Imagine the scenario… you’re at a party and you’re introduced to someone new. Exchanging pleasantries, you’re asked THE question you hate to answer. You start to twitch, stutter, and eventually you say, ‘I’m a medical writer…’. Before you’ve finished saying the words, you already know their reply; in fact, you can – if you’re on the ball – mime the response at the same time as they say it (but that would be rude…) ‘YOU’RE A WHAT?’
That’s right, I’m a medical writer! I write about medical things… there’s more to it than that, but that’s how my explanation often starts. However, if I’m a little more alert, it seems the best way of explaining what I do, is to explain where I came from…
…Always a geek and at the age of 11, I knew I wanted to be a cancer researcher. Why? My Grandad died of it, from this personal experience, I could see cancer REALLY sucks – I wanted to bosh it on the head. Simple. A few years’ of education ensued (and a few more)… I did a degree in Biology, a PhD in cancer research, and postdoctoral research in leukaemia. I loved it, but at the time I was 26 and saw too many people 10 years older than me on 1-month rolling contracts. The instability was not for me so I got out as soon as I could and moved into medical communications.
Medical commucations, or medcomms, as those in the know call it, is a thriving industry full of spods such as myself who support doctors, nurses, patients, and pharmaceutical companies in all of their medical writing activities. From writing a scientific manuscript for a journal such as The New England Journal of Medicine, through to writing a patient counselling tool, or even helping doctors with scientific presentations at big international meetings – a medical writer does allsorts! I love what I do. Someone else does the research, and I help them write it up! I’m a professional medical writer (see this paper for a down and dirty explanation of professional medical writing). I’ll write more about this another time. But this is how I ended up in New Zealand. It turns out medical writers are lacking over here, and New Zealand Immigration recognised that and gave me a residency visa (a.k.a my golden ticket) that allowed myself, my lovely wife, and The Spaniel to move New Zealand.
To give you an idea of what I do, here is a lightly edited version of a post from a recent initiative by a cool guy called Peter Llewellyn in the UK, which plotted A Day in The Life of Medcomms as it happened throughout the world. Hopefully it will provide you with a taster of what I do.
“Imagine… it’s a dank, dark, day, its mid-January 2011, and you’ve worked over Christmas as part of the run up to American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) submissions (or FI-ASCO as I endearingly call it) [for readers not familiar with it, this is the largesst cancer conference in the world]. Your client is on the West Coast of the US and you’re working until silly o’clock again for the nth time in a row to cover the US time zone.
Well, that’s how my journey to Auckland, New Zealand began. I will spare you the full details of my journey (for now…), but working long nights was getting pretty tedious, and the solution seemed simple – flip time zones! I could then start work earlier in the day and finish earlier! I guess that’s the magic of MedComms, with a laptop and a phone you can work almost anywhere with a few minor exceptions (Antarctica anyone?).
At 7:30 am this morning, I checked my emails from home. My clients are a US MedComms agency, and so given the overlap in time zones, there is a window of opportunity up to 11am New Zealand time to read and respond to any emails, or chat to the client if needed. And then it was off to the beach to walk the dog! Auckland has fantastic beaches, and even in the middle of winter it is pretty mild. This also gives me the opportunity to mull over my work for the day, and consider what my priorities should be.
At 8:30 am(ish), suitably refreshed after walking the dog and a short trip to the office, I got straight into my day of medical writing. I received a brief overnight to write an outline for a manuscript for a top-tier general medical journal. First, I listened to a recording of the kick-off call with the authors and client, and the rest of my day was then spent writing the outline. The great thing about working in New Zealand is that I can do the part of a medical writing job I REALLY enjoy… the writing! For the client, having a writer in New Zealand allows projects to be kept moving forward around the clock. They can effectively work all 24 hours in the day, and no-one drops through exhaustion.
As your working day begins, I’m now on the beach (see below). I’ve now handed the baton over, and it’s now up to you to keep that MedComms wheel spinning, until tomorrow that is…”