More than once, I have been asked to guide on a career as a Medical Writer and why I chose this field. It is difficult to address each and everyone’s query as some are on Messenger, some on Email, some on LinkedIn, etc etc etc. Therefore, I have decided to write a piece on the topic so that it is easy for me to reply all queries just via a link, and those concerned, get the answer.
Let me begin with my journey, which is incomplete without giving a background on how I decided to opt for Medical Writing. This one is going to be a long write up. Have patience.
Part-I: Me vs The Universe
It starts post HSC (High School – Science: Year 1999), I completed my graduation in Alternative Medicine—Bachelors in Homoeopathic Medicine and Surgery (BHMS) from SCMPH Medical College, Vile Parle, Mumbai. It is one of the best Homoeopathic Medical Colleges in India and I think even in Asia. The plan was to do MBBS and try to be a surgeon; but the Universe had other plans for me, I guess.
In the year 1999, MH-CET, a common entrance test, was introduced. Prior to this, admissions to medical colleges were based on High School 12th Grades gross percentage for the subjects Physics-Chemistry-Biology (PCB), may be Math (M), English and Hindi/Marathi were considered for overall aggregate percentage. It was PCM was for engineering admissions.
Well, back to the year 1999, at home, I got the permission to study but in Mumbai City, my residence city. And hence based on my MH-CET rank and also that I took admission in the second round1, I landed up taking admission in a medical college at a distance of 30 minutes via road from my house. It was then one of the two (alternative) medical colleges in the Western Suburbs of Mumbai. Rest all medical colleges (Modern Medicine and/or Alternative Medicine) then were situated in South Mumbai, also famously known as the town side.
Post completing BHMS, I wanted to pursue a post graduation in Medical Science but not an MD in Homoeopathic Medicine. I wasn’t prepared to go into full-time clinical practice. In 2005, I enrolled for MSc in Clinical Research (ICRI-Mumbai affiliated to Cranfield University, UK). Why? Because it was a revision of Anatomy, Physiology, Pathology, Surgery & Medicine for me, and the course covered Pharmacology, something which is missing in BHMS syllabus, ideally should have been covered or else a student’s knowledge on Modern Medicine gets limited as it is left for self-study. Plus, MSc in Clinical Research gave me insight into the Clinical Research domain. Now, in the last term of this two-year program, I decided to be a Medical Writer as that suited me best rather than be a Clinical Research Coordinator or Clinical Research Associate or Data Expert or other career options which the course offered.
Despite being one of the best students, I could not get job though campus placement. My bad luck is pretty high in life. I never get anything without struggle. You will find me and the Universe in a perpetual state of argument without coming to an understanding. What it offers, I don’t understand. What I want, I am never offered.
Nevertheless, I started looking for a job in the Newspaper and on Job Portals, and somehow the Universe was a little kind, and I landed up with a job of a Medical Writer in Mumbai. But there is a twist here. The job was not in a Pharmaceutical Company or Clinical Research Organization (CRO) as I had hoped, but in an Advertising Agency. My planning is another thing which the Universe never approves. No clue why.
Since I was a fresher with no published article with my name or byline, or any formal training in Mass Communication, there was no negotiation for the salary. What was offered I took and what was offered was significantly low (very very low that took care of my travelling via public transport and simple food expense. I stayed with and still stay at my parents’ home. Not out of choice, more so because of so-called societal norms, of which, I am not a big fan but my mom thinks otherwise, always did and will continue to do so, I guess) in comparison to my peers who got job through campus placement. Well, they were the lucky lot.
And that’s how I got my first job as a Medical Writer in a Healthcare Advertising Agency, in the year 2007, after 8.5 years of post high school education with a salary that just did not justify the years spent in academics.
Part-II: Destiny? Choice? Both?
Now, what I did as a Medical Writer in a Healthcare Advertising Agency? Answer is both Medical Writing and Copy Writing. So it was medicine combined with creativity to send the message to the target audience. Healthcare ad agency has Pharma Companies, Medical Device Companies, Hospitals, Diagnostic Centres, Nutritional Products, etc as clients. So I was ideating, writing and editing very scientific copy as well as creative lines/copy for product/service promotion. In short, I was Design Thinking right from my first job–a term that I came across only three years back during MBA sessions.
The work was either B2B – Business to Business or B2C – Business to Consumer communication creation. I had to write catering to both of Business Systems here. If the client brief was clear, then the copy gets approved very quickly. Unfortunately that was and is almost never the case. Therefore, be prepared to work on one brief for at least 3 to 5 times if you are a fresher. Your copy gets rejected till the client approves, which you are to ensure as each client is important business that brings money to your agency and hence your pay. Well, honest answer, each rejection tames your ego because your best idea is trashed and so is a bit of your ego. It was a good ego taming exercise. You have to work very closely with the Copy Writers, Copy Editors, Proofreaders, Creative/Graphics Team, Digital Team, Printers, Vendors, Client Servicing Team, Product Managers (if the agency has that department), and occasionally, ‘The Client’. Also, the working hours depends on the project deadline. If you want a sharp 9 am to 5 pm job and weekends free, then I doubt this is the right choice. There are times when the team works overnight and throughout the weekends to ensure the deliverable is on time, especially during Product Launches and other Events.
My creative side got a boost here. I was a good Medical Writer and not-so-bad Copy Writer! I got a decent appraisal post six months, which allowed me to eat once in a while in a good restaurant but again on splitting-bill basis. Paying the entire group bill was still a long way to go.
Next job was in a website company – a Healthcare Website as a Medical Content Developer. It was in 2008, and I got 100 percent raise. Not bad at the time of economic recession. But my previous pay itself was low, so this wasn’t great amount, but I was grateful. I could pay the entire food bill if I was in a group. The office was closer to my residence saving the travel time. Universe was a little kind this time.
What I did here? Well, I was leading the team, other writers were freelancers. Writing was solely B2C. The copy had to be website user friendly, means it was supposed to be scientific but written in easy understandable language without a reader getting tangled in medical jargons. It was good learning experience. I was introduced to Blog here as there was a Company Blog and posted on it. And hence, I decided to have my own blog. So yes, I am blogging for 11 years now! It was job low on stress, 10 am to 6 pm, alternate Saturdays off, nothing to complain.
I completed a short-course in Creative Writing from XIC, Mumbai and enrolled in MA English from SNDT Women’s University (Distance Education) to help me polish my writing skills.
Next 2010, I got job in Infomedia18, a part of Network18, as a Senior Features Writer for two B2B Magazines – Modern Medicare and Modern Pharmaceuticals. This was a breakthrough for me. Network18 is a big brand and that on my CV, I was happy. Pay was ok. Not great. Still traveling public transport, with may be once in a month cab drive from home to work place (Western Suburbs to South Mumbai). Otherwise it was either railway or BEST bus or both. Oh yes, now I could afford to buy branded garments and accessories. A few, not many. Earlier, I never entered these stores or mall. Window shopping is not me. I either shop or not.
I worked here for one year. I am glad I got to work as a correspondent, a journalist and a writer, all at once. But I think I wanted more than this. I enjoyed one year. I got to travel to three cities – Hyderabad, Chennai and Goa. I loved interacting with team members from other cities and other organizations. Attending press conferences, events, field visits, interviewing experts, reviewing books/products—all was a new experience as I have to be attentive in each of the above mentioned events because I was expected to file post event article. It was a good break. However, I had to move on.
Next, year 2011, I joined the Corporate Communication Team of Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital (KDAH)—one of the leading hospitals of Mumbai. The same year, I decided to appear for Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exam. It was my last chance to give the exam as there is an age limit. And I appeared with one month of preparation. I was sure I wouldn’t get selected. But I wanted to eliminate the ifs-buts in life. To live with an-if or a-but is difficult. So it is best to know a- yes or a-no so as to live at peace. Well, it was a No. But I had a job in one of the best hospital in the city. I was Thankful to the Universe.
Pay, not great2. I still did not have a formal degree in Mass Communication. Neither did I have a Business Administration qualification. And I was still in my second year MA English as I took one year break to appear for the UPSC exam. But, I couldn’t complain. The hospital is at a walking distance from my house. So it saved money on travelling, which I spent on buying more of branded clothes and accessories. Not a wise decision, I do realize that now. A penny saved is a penny earned. I am gaining that wisdom the hard way. But I was happy! 🙂
Working hours, same as any corporate organization—9 am sign in, but there is no fixed time for signing out. All hospitals work 6 days in a week and on Sundays it is mostly working again as all conferences are weekend events. I am grateful that I got to report to the decision makers and every reporting was a different experience in itself. I worked here for three years—three years of rigorous working and three -years of learning-learning-learning so much that the knowledge gained is something I will carry forward throughout my career.
What I did as a Corporate Communication professional? Well, here it was Corporate Communication + Branding. Basically, we were a team of four and we functioned as an In-House Advertising Agency + PR Agency + Media Buying Agency + Digital Team + Internal Communication Team. Yes, each in itself is a job description, we did it all and we made a very versatile team. For me, it was a job balancing between writing and coordinating, both internal and external communication. In sort, now, I was a Design Thinker and a Project Manager.
I completed my MA English and a Post Grad Diploma (PGD) in Project Management from S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR) while working at KDAH. The Senior Management and HR team were very cooperative when it came to pursuing further education. Universe blessed me here. The organization was becoming my comfort zone, and for some reason, comfort zone isn’t a great feeling. I know it is strange but so is the case with me. And therefore, it was time to move.
Next job was a mere coincidence that happened in 2014. I was to join a healthcare advertising agency again, but I landed working with Wockhardt Hospitals Group for the launch of their flagship hospital in South Mumbai. Now, this was something I have never done before and wanted to see where I stood. It was my first job on paper that had dual reporting. I was reporting to the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and Chief Information Officer (CIO). I was a part of the Marketing Team responsible for the PR (Media Releases, Press Conference, etc.) and also responsible for an IT Project and Digital Content. A very unique experience. A chance to apply my project management skills to the fullest extent. A successful launch. It involved coordination with many agencies and vendors. A hospital launch project is something one should experience if you are a part of hospital sector.
Pay was ok2. My shopping continued. I traveled more often in cab (often, not always). Thinking back, overall, it was good. I was doing my Mass Communication from Xavier Institute of Communication (XIC), Mumbai now and I got permission from my seniors and the HR team, which meant a lot considering that I was in the system for only six months.
Year 2015: Another coincidence. I was to join a foundation, but I took the other offer – Brand and Communication Lead at Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai. Pay was ok 2. I added ecommerce to my buying list. Yes I know, my shopping list just keeps getting lengthier. Not a wise call.
Once again, the hospital is located close to my house that equals to less time spent travelling = less stress. Travelling in Mumbai can be very stressful if you reside at a distance from the work place. A job close to your residence is considered as a blessing.
Then, the hospital was in aggressive marketing mode as it was the after phase when the Operations & Management (O&M) was overtaken by the new management team. I was a part of the new team, not the trust employee. Here, I saw how to balance between the union and non-union employees. A very big learning lesson. Here, communication strategy may be the same as in other hospitals, but the tactic has to be different. Many emotions, many sentiments. All need to be balanced. But I had a wonderful experience working with all the professionals here, union or otherwise. Well, I had applied to various MBA programs and I got selected for PGPMX (equivalent to MBA) at the Indian Institute of Management Indore (IIMI). Once again, the Seniors and the HR were considerate and I was given permission to attend the college on weekends. But now balancing between academics and almost seven days working was challenging.3 If not at work, I was to be available on call, and college has some decorum to follow, plus assignment deadlines to meet. So I had to take a break from an extremely busy corporate life to a life of a Consultant, much relaxed. Another spin from the Universe as this wasn’t the actual plan.
Part-III: Medical & Marketing Consultation
From 2016 onwards: Presently, I am a Consultant to various Marketing, Communication, Branding, Advertising & Strategy Projects. Mostly healthcare, but I have also been part of projects from other sectors like NGOs, Education, Real Estate, Start-Ups, Fashion, Finance and there is ample to add to this list. I am working on it.
So yes, I started as a Medical Writer, then Digital Content Lead, worked as a Journalist, spent five years leading the Hospitals’ Branding & Communication Teams, and now, a Marketing Consultant. This journey equals to 12 years of working and educating, simultaneously. Not an easy journey, but not a very difficult one too.
In every new job, I got to utilize the training gained through an additional academic qualification that added more quality and value to my existing work experience and technical skills. I won’t call my professional life a total success yet, but I don’t think it is a failure either. An attitude of gratitude helps me sail through difficult phases. Universe, hope you are listening/reading, whatever!
Medical Writing in a Nutshell
I would like to describe Medical Writing as:
- B2B: Business to Business. Very scientific. Full of medical jargons as the audience is expected to be well-versed in the medical field. Research and Evidence Based statements. Relevant Citations to be given wherever required. Citations should follow standard norms. Care should be taken that proper referencing guidelines is followed or else the article is subject to plagiarism. Some examples would be a Chapter in a Medical Text Book, Research Papers and Published Magazine Articles with industry expert quotes.
- B2C: Business to Consumer. Easy language yet no deviation from the fact. Audience does not understand medical dictionary. This needs to be kept in mind while writing. You can make it creative, add statistical data, images, videos, etc. Facts have to be from relevant source (and mention the source). Copy pasting can lead to copyright issues. Hence, one should be very careful while creating content. Examples would be any healthcare website that gives basic information on disease and its management or any lifestyle or fashion magazine that has an article on healthcare and wellness.
- C2C: This is a type that has more to do with the advent of social media. Say for example, someone is asking a disease related question on a forum and the other person is answering to that query. Now, what is important is that the answer has to be evidence-based. One wrong reply and you never know who is reading, what age the person is, and if the answer is not medically and scientifically sound, then it can create massive problem to some life. Hence, it is best the questions are replied by experts – not necessary a doctor, the person should be a qualified expert in that field – say a PhD or other relevant medical qualification. It is always best to visit your treating doctor to get a prescription. Online medical content is just to create awareness, and its application is not accurate when it comes to making a diagnosis or in actual disease management. Clinical Examination by a doctor plays a crucial role while coming to a diagnosis. This is something one cannot do online. So please, all readers, visit your treating physician for the right diagnosis, treatment and follow-ups.
Now, the approach to writing will differ based on the communication medium– Print or Digital, Paid, Owned or Earned Media, etc. I will describe that in detail may be in another post. Also, while creating content, try to focus on the 6 W’s – Why, Where, When, Who, What and How. It simplifies the content and makes it more reader friendly.
And when I say ‘Content’, I do not mean only writing pieces. It can be Research Paper, Ad copy, Ad campaign, Audio Visual, AV Script, Ad Script, Movie Script, Movie, Film, Video, Image, Animated Images, Website, Social Media, Blog, Vlog…anything and everything that sends a message to the readers/audience.
Those who are interested in my work, the following are links to some of the magazine issues that has articles published under my byline. All articles, by all authors, in every issue are worth reading irrespective of the year it was published. Highly insightful and applicable even in the current setting.
https://issuu.com/infomedia18/docs/modern_medicare_january_2011 https://issuu.com/infomedia18/docs/modern_medicare_february_2011 https://issuu.com/infomedia18/docs/modern_medicare_march_2011
Thank you for your patience. Hope this helped.
1 In 1999 when MH-CET was introduced, there were three rounds for admission then and all the candidates, who has cleared the entrance, had to travel to Nashik as the MUHS University was then shifted from Mumbai to Nashik—a city at a 3 to 4 hours road way distance from Mumbai. If I would have waited for third round then I would have wasted 6 months, which means next batch, but probably would have got admission in Mumbai or Navi Mumbai in MBBS or BDS as many of my batchmates with lower ranks got. However, it was the first time for admissions through an entrance test and people were confused, with no one guide. The Internet then was slow and there were no smart phones. Also, the decision was influenced by the fact that my family had just shifted to Mumbai in 1996 after my father’s sudden death and we were still grieving. Until June 1996, I was a student, a proud student, of MES Indian School, CBSE, Doha-Qatar. Post this, all my education, which is very extensive, is from academic institutions situated in Mumbai, India.
2 Pay in the Indian Hospital Sector is low in comparison to other sectors. It is pretty much similar to the NGO or Foundation pay. Slightly higher may be. But not a wow salary. However, be it economic high or low phase, hospitals are always functioning. So yes job security is high. Plus an employee may get some Health Check Discounts.
3 All academic programs which I completed while I was working were either Distance Education or Part-Time Weekend Programs. A Hospital Functions 24/7-365 days. So balancing work and academics is not easy.
– Ashu Bolar