Honors Writing about Health and Medicine

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What does medical and health writing encompass?

Take a look at the textbook chapters and sites I list on the syllabus, and then post a response (which can be a reply to another response) about something in one of the readings with which you engaged or about which you have questions. What, for example, surprised or intrigued you? What could you relate to your experiences or expectations? Feel free to include links, images, and questions.

Dr. Scott

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18 Comments

  1. pmgomezg says:

    through the same processes that they do. Like, for example, the question my AP Lang teacher Mrs. Schwartz wrote on my persuasive and analytical essays way more than one time…. “so what?”. However, medical writers have it even harder than most. Their information has to be so factual that if it’s not, not only does the writer lose credibility, but he or she may also cause a fatality to anybody who reads their writing and follows it. Not only that, they have to seriously consider what publication to use and whether their work will lie in obscurity as many do.
    Considering how much dedication and time is required to make it in the world of medical writing I came to ask myself how then can a medical professional be a medical writer also? After some careful thought, I came upon the realization that being a medical professional and a medical writer is sort of analogous to being a college student who also works, with some exceptions being the extreme ethics involved in medical writing. All are commitments that can’t easily be gotten out of. I learned that what is of most importance to be able to do both at once whether it be working as a medical professional and doing medical writings, or being a degree seeking student who also works, is time management. In my experience as a yearbook writer this was also true. My responsibilities included attending various events a week, interviewing the necessary people, transcribing the recordings of all the interviews, and of course writing the actual story which went through at least three drafts before reaching the final copy.
    As a side note, the most intriguing thought that crossed my mind was the visualization I formed of a health professional going through the process of writing a research paper or case study for an extended period of time. I could not help but picture all the family sleeping in bed as the professional feverishly works away in the study with the night light on. This thought saddened me while also empowering me. I can’t be sure if that’s what medical writers actually look like but if they do, one can’t help but think about the sacrifices made for work. Would you be willing to sacrifice a marriage, a family for work? That’s the most daunting thought of all. I don’t know if I would be able to handle that or the solitude that comes along with medical writing.

    • tamarabwi32 says:

      It’s interesting to me now that you question what a researcher in the health profession must look like, particularly with all the writing they do. In actuality (from what I have experienced) they are a lot like the professors that we see on campus all the time. The truth is a lot of the faculty on campus have dual roles of being professors and also researchers. As much time as they spend planning classes and grading assignments they also have to juggle grant writing, graduate students, and other components of their research. Health professionals have a job they perform on the day to day and layer it with some of the same components. Like professors, most people don’t realize the research component. I can also say that you won’t need to worry about the solitude of medical writing. Some of the most involved professors and veterinarians I know have a family and kids to look after and make sure that they can run through both priorities most of the time. The professor I did genetics research with had time to work his schedule around his kids sports practices and loved inviting family to big community events where he would present or educate the public about environmental awareness and the dangers of invasive species. Like you, I can relate it in a small part to my life and the 2 jobs, dance classes, classes, and instructor training for dance that I balance right now with my own family. Taking on all these responsibilities feel just as much like preparation for a career in veterinary medicine as the coursework I am required to complete as an undergraduate.

  2. pmgomezg says:

    (the beginning part that got cut out)

    After reading through the texts provided I came across some interesting content, especially in the required textbook, that I had not really thought about before reading it. It turns out that a medical writer would have to think about similar ideas that regular writers have to think about as well as go

  3. apectol91 says:

    I had no previous knowledge that Medical Writing was an actual career in itself. I always thought the journal articles and similar other publications I had been reading were just written by physicians/clinicians/health professionals. I was surprised by the diversity within the career. The AMWA listed a multitude of possible areas of writing within the health/medical field. I was also surprised to find that medical writers typically come from a medical/health/science educational background rather than an english/literature type educational background as I would have guessed, although there are medical writers who do come from the english/literature type educational background.

    • sarahmhudak says:

      I also didn’t quite grasp the scope of this career. I knew that there were careers in strictly writing about health and medicine, but I assumed that most of the literature was written by a healthcare professional. In my own experience, working in a psychology research lab, the psychologists write the case studies or write about the studies. In my own literature review while working at this lab, I noted that the authors of the articles were also the experimenters or the professionals rather than an informed but outside source. I find it surprising as well that purely medical writers come from a health background. Being a creative writing minor, I’ve had to take a few literature courses. Even though “writing what you know” is major factor in a good paper, I assumed that an extensive background in english, literature, or writing would be enough in this field. Obviously, it would be best for these professionals to have skills in both writing and healthcare. I decided to take this course because I know that I will be writing a lot of articles about studies in my future (since I want to go into research) and I would like them to be factual but interesting at the same time. I’m also hoping to use my Creative Writing minor to write medical fiction or case studies that can be considered “good-reads”. I’ve never considered a profession in medical writing, because I’d rather be “getting my hands dirty,” but courses like this will certainly improve the writing I will later do. Being an AMWA member would provide more learning opportunities and also, more job opportunities, as shown on their website.

      • jblakescott says:

        I agree that becoming an AMWA member could be beneficial to the types of practitioner/researcher medical writers that the Taylor book targets.

    • sbayona626 says:

      I am also somewhat surprised to learn that medical writers typically come from a more scientific background as opposed to a more literary one, although having an understanding of medical science seems important.
      Being in a science-intensive major such as Biomedical Sciences may put some at a disadvantage in terms of writing. To become a good writer, a certain amount of practice is needed that is not generally emphasized in science classes. At least not in the lower level or memory intensive classes. Perhaps over the years, practitioners become accustomed to the writing and decide to enter the medical writing field.

  4. ryanmarracino says:

    The first question that came to mind after reading through these websites and the first chapter “Getting Started in Medical Writing” was while this field of interest has really existed since the beginning of medicine, what has been the cause in recent years for development of this field into what now seems to be almost a full blown industry? Most recently, what comes to my mind is the field of advertising in medicine. It’s almost impossible to watch TV and not see a commercial for some type of drug, or new medical procedure. Another large part of the field of medical writing is in the discipline of regulatory writing and consumer health writing, as mentioned on “medicalwriter.blogspot.com.” Practicing medicine in any form in today’s society has a tremendous liability when it comes to the threat of a lawsuit against you. Writers who are informing the public or writing to a regulatory agency need to be able to disclose all necessary warnings and risks that may be associated with whatever item they are promoting or trying to get approved. What I also thought of through my experience of shadowing an orthopedic surgeon is that because so many doctors are specializing, there is a much higher potential for seeing many patients with the same problem, and therefore these doctors can more easily organize a study on similarities of treating these cases and what is most effective, etc.
    Another question I have that seems obvious at first glance, but in reality can be very complex is what is medical writing? After reading through the first chapter of the book it seems that one could almost classify medical writing as its own genre. I couldn’t help but think this way after the author describes how medical writing is much more than simply a research paper and how a writer needs to find and hone a style over many years of both practicing and also reading others’ work. The author describes in the first chapter how scientific writing can generally be very dense with information, and very lacking in fluency almost to the point of being unreadable. I completely agree with this thought because better writing style would not only get people to enjoy your work more, but also would allow the reader to retain the information easier. If readers are going to “graze, hunt, and gorge” through your paper, then you will need a consistent, flowing style so they don’t become overwhelmed with information.

    • jblakescott says:

      A few thoughts in response: 1) great point about the prevalence of drug advertising (note that direct-to-consumer advertising wasn’t allowed in the U.S. until 1997 and is still not allowed in most developed countries); 2) the use of the Internet by laypeople for medical/health info more generally has also fueled the medical writing industry; 3) I think our first assignment will demonstrate that medical writing is much too varied to be categorized as one genre.

  5. hgmohan says:

    The most interesting idea I found in my reading was the practice of writing in a team. Though I’ve had group projects before, I’ve never had to write a full paper along with other people. There are advantages and disadvantages to this practice. Being part of a team makes each participant more likely to do their work, as they do not want to let their team down. As the work is split into different sections, each teammate can really focus on their part. There are disadvantages to this as well. Somebody in the group may slack off, or may want to take over leadership.
    Still, I believe teamwork is essential to medical writing. It offers a way to make sure that every written fact is accurate, because a teammate may find an error that was overlooked. Unlike other kinds of writing, the accuracy of medical writing is paramount. The information that you write could be used by medical professionals around the world, and could save somebody’s life—and if written incorrectly, could potentially kill. It’s a slippery slope, because one mistake could lead to another, and you’ll soon find your credibility is gone. Using your team effectively, however, can make your writing that much better. All of the writing I’ve done in college, and even before, has been strictly individual. There will probably be a very large change in mindset to switch to team-based writing, because I am very particular about every sentence I write in my papers. To have to hand over that control to somebody else will be a new experience to me. I’m looking forward to it, though! I know that a lot of the assignments this semester are done in a group, so we will all have plenty of practice to work in teams.

    • sarahmhudak says:

      Currently, I’m a fan of teamwork, but I think group projects can be nightmares, especially at this academic level. Many times, students don’t have the same successful end goal in mind and one student usually ends up doing all the work. When I’ve spoken to graduate students in the healthcare field, or professionals, this does not seem to be the case. At this point, the apathetic seem to have been weeded out and true research and literature can be produced!

  6. kgardner1130 says:

    While reading through the textbook, I was most surprised to see that medical writing could be a form of storytelling. I had always envisioned medical writing as a more formal type of writing that included journal articles, research papers, and case studies. It was interesting to imagine that medical writing could expand into the realm of storytelling. Because I envision myself entering primary care, this could be one of the easiest and most fitting ways for me to incorporate writing and creativity into my career. The textbook also provided a slight laugh for me when I read the section about the “impact factor” of journals. While taking Microbial Metabolism, we had an assignment in which we could only use journals with a certain impact factor as references. Our professor had placed such a large emphasis on these scores but as the author of the textbook points out, there are many ways to trick the system. The author points out one instance in which the journal published an article that referenced its own articles from the previous year to raise their impact factor. When I read this, I had to smile to myself and wonder if any of the journals I used last semester had employed similar tactics.
    Lastly, as an avid Grey’s Anatomy and House fan, I have sometimes wondered how the producers came up with the medical cases and background for the shows. I was curious if they had writers with medical backgrounds or if they brought in medical experts as consults. When I stumbled across the section on the AMWA website about non-scientific medical writing, I learned that this is in fact a viable career choice in medical writing. It was interesting to me to see how medical writing expands far beyond the pages of the Journal of Bacteriology.

    • jblakescott says:

      Yes, great question about House–surely they had medical consultants of some sort. Interesting to think about the storytelling in a patient history and physician’s case history. Check out Groopman’s “How Doctors Think” for a compelling book about clinical practice structured around patient cases.

  7. kprashad says:

    I found that reading chapter one, Getting Started in Medical Writing and chapter five, What’s Special about Medical Writing, were very informative and interesting to read. There were great tips on writing that I never knew about and even more information that could help me when writing in the future.
    First off, I found that chapter 1 was a great introduction to the book. I liked that he reasons we should write are ways to express ourselves and different methods to get ourselves known to other people around the globe. What I found even more interesting was that many of the reasons on “why we don’t write” are there because the person needed help from another. Also, if I ever did write something, I found the tip to schedule that time early in the morning or late at night when patients would not call and to never do something else during this “writing time”. But what I liked even more was that writing can be something that leaves your place in history and that many famous medical figures are famous because of their writings.
    In chapter five, I read about different topics on why medical writing is unique, but during my reading I came across abbreviations and acronyms, and that just brought back numerous memories of previous classes and memorizing abbreviations and acronyms. But it was really fun reading about the Medical Slang and found it quite humorous that doctors have their own kind of slang. I was even impressed on how accurate the problems developed in writing teams was so accurate. Also, the Three Index Database sounded pretty interesting as it was like it was different agencies being used to gather information, such as CIA, NCIS, and FBI.
    In conclusion, I really liked reading the chapters. I also did not know that Medical Writing was a career in itself. What I liked most however, was the different tips that were on it, such as the variety of searching sites like MEDLINE, BioMedLib.com, and MD consult

  8. igoldfarb says:

    I am very interested to learn about Chapter 11 of our textbook, “How to Write a Report of a Clinical Study”. As I stated in our introductions on the first day of class, I am very interested in furthering my knowledge of how to cite other studies in my papers in the future. I am also interested in the correct way to write about a previous study. I am curious as to what information to include in my report as well as if my report should be opinionated or should be strictly facts based on the study I am writing about. Since the information I am writing about is coming from other Doctors/Health Professionals, who have done the study, do I have to constantly cite them or do I just state at the beginning of my report that all of the statistics and facts I will be discussing are property of Drs. Blank, Blank & Blank? Like I stated in class, I am a two-time cancer survivor and I consider myself to be “fluent” in the medical jargon so naturally I have read enough studies on various cancer treatments and surgeries to the point that I have lost count. But I have yet to read a report that summarizes numerous studies or offers the author’s opinion on a topic. I look forwarding to learning about these and many more topics this upcoming semester.

  9. erahmes says:

    There are a lot of things I never attributed to medical writing, such as the leaflet that comes in your prescription or the brochure in the doctor’s office. I never realized medical writing was such a huge field and how much it makes up our everyday life (commercials, magazines, newspapers). Something that really surprised me about medical and health writing is that there are certificate and degree programs specifically for the subject. I always thought the people who did this type of writing were either journalists or physicians who had extra time or enjoyed writing. I wasn’t aware you could specifically write about medicine and health as a career. I was also surprised by the fact that some writers don’t have any medical background. I would think that in order to write about medicine and health you would have some sort of experience with it, but as the AMWA website stated, non-scientific writers “learn about medicine by becoming medical writers.” I think the area that interests me the most and relates to my experience is the area of epidemiology. I took Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases last summer and there were several assignments where we had to read science journal articles and adapt them so that a general audience could understand. I think this is a huge part of medical writing, because a lot of the time the audience cannot understand what is being written. As the author of the textbook said, readability is very important. I wasn’t aware that writing was such a common thing for physicians to do and I am curious as to how they find the time.

    • jblakescott says:

      Great experience in the epidemiology course. That type of adaptation is an important competency even for practitioners who don’t have the goal of getting published.

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