'I've Had It With Medicine!' 16 Options for Second Careers

Leigh Page


July 10, 2014

In This Article

13. Become a Freelance Writer

Do you like to write? If so, and you can prove that you have a talent for it, there are countless clinical writing and editing opportunities with pharmaceutical companies, marketing agencies, CME contractors, quality and performance improvement initiatives, and medical publications. In most cases, the work is done on a freelance basis, which means you have to build up your business.

Once you have an established set of clients, however, your income can reach primary care levels. Dr. Fork said freelancers' average income is $70,000-$130,000 a year, and the starting salary for in-house clinical writers ranges from $75,000 to $180,000; the higher end of the range is usually reserved for those with an advanced medical degree.

"If you have the skills, it's not a big transitional hurdle," Dr. Fork added. Characteristics of good medical writing include thorough research, accuracy, logical organization, clear thinking, and readability, according to the American Medical Writers Association.

This has been a growing field. According to a report[11] by CenterWatch, which studies the pharma industry, the medical writing market more than doubled in value from 2003 to 2008, increasing to almost $700 million. CenterWatch reported that pharmaceutical companies cut many in-house writing jobs, meaning there's more work available for freelancers.

Diane W. Shannon, MD, MPH, a freelance healthcare writer in Brookline, Massachusetts, writes on performance improvement in healthcare as well as other topics. Her exit from general internal medicine in the early 1990s was an act of "self-preservation," she recalled. "I was less immune than others to the stresses of practicing medicine."

First, she worked as editor and staff writer for a medical communications company for three years. As a freelancer, she's making more money than when she was working in clinics. "Leaving a relatively low-paying job probably made it easier to walk away from clinical medicine," she said, adding that she uses a variety of medical skills in writing, such as interviewing patients, having to be well-organized, and breaking down very complicated material.

Mandy Armitage, MD, also moved from medicine to writing. In an article on Dr. Fork's Website, Doctor's Crossing, she said she stopped practicing sports medicine and rehabilitation after a year, and "I haven't missed it a bit." She initially enrolled in a six-week online writing course and then started a freelance company, collecting such assignments as conference coverage, medical news, and feature stories.

"What I love most about freelance medical writing is that I cover fields outside of my own specialty, so I'm always learning something new," she wrote. "Plus, I can set my own schedule, and this work is much less stressful."

Pluses: Physicians who can write well have good prospects in this field.

Minuses: It may take some time to get established, and for specialists especially, income is relatively low.


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