Looking to learn how to become a medical writer? Here’s how you can find freelance medical writing jobs and work from home.
Today, I have a great interview about how to become a medical writer with Austin Ulrich.
Austin started his freelance medical writing business in 2019 and grew it on the side for over 3 years. He eventually quit his job as a pharmacist and now works full-time as a medical writer.
He currently earns around $200,000 each year as a freelance medical writer.
Austin is also a blogger. On his blog austinulrich.com, he writes about creating freedom and time by earning and keeping more income.
Today’s interview answers questions such as:
- What is medical writing?
- What is a freelance medical writer?
- Who hires medical writers?
- How much can you earn as a medical writer?
- Do I need a medical degree to become a medical writer?
Today’s interview will help you get started and perhaps even introduce you to a new way to make money from home.
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How To Become A Medical Writer
1. Please give us a little background on yourself and what led you to become a medical writer.
If you had told me 5 years ago that I’d be running my own business as a professional writer, I never would have believed you. I was busy finishing up pharmacy school and focusing on what would come next for me – 2 years of residency and a lifelong career as a pharmacist.
But through a series of life events and experiences, I got into freelance medical writing and last year made about double the income I would make working as a full-time pharmacist.
I had no idea that medical writing existed until early 2019 when I was looking up ways to make more money online. I tried lots of different things, from online tutoring to transcription services and even teaching piano lessons, but nothing stuck.
But when I learned about medical writing, I knew that it was something I could go for and have a good chance of success. I’ve always been sort of a grammar nerd, and as I look back, I’ve gotten a lot of feedback throughout my years of school that my writing was pretty good.
After learning a lot about the profession, I set up a simple website (screenshot below) and launched my freelance medical writing business, Ulrich Medical Writing, LLC in July 2019.
Next came the hard part – finding clients and building a steady stream of income. And I was the primary breadwinner for our family of 4 (at the time, now it’s 6 – wife + 4 kids!), so I couldn’t take as much risk as if I were going solo. It had to be built steadily over time.
It took several years to build up my side hustle (with many 60+ hour weeks) until I had a solid history of consistent income.
I quit my job as a pharmacist in May 2022 and have been a full-time freelance medical writer ever since.
Medical writing has allowed me to expand my entrepreneurial ventures, and I’ve recently been working on my blog where I write about what’s new in medical writing, like AI tools for medical writing, and other tips for aspiring medical writers.
2. What do you like about being a medical writer? How has it changed your life?
My favorite part of being a medical writer is seeing how the final deliverable comes together. I love the look and feel of a high-quality piece that I’ve put hours into, and that exceeds expectations for my clients.
I also love the freelance part of medical writing, since it allows me to have complete control over my schedule, which projects I take or turn down, and how much I charge. It’s also a huge bonus that my work is 100% remote, so I can work anywhere I have my laptop and an internet connection.
As I look back over the last few years of growing my medical writing business, I realize how essential my pharmacy background has been. Early on, having the PharmD (Doctor of Pharmacy) credential was an important marketing tool, demonstrating my value to potential clients.
So even though I’m not a practicing pharmacist, I maintain my licenses and credentials because I’ve appreciated how that part of my life plays a role in being a medical writer.
Today I have more time with my family, more flexibility with my schedule, and a higher income than I originally expected to earn during my pharmacist career.
It wasn’t easy, but it’s been worth it.
3. What is medical writing? What is a freelance medical writer?
That’s probably the most common question I get these days. When I tell people I’m a medical writer, they sort of give me a blank stare and then ask, “what is medical writing?”
Even though most people haven’t heard of it before, you’d be surprised how often in your daily life you encounter something a medical writer has created.
Medical writing is the process of developing scientific or medical documents and materials that communicate information to healthcare professionals, researchers, patients, and the general public. It’s a broad definition, and medical writers can work in a variety of different areas.
Anytime you read medical information online, it was likely created by a medical writer and likely reviewed by a healthcare professional.
Medical writing also includes creating materials like scientific and medical journal articles that are published in peer-reviewed journals, healthcare professional education slide decks and documents, and regulatory documents for pharmaceutical companies.
A freelance medical writer is someone who offers medical writing services to companies on a contract basis. Many companies, such as healthcare organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and medical communications agencies, have on-staff writers that handle most of their content.
But when someone has a project that exceeds the bandwidth of their staff writers, that’s where freelancers come in. Freelance medical writing is similar to general freelance writing, but it’s more specialized.
Many companies also work with freelance medical writers regularly because it works well with the ebb and flow of their content process.
4. Who hires medical writers?
Any company that produces written materials likely hires medical writers.
According to the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA), there are many types of companies that hire medical writers, including contract research organizations, medical education companies, government agencies, and more.
I’ve personally worked with several types of companies on this list. Many of these companies are interconnected in the web of medical information, so the deliverables I’ve created for my direct clients also pass through to peer-reviewed medical journals, pharmaceutical companies, and professional association materials.
5. How much do you earn as a medical writer? How many hours do you spend each week on medical writing?
Employed medical writers and freelance medical writers tend to have slightly different income levels.
According to a 2019 medical writer salary survey conducted by AMWA, employed medical writers make a median gross annual income of $107,000, with a range of $79,000-$112,000. And freelance medical writers make a median gross annual income of $151,000, with a range of $77,000 to $203,000.
When you start working as a medical writer, you’ll tend to earn more on the lower end of the range (and if you work fewer hours). The more experience you get, your salary is likely to increase after several years toward the higher end of the range.
The very first project I secured as a freelance medical writer was a $4,000 project creating 8 slide decks for a medical conference, and I ended up making about $75 per hour. Since then I’ve gotten better at estimating how long certain projects will take. I’m also more efficient in how I work, so that helps raise my “effective hourly rate” as well.
I spend about 30-35 hours per week on medical writing on average. Due to the nature of freelancing, some weeks are 40+ hours and some weeks are less than 30 hours.
I have found that the best way to earn a good “effective hourly rate” as a freelance medical writer is to charge by the project. So while I have an idea of an hourly rate that I’d like to make, I always charge by the project because it results in better incentives for me and the client.
Charging by the hour incentivizes the writer to spend as much time as they can to create the deliverable so they can bill the maximum amount. With project rates, the writer is incentivized to spend less time, but still create a quality product since it’s their name on the line. In the end, the client has a high-quality deliverable faster.
6. Can anyone become a medical writer? What professions would this be a good fit for? What qualifications do you need to be a medical writer?
There are no set requirements to become a medical writer, so technically anyone can become a medical writer. That said, you will have to convince potential employers or clients to hire you.
If you have a background as a medical or medical research professional, this can be a huge advantage to getting into medical writing. You’ll likely already have the technical knowledge needed to understand medical information – you’d just need to focus on honing your writing skills.
There are many doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and PhDs that are successful medical writers.
On the other end of the spectrum, many medical writers have a bachelor’s degree in communications or journalism and they learn the medical part through courses or certifications.
7. How can a person find their first medical writing job? How can a person get into medical writing with no experience?
The first medical writing job is always the hardest. If you’re looking to be employed as a medical writer (think W-2 employee), most job postings say that you need 3-5 years of experience. So that leads to the conundrum, how do you get experience if you can’t get a job?
My suggestion is to emphasize what skills and experience you do have. I had written several scientific articles and slide decks in pharmacy school and residency. So those were my writing samples that demonstrated I could write well.
If you don’t have any samples of your writing, create some! After learning more about what type(s) of medical writing you want to do, pick a topic you’re interested in and create a 2-3 page article or 10-slide deck. Even these small samples demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about and can put together high-quality materials.
Getting started as a freelance medical writer with no experience tends to be a bit more difficult than with freelance writing in other fields, but once you get into medical writing, your earning potential can be higher, even as a beginner.
8. Is there demand for medical writers?
Since I’ve gotten into medical writing, the need for medical writers has only increased. According to AMWA, there has been increasing demand for medical writers in recent years.
I believe demand will continue to rise because there are always new drugs being created that need to be written about, and new research being done in the medical field.
Medical writers play an important role in communicating that information accurately.
It’s also worth mentioning that medical editing is an entirely separate, but related, field of medical communications. Medical editors tend to be more focused on checking documents for grammar and style, and the work is less creative than writing the documents.
But medical editors are also a key part of the medical communications world, and you’ll find editors working for medical and scientific journals, healthcare organizations, and other companies, making sure written materials are optimized and correct before going out into the public domain.
9. Is it hard to get a medical writing job?
As mentioned above, it can be difficult to get your first medical writing job. It will probably require some networking and talking with potential employers or clients to get you a better chance of getting hired.
Simply filling out job applications without any “real” medical writing experience may not be as effective, because your application may get rejected automatically during the screening process.
Once you’ve landed your first medical writing job or freelance gig, make sure you do a great job. That becomes your best marketing tool – if your clients like the work you do, you’ll never have a shortage of opportunities.
10. What other tips do you have for someone who wants to become a medical writer?
My #1 tip for anyone interested in medical writing is to check out the AMWA.org website. They have tons of resources for learning about medical writing and how to get started.
If you’re serious about medical writing and you don’t have much experience with the medical field or with writing, taking a medical writing certification course like the Essential Skills Certificate Program from AMWA can help you get the basic knowledge and skills you need to get started.
When I was first starting as a medical writer, I joined AMWA and found my first few clients through the job board on their website. I also attended the annual medical writing conference and got to network with other established and aspiring medical writers.
You’ll also find that many medical writers (myself included!) are more than willing to share tips or talk about what works to get into medical writing.
Ultimately, medical writing is a great profession that is only going to grow in the coming years. Writing isn’t for everyone, but if you have a knack for putting sentences together, you’re interested in medical or scientific topics, and you’re willing to put in the work, you can be successful as a medical writer!
How To Find Medical Writing Jobs
I hope you enjoyed today’s interview on how to become a medical writer.
Medical writing means that you will be writing on the topic of medicine or health care, but you don’t need to be a doctor or have a Ph.D. to get started with some medical writing jobs. Instead, some medical writers have a bachelor’s degree in communications or journalism, and then they learn the medical part through courses or certifications that they take. For example, you may decide to take some life sciences, chemistry, or biology courses in order to get started.
As a medical writer, you may be working for many different kinds of clients, such as pharmaceutical companies, medical device companies, medical schools, academic institutions, online publishers, biotechnology companies, medical professionals, scientists, and so much more. You may be writing advertising or marketing materials, abstracts, blog posts, educational materials, manuscripts, magazine articles, and more.
The average salary or income of a freelance medical writer can vary, but you may be able to earn between around $75,000 to over $200,000 per year.
Do you want to learn how to become a medical writer so that you can find medical writing jobs?