Have you ever considered a career in medical communications? Perhaps you’re a recent graduate looking to combine your interest in medicine with something a little more creative. Alternatively, you could be an experienced practitioner seeking a new challenge, or even a commercial or client services lead pondering a change of direction. 

In this guide, we take a closer look at the various career paths available within medical communications, as well as the skills and behaviours you will need to stand out.

Why choose a career in medical communications?

At its core, medical communications is about raising awareness of therapies and medical devices that could transform or, in many cases, save people’s lives. Despite the pressure of delivering high-quality work to tight deadlines, the potential impact of your work can make it an incredibly rewarding career.

“You’ll be helping brands fulfil the ambition of the scientists who developed them: to transform the lives of patients with an unmet medical need.”

It is also an attractive option for anyone looking for variety in their work. Whether you go into account management, medical writing or design and development, you’ll deliver a range of campaigns and projects for leading brands, while at the same time learning about new medical conditions and treatments. The size of the industry and demand for specialist roles also opens the door to attractive salary packages.

What does a career in medical comms look like?

If you pursue a medical communications career, you’ll typically find yourself working for an agency of some kind. Therefore, it’s worth being aware of the different types of agency that operate across the industry.

Some agencies specialise in medical education. They advise pharmaceutical companies on how to educate their customers (e.g. doctors, nurses, pharmacists, patients) about the benefits and risks of new medicines or therapies. These agencies also produce journals and learning resources, in addition to posters and presentations that can be used at conferences.

At the other end of the scale are full-service agencies, offering an array of services including medical education, public relations, digital marketing, branding and advertising. Other agencies may simply focus on one of these areas. 

Whether an agency is independent or one part of a larger group, it will always have the same overriding cause: to help clients achieve stakeholder engagement for their healthcare or pharmaceutical products. This will involve a combination of effective strategy, well-planned marketing campaigns and high-quality educational material.

What types of career are available?

There are various routes available to those looking to pursue a career in medical communications, but they can broadly be categorised into the following:

Account Management

The rewards of driving a client’s business forward makes account management one of the most exciting and fulfilling roles within medical communications. To ensure projects are delivered on time and budget, you’ll be liaising regularly with other team members, compiling cost estimates and maintaining regular comms with the client. Account managers typically progress to become account directors, which involves a greater degree of strategic thinking. 

Medical Writing

Medical writers are tasked with identifying and communicating a client’s key messages in a way that resonates with stakeholders. The majority of their work will involve writing, proofreading and editing copy across all materials, from in-depth scientific journals to articles for a client’s website. Some agencies employ both medical writers and editors, whereas others will combine the two roles.

Design & Development

As a designer, you’ll have an opportunity to flex your creative muscles, whether it’s visualising a client’s website, creating graphics for presentations or laying out the pages in a medical journal. Developers, on the other hand, are responsible for building digital sales materials that align with designers’ visuals and successfully engage potential customers.

What do employers look for?

Most agencies require writers to hold an MD or PhD in life sciences or another medical subject, while a BSc is typically the minimum requirement for account managers.

While not impossible to get a writing job without a PhD, doing some work experience in either publishing or pharmaceuticals will put you in a stronger position, especially if you’re competing with candidates who have doctorates or medical publications to their name.

Joining an agency at entry level can also be a good way of moving into one’s chosen specialism.

“Be open to wide-ranging jobs as a means to get into good companies. When you’re in a good agency, it is easier to pivot roles than it is to start afresh. For example, if you want to be a writer, the best way to start is often working as an account executive.”

On a basic level, it does help if you enjoy writing and are able to listen to a client or medical expert; in order to successfully communicate their opinion clearly and concisely. Excellent research skills and attention to detail are also important, likewise a solid understanding of medical statistics. 

Other transferable skills that can set you up for a successful move from academia – or another career – into medical communications include:

  • Presentation skills 
  • Project management 
  • Mentoring
  • Teamwork 
  • Creativity
  • Networking  
  • Marketing 
  • Digital skills

Above all, however, entry-level candidates should have excellent communication skills, as well as the enthusiasm and commitment to develop a career in medical communications. You need to show you have researched the sector and the agency you are looking to join, giving them confidence in your credibility as a candidate.

Start your career in medical communications

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in medical communications, don’t hesitate to contact us at [email protected] attaching a CV and examples of written work where appropriate.

A real passion of mine is creative effectiveness – does the work we produce work? At Dice it’s one of our 4 core pillars in creating what we call Pharmacohesion – measurement. 

Too often in this industry a job is delivered, sent live, and the next opportunity to look at its impact is in 12 months’ time (or longer). As an industry we don’t measure our work enough.

It’s no doubt a factor of every project’s journey through the rigorous approval process, a sense of relief comes across everyone at completion and the next project needs to get started right away.

This is a trap we all fall in to. We should all be doing our utmost to avoid it.

Every sales aid and every major project should be iterative; constantly requiring tweaking and improvement over an extended period. I’m not suggesting that we do a new update every month, but wouldn’t it make sense to invest more time and effort in making our existing work more powerful, uncovering new insights and building future strategy and executions from a position of knowledge of what works and what hasn’t quite achieved our goal?

Perhaps this is an industry sensitivity, a lack of willingness to attach metrics to individual projects, rather than the brand’s performance in general. But if I could ask for one hope in the next decade, it’s that more accountability is put on the work and the projects we do. It will strengthen client-agency relationships, and will benefit the brands (and companies) that we love working on.

The trend to digital communications has always allowed for more analysis, which is welcomed, but we should also use this opportunity to be more rigorous in our attitude towards measuring success. 

The PM Society Awards has always been the UK’s pre-eminent pharma industry awards, and yet not one category includes any judging criteria around effectiveness. Only the PM Digital Awards carry any effectiveness criteria. This misses the point, as we should celebrate the fact that great craft, great creative, great ideas ALL make a positive difference in the success of the brands we work on. 

We must continue to focus on growing brands and not being caught thinking in the short term about the next project we must deliver. Don’t just take my word for it – The IPA have covered this extensively, but their most recent follow-up report is troubling and speaks to my views above.
I’m making it my personal mission to ensure more analysis is undertaken on more projects. I would be very happy to discuss this with anyone interested in how we can make this happen.

Want to give your brand Pharmacohesion®?

Tell us what you’d like to achieve and get in touch here.

6

new team members joined us here at Dice. We’ve welcomed (in no particular order…) Stuart, Sandra, Samona, Pav, Lou, and Julie to our growing agency.

781

jobs (and counting) completed for our clients in 2019.

5

team members have gained Veeva accreditation this year.

Infinity

reference anchors dropped in Promomats (certainly feels like that, anyway). 

20%

growth of the agency year on year.

5

video conference providers used.

26

different brands we’ve touched in 2019.

150

sausage/vegan rolls eaten this year (a birthday tradition here at Dice)!

2%

annual GDP contribution of tea production in Sri Lanka, of which we must have contributed 1%.

1

new prosthetic joints in the agency (more here).

6

continents visited by the Dice team on holidays. Antarctica is always a tricky one to get approved. 

100’s

of Veeva CLMs and Approved Emails built and dispatched this year for our clients.

1

Big THANK YOU to all our client partners. Here’s to 2020.

Want to give your brand Pharmacohesion®?

Tell us what you’d like to achieve and get in touch here.