I had been occupied for four years selling oncology reference laboratory testing services. It was a great job. It was with a start-up venture capital-backed company. We offered a wide range of immunohistochemical testing and gene rearrangement analyses that the “big labs” didn’t do yet. Was a PhD required for this job? No, it wasn’t. Did having a PhD help me succeed in the job? Definitely: it helped me get appointments to see the pathologists, oncologists and hematologists who ordered our tests. It got me invitations to speak about our services at hospital department meetings. Did it help me sell? Not really. It got me through the door, but role models and sales training helped with the selling skills that were needed.
So what happened? We were successful. People started using us and we grew. We caught the attention of a competitor who decided that “if you can’t beat them, buy them,” which they did. Shortly afterward, our facilities were closed and most of us were let go. So, I was looking for work and taking stock of what I had learned in those four years that would be useful in selling myself to another employer; indeed, another career. It came down to interpersonal skills, learning how to listen carefully to others and draw them out, formulating communications objectives better, and getting my point across in fewer words. All have proved helpful for medical writing and for convincing others that they need medical writing assistance.
Then what happened? A friend told me about one of our grad school classmates who had started a medical communications company and that she might be looking for medical writers. In fact, I had no idea what a medical communications company was or what it did, but I believed that I could write well. I called her the next day. She explained what her agency did. It was almost like what I came to know as a “capabilities presentation.” The agency had a new client who needed some slide kits and a product monograph for a recently approved drug. She said if I were interested in working with her as a medical writer, it might “work out” mainly based on our being friends in the same grad school lab some years earlier.
It wasn’t long afterward that I found myself sitting at a desk in front of a Mac (I’ve always liked Macs) working on a slide presentation kit intended as a companion to a new drug product monograph. So what was it all about? It was about describing clearly and accurately various key events occurring over several years of clinical development needed to commercialize a “pharmaceutical product,” all within the limits of about 50 slides or 30 pages. I had written many slide presentations, some publication manuscripts and reviews of published research during graduate school and my time in academia, but there were some differences that made this work challenging.
Among these were deadlines, mostly set by others, mostly too short and occasionally referred to as “drop-dead lines.” This placed a premium not only on collecting needed information but on doing the required synthesis and writing quickly. It was stressful at first, but became easier with experience. Also, documentation was king. Perhaps a euphemism for generating “annotated references” from published, peer reviewed journal articles or medical textbooks. What was new and different about this? Text supporting statements in the doc or slide had to be highlighted in the reference and coded so that people could easily find and compare the two. At first this seemed silly because it wasn’t needed in manuscripts that I had submitted to journals. However, annotation eases verification that a writer’s statements are in line with claims made in the product indication, license information and labeling. Are there other things that distinguish medical writing? Yes, but I’ll save that for later blogs.
So how did it all go? Well, it went – meaning it went OK. The transition to medical writing might have been easier had the first agency I joined been the second one I worked in, but more of that later. In fact, it’s always been “onward and upward,” and I’ve not looked back.