I started, because that’s too broad. As I learned more, I evolved into a freelance marketing communications medical writer.
Now my specialty is much narrower: healthcare content marketing, consumer health content, and health journalism.
Professional associations are the best way to learn about medical writing, and to build your network. AMWA, for example, offers a journal, web-based resources, webinars, online courses, and more to help you learn about the field, along with an annual conference packed with workshops and sessions. Through workshops, you can develop medical writing samples.
3. Build Your Strategic Network
A strategic network helps you learn about medical writing and freelance gigs, get referrals, and find clients.
Joining—and volunteering for—professional associations is the fastest way to build a strategic network. Volunteering helps you build the trusting relationships that lead to referrals. I’ve been volunteering for AMWA since I joined, and have gotten many referrals. I started out doing small tasks like sitting at the registration desk before a meeting. Since then, I’ve helped my chapter as newsletter editor, an officer, and more.
For the national organisation, I’ve been on many committees and give presentations at the annual conference.
4. Choose Your Clients
Networking and direct email are the two best ways to get medical writing clients. Referrals are a key source of new business. But it takes time to build a strategic network and get those referrals.
Direct email lets you choose the high-paying clients you want to work with and attract them.
It works because you focus on helping clients solve their problems, not trying to sell your services.
Back in 1997, I used direct mail because no one was using email for marketing. I switched to direct email in 2014 and it really works.
Developing your prospect list is the first step in direct email.
When I started out, I had to go to the library. Now, you can do it all online. Professional association membership directories make it easy to find great prospects. You can also use industry directories and lists and LinkedIn. Once you have your prospect list, write a customised direct email for each client that shows you understand what the client needs and can meet those needs.
My Direct Email Swipe File gives you step-by-step instruction on how to do direct email. It includes templates and examples.
Stay away from content mills and freelance job sites like UpWork.
You’ll find freelance medical writing gigs, but they’ll be low-paying. And you’ll be competing against hundreds of other freelancers. Direct email takes time, but if you do it right, you’ll get the high-paying freelance medical writing clients you deserve.
Where to learn more about freelance medical writing and a medical writing career path
e-Newsletters (also free)
Subscribe to the e-newsletters of your local hospitals and national disease associations
Smart Brief for healthcare marketers (one of my favourites)
Smart Briefs on healthcare (many to choose from)
American Medical Writers Association (we have international members too)
Lori De Milto is a freelance medical writer who also helps freelancers get the clients they deserve.
If you haven’t already, it’s totally working getting your free roadmap to high-income freelancing and Lori’s Direct Email Swipe File that takes you through the exact steps you need to do direct email and get high-paying clients.
Have you considered becoming a medical writer? Do you have any questions for Lori?