Healthcare Writing

Colleen Shannon, Freelance Medical Writer

How to hire a medical writer

The stakes are high when you’re looking for help with a medical writing project. You need to know the work will be accurate, honest and effective. So how do you go about finding and working with the best writer for your project?

Do I need a medical writer?
There are some excellent reasons to involve an editorial professional. The obvious one is time. Even if you have great writers on your team - or you’re a pretty good writer yourself - you might simply need an extra pair of hands to get the job done because everyone is really busy.

Other times, a professional medical writer can fill a skills gap, or bring in extra knowledge. Maybe you need a writer with a particular style, someone who can get the words just right for your audience.

A medical writer is one way to go but keep an open mind. Hiring a freelance to carry out specific parts of the task might be more cost-effective. Maybe what you really need is a good researcher to trawl and assess the literature. Sometimes it is faster to have a member of your team write the bare bones, and then ask a freelance editor to flesh it out. It’s always a good idea to have an independent proofreader give your work a final check.

In the longer term, consider investing in some training so your team can take future jobs all the way from start to finish, allowing you to keep full control of the job in-house.

How do I find a good freelance writer?
First of all, look for someone who matches your brief. A mastery of the subject area is nice to have but not essential. Most medical writers will get up to speed quickly on most topics. Their experience with your format, platform and audience might be more important.

The ideal approach is to ask for recommendations. If your contacts can help, a referral from someone you trust is by far the best way to recruit a medical writer.

But what if this is not an option?

Recruit through a talent agent and you have an instant friend in the business. They should provide a list of candidates who have already been vetted, and the agent should be able to match you up with a writer who suits your needs. They can also give you lots of advice and support on the admin side. Sometimes I book work through my own agent, George Buckland - he does all this and more, and he does it brilliantly.

If you can’t pay an agent’s fees, your next option is a DIY search. Most professional organisations for medical writers have a directory of members, and this can be a great way to find the right person for your assignment.

There’s an element of built-in quality control, because every member will have gone through an application process. This typically involves showing examples of published work, being approved by officials in the group, and providing recommendations. These are all reputable organisations with member directories:

Guild of Health Writers (contact the administrator)

Medical Journalists Association (complete their query form)

European Medical Writers Association

Association of British Science Writers

Society of Authors (has a medical writers section).

When you’ve found a writer you like, don’t stop there. Ask for writing samples and a couple of references from recent clients or employers.

Once you’ve ticked all these boxes, congratulations! You are ready to talk terms.

How much does it cost?
You might find that your chosen writer is reluctant to quote a rate immediately. This is more reasonable than it might seem. The fee depends on the nature of the project: not only how much time it will take but also how much responsibility is involved, what level of education or knowledge is required, whether it’s a rush job and how much support you can provide.

Most medical writers charge by the hour and will supply a time sheet with each invoice. Fees vary widely but it’s reasonable to expect a range of £320 to £500 per day. Some highly qualified or in-demand medical writers will charge more.

It’s less common than it should be, but you could also ask about a fixed fee for the project. That way you are paying for a result rather than time, and it’s easier to stick to your budget.

What about the admin?
You absolutely need a contract with your medical writer. This is important to assign copyright, for example. If your organisation does not have a standard contract for medical writers, a well-organised professional will have their own version for your consideration.

Having professional indemnity insurance is another mark of a serious partner for your project.

How can I make sure the job is done right?
The results you get will only be as good as the brief you give, so it’s worth putting in the effort to get this right from the very beginning. If your initial ideas are a bit vague that’s OK. A good medical writer will jump at the chance to develop the brief with you side-by-side. This can save you loads of time and it means you get extra value from your writer’s knowledge and experience.

Clear communication is essential, so stay in touch. Don’t just leave your writer to get on with the job alone.

At the end of the project, give your freelance some feedback and a debrief. It should be a two-way process, so why not ask your writer how it went from their point of view? And if the project results in an award or other kudos, please let your writer know. We’re only human and we like to share the glow of success.