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Medical Editing and Writing

How do you become a Consultant?

by Caitlin McDonald  |  2187 views  |  2 comments  |        Rate this now! 

I have long promised to write about how I got started as a medical editing and writing consultant. I wish I could say that it would be as easy (knock on wood) for everyone as it has been for me. However, in retrospect, it was a long journey to this point.

When I was in high school, my father, who is a clinical researcher, started handing me journal articles and book chapters to proofread for him. He knew that I had an eye and an aptitude for it, so he would often ask me to copyedit for any typos or punctuation/grammar errors in his galleys before he returned them for publication. It was during this time that I got a feel for what scientific writing is supposed to look like. My father is very widely published and an excellent writer. It didn't take much effort on my part. It was like solving a puzzle: in my geekiness, I gloried in finding errors that professional editors hadn't caught.

When I was an undergraduate, I worked in my father's asthma research laboratory. I sat in on meetings that planned studies, and I worked as an assistant in conducting studies. Therefore, even as a creative writing major, I got a feel for study design and limitations, methodology and results. I was training for my future career, even though I had no idea or intentions toward it at the time.

I got a Masters Degree in English with the full intention of teaching literature and writing at the university level. However, life doesn't always work out the way we hope, and budgetary cuts made it necessary for me to find other employment. I obtained a position in a research institute at the local medical school. It was there that I got what I jokingly call my Masters in Medical Writing and Editing. One of my largest responsibilities was to support the researchers, so I sat in on countless meetings about research design. My role was to take notes and write reports, but you can't help but absorb knowledge about how to power a study, recruitment, study samples, and methodology when you sit in on that many meetings. I also organized and attended multiple workshops given to medical residents and interns on how to conduct research. I wrote guidelines for them to follow about creating research projects. I consulted books about clinical research design. I don't have a Masters in Public Health, because from what I have seen of the curriculum, I don't need to take those classes for credit. I had a crash course.

By the time I began consulting, I had read so many journal articles and so many grants that I knew their components intimately. They didn't intimidate me, and I knew how to imitate them. When I receive a manuscript from a client, I view it as a piece of marble that is supposed to look like a dog after I have chiseled it: I whittle away at or add to the manuscript until it looks like a dog. I have a platonic image in my head of what a perfect manuscript or grant application should look like, so I attack the piece before me until it matches the ideal in my head.

2 comments so far...

  • I found this interesting as well. I worked for a year in a medical newsletter-publishing house, and while it wasn't quite as rigorous as producing studies or grants, it still required more knowledge than I, an English/French major(!) had! Good for you, for parlaying your experience into a great career!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by el-e-e on 15th November 2007

  • My husband was looking into changing gears a little in his career recently, and he considered the field of medical editing. He has been a senior editor at a reference book publishing company for many years. Even so, medical editing -- as this article points out -- is its own specialty, and my husband's experience when he explored it was that he could not just glide over from the book publishing world into this one. (Although his years of experience have made him develop a razor sharp eye for the fine details.) Thank you for articulating this so well. It was good to read about your experiences and expertise.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by tkd_mama on 13th November 2007