Medical writing: Its future, people, and processes

by Teresa Ceseña

Medical writers are the people that tell the story of new drugs coming to market. It’s a very important job, and one that needs to be performed to exact specifications. While attending the invitation-only Medical Writing Executives Forum: Preparing for the Future of Medical Writing in Pharma and Biotech for the American Medical Writer’s Association (AMWA) in Washington, D.C., it was evident that the medical writing profession is evolving.

There are some difficult issues facing the medical writing profession – most notably, constrained timelines. Combine this with lower levels of clarity on the scope of projects and the need for medical writers to take on more responsibilities, the industry is facing some tough challenges.

Retention strategies for keeping good medical writers

Retaining good medical writers can be difficult with a shifting industry, but it’s imperative. With an industry-low 3.5 percent attrition rate, I think we’re getting it right at MMS. What I have found is that flexibility is key – especially for those with family responsibilities.

Flexibility pays off in dividends and colleagues generally end up contributing more, as they feel supported.

It is also important to be open to hiring medical writers without experience at times. By focusing on the traits of a successful medical writer, hiring managers can hone in on finding people with potential that have those inherent traits.

Once a colleague without experience joins, investing in training and proper mentoring by senior colleagues with industry experience pays off in terms of retention.

Encouraging process efficiencies

Medical writers that improve together stay together. To do that, it’s important to give them some autonomy to find and correct processes in their daily work.

Good medical writers are usually very open to proposing solutions for challenges that they face. Luckily, it is not a hard sell. Efficiencies benefit everyone – savings the writer’s and sponsor’s from wasted effort and time. By being open to suggestions from all colleagues, medical writing leadership can successfully implement efficiencies at almost every step of drug development.

Every time that a new colleague begins, it should be viewed as an opportunity for someone to review a group’s processes with a fresh set of eyes.

Balancing a global team

The best medical writer for your team may not be in the same town as headquarters, or even that same state or country. There are certainly challenges associated with working remotely, but they are not insurmountable.

One of the greatest benefits to working off-site is zero commute time. However, engaging those colleagues that work from home is critical. This means getting to know them, understanding their interests and career goals, and helping them achieve those goals.

The importance of a sense of belonging should never be underestimated. I have found that many times, a medical writer’s professional goals align nicely with corporate goals.

The future of medical writing

Industry tools that ease the burden of a medical writer’s work are set to be at the forefront of medical writing’s future. Lately, many new tools have been implemented internally and at the sponsor level. The goal is to not only to be the first to utilize new industry tools, but to be at the planning table.

Going beyond the day-to-day work to assist in the creation of new tools can also be a win-win situation. For instance, we are in the process of creating a quality control (QC) tool, where tests have shown to decrease QC timelines by 30 percent.

One of the biggest challenges is staying on top of the latest industry guidance and regulations that govern pharmaceuticals. This is where we, as an industry, can loop in eager colleagues to track any changes. It gives them a say in their collective future by sharing what they learn.

When updates are not pushed from the top down, it gives an opportunity for more colleagues to help us stay in touch with industry trends, which is good for all levels of medical writers.

About the author
Teresa Ceseña, Ph.D., is Associate Director, Regulatory and Medical Writing at MMS global headquarters, based in Canton, Mich.

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