Becoming a Health Writer
So you think you might like to become a health writer? Health writers generate content for medical publications and the general public. They have a specific area of expertise or a working knowledge of different health concerns. Like many technical writers, health writers typically work on a freelance basis, which gives a greater degree of freedom in determining work hours. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth is expected to be better than average for these professionals in the coming years, due to a growing dependence on science and technology of all kinds.
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree|
|Degree Field||English, journalism, communication, or other related field, as well as training in a specialized health field|
|Experience||1-5 years of professional experience|
|Key Skills||Technical writing skills, communication skills, knowledge of various health topics, imagination, and proficiency in word processing software and interactive technologies, such as basic video editing and graphic design software|
|Salary||$71,850 per year (median wage for all technical writers)|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
So what are the career requirements? Starting with the right education is important. Employers look for someone with at least a bachelor's degree. The degree field should be English, journalism, communication, or another related field. Employers also look for someone with specialized training in a health field. Employers look for someone with 1-5 years of similar experience.
- Technical writing skills
- Communication skills
- Knowledge of various health topics
- Proficiency in word processing software and interactive technologies
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for technical writers is $71,850.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
Health writers often need to earn a bachelor's degree in a writing area, along with training specific to their field. To improve their writing and communications skills, students may supplement their education with electives in editing, non-fiction writing, and reporting. Some courses require written assignments in which students explore writing style, tone, and objectives.
Some universities have specific degree programs in science journalism that offer courses in writing, journalism, medical reporting, and scientific writing. Students learn current health concerns and how to communicate medical information to a variety of audiences. For example, health writers looking to address medical professionals through medical journals and hospital newsletters need to be fluent in medical language. Alternatively, health writers who want to communicate information to the general public may want to take courses in writing style to help find employment with newspapers, magazines, or health websites.
Here's a tip for success:
- Earn a certificate. The American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) offers voluntary certificate programs in areas ranging from composition to research. Each certificate requires attending a 3-hour AMWA workshop and completing prerequisite assignments that provide basic knowledge of the skill to be discussed.
Step 2: Gain Experience
Some degree programs build internships into the curriculum, which may require students to do fieldwork with a medical publication. There are also positions available for interns or freelance writers to report on health-related topics for newspapers or magazines. This provides health writers with the opportunity to further develop their research, writing, and interviewing skills.
Step 3: Build a Portfolio
Employers in this field will usually require a review of a writer's portfolio during the interview process. As such, health writers should begin building a portfolio of work while completing their degree program and internship, and adding any additional published work.
Step 4: Join a Professional Organization
Health writers may connect with medical professionals, researchers, and publishers through professional networks. In addition to the AMWA, the American Public Health Association (APHA) also circulates information regarding job openings, conferences, and careers. The American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) is another network for health writers targeting more academic audiences. Professional organizations may also offer workshops and seminars to help health writers gain new skills and enroll in continuing education courses.
Earning a bachelor's degree, gaining experience, building a portfolio, and joining professional organizations are great steps to follow to make the most of a career as a health writer.