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Writing opportunities for pharmacists

If you want to be a writer then you might think that a degree in pharmacy is not the place to start from. But in fact, a surprising number of pharmacists have found opportunities for rewarding full-time careers in the world of pharmaceutical publishing and have discovered that this kind of work can be a very satisfying way of using their pharmaceutical knowledge

With no recognised membership group to promote our professional interests, and with the “umbrella” medical writers’ associations including a range of professions besides pharmacy, it is difficult to estimate how many pharmacists work as journal reporters or editors, or on the editorial staff of pharmacy reference books. The task becomes even harder if this loosely defined group is extended to include technical writers in the pharmaceutical industry and hospital services and, more recently, website editors. However, a considerable number of pharmacists are successfully employed full time as pharmaceutical writers of one kind or another, and many more contribute part-time to journals, reference works and postgraduate education courses.

Tools of the trade

So what do we have in common? First, it almost goes without saying that the tools of the trade for a writer in any field are an instinctive wish to communicate and the ability to express your message in clear, concise, logical and unambiguous terms. As well as being accurate, your writing must be interesting and, where appropriate, amusing. It helps if you have a feel for visualising the finished product as you work, and you must be able to deliver the goods on time.

Many of the finer editorial skills such as sub-editing to “house style,” writing headlines, creating subheadings to break up text and writing to a specified length can be picked up along the way, being absorbed almost without effort during the trainee’s constant exposure to the relentless production routine.

But a natural verbal fluency is essential, and if you have “a way with words” you will probably know that and be using it already. A straw poll in The Pharmaceutical Journal offices this week revealed that while none of the editorial team confessed to harbouring lifelong ambitions for a career in journalism or editorial work, many had been involved in writing or editing for college newspapers during their student days. Not a statistically valid study, but an interesting retrospective survey nevertheless.

Budding pharmacy writers may also be spotted in less obvious ways. I remember frustrating occasions as an undergraduate when my perfect, succinct if not even poetic rendering of the current week’s pharmaceutics topic came back to me covered in red, while the - to my mind - ineptly constructed piles of regurgitated facts produced by my friends earned them glowing praise. Grudgingly I gave in and learned the trick, and along with the best of them churned out projects crammed with facts that I hurled at the page in no particular order. But I always felt I was going against the grain. C’est la vie (just get that degree).

Nowadays, of course, it is not just sub-editing skills that apprentice writers and editors must acquire; the days of linotype “tappers” and hot metal, galley proofs and inky fingers are long gone. Without basic keyboard skills you would probably find the job difficult, and competence in the use of the relevant word processing and desktop publishing software is expected to be attained with ease. While this should present no problem to younger pharmacists who have grown up to be computer literate, it might deter older pharmacists who are considering transferring from other branches of the profession. But having said that, age is no bar to entry into this work, particularly if freelance writing is where your interest lies.
Well, that was the (rather too long) preamble - a few anecdotal bits and pieces to grab the reader’s attention, as my editorial “apprentice masters” taught me. Now for the details.

What are the opportunities?

So where and how are pharmaceutical writers employed? The pharmaceutical press, other medical and scientific journals and the lay press all employ pharmacists as writers or to carry out editorial work.

Pharmacists working as journalists find themselves engaged in a variety of activities, ranging from covering scientific meetings to covering product launches, and from writing features and articles to sub-editing contributed articles. Research is often needed for original work, in order to support the written word. While some travel is necessary, for example to conferences or interviews, most full-time work in journalism is office-based and based in London or the south east. However, the availability of part-time work is increasing, and the improvement in electronic communications in recent years has meant that opportunities to work part-time from home have also increased.

Pharmacists engaged as editorial staff in the production of reference books, or as technical writers in the pharmaceutical industry or hospital services, are required to identify, collate and present material. Sometimes their work will not involve much writing at all. While they are generally not working to such regular and tight deadlines as journalists, they will occasionally be expected to produce press releases, or even long reports, at short notice.

Posts for pharmaceutical journalists and editors are advertised in the pharmaceutical press, and posts in the wider field of medical writing and editing are advertised in the general scientific press and in the employment supplements of the broadsheet newspapers.

Mary Snell is a freelance pharmaceutical journalist

Other articles in feature

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 20000195

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