1) Select a specialty. Select a specialty of
interest, an area you have some knowledge of, or use key resources to find
one. Ways to select a specialty include reading the magazines at the doctor's
office, the pharmacy and at the vet. Newsletters from hospitals and health
insurance companies are parallel markets, which you can contact. Publication
information can also be found in the SRDS at a major library. This reference
book lists by subject all the healthcare magazines published in the United
States. Searching the web by specialty name (such as "pediatrics" or
"ophthalmology") will also pull up magazines and some content. Study the
2) Make direct and brief contact. Call the
editor of the magazine and get writer's guidelines or ask how to get on the
freelance assignment list. Succinctly explain your writing background and ask
for the opportunity to write an article. Send clips if you have them. Often
these editors have a hard time finding good, reliable writers and will welcome
your offer. Be prepared to follow up on initial your contact.
3) Expect a low rate at first. Rates for
medical writing can be as low 25 cents per word. These low rates can lead to
rates well beyond the starting price. In addition, these magazines are monthly
or bimonthly and require many freelance articles per issue. As you gain
experience in a specialty and begin to write articles more quickly, the hourly
rate will exceed the per word count. For example, you may get 50 cents per
word for a $1000 word piece ($500). However, the article may take ten hours
(or less), so you will be making $50 (or more) an hour regardless. Not too
4) Aim for 100% accuracy. Interviews should be
brief and recorded (with permission) so you can go over the information
carefully at a later time. Physicians talk quickly and in medical jargon.
Writing articles from tapes from medical meeting also can be difficult. The
recordings may be garbled and the terminology can be confusing at first. Be
accurate or credibility is compromised. If you are unsure of a term or
procedure, call the doctor for clarification or check the Internet. Many
times, the doctor or a colleague has published a peer-review journal article
on the same topic as the presentation or interview. The abstract can help you
decipher words, spelling or medical meaning.
5) When in doubt fax it out. Once the draft is
completed and checked carefully, you may want to fax it to the doctor who is
mentioned in the piece (after calling first). Although "traditional
journalism" frowns upon this practice, many physician magazines routinely fax
all physicians mentioned before publication to avoid mistakes. In the
beginning you may want to perform this extra step and then correct the draft
before sending it on to the editor. This saves face (and future assignments)
with the editors if you make a mistake.
6) Never miss a deadline. Always make the
deadline or call before deadline to inform the editor of any problems with
story development. Once established as a reliable writer, ask to be put on
their monthly assignment list. Also, ask for feedback on assignments and then
work to improve writing based on comments. This process can "set you up"
because the magazines have a high assignment volume, especially around
7) Branch out. Many medical publishing
companies produce magazines for a multitude of specialties. Once you become
known as a reliable medical writer, the editor may pass your name around to
others. Also you can inquire on your own with other publications within one
8) Recycle and Resell. Consider adapting
topical articles--such as practice management pieces or technology stories--to
numerous specialties. (For example, an article on a computer system that keeps
track of patient appointments and records can be relevant to many practice
specialties and many different magazines.) This may require only several new
interviews and can be lucrative.
9) Be patient and open to learning. Remember
as the writer you haven't attended medical school. There is a lot to learn.
Also, when interviewing a busy physician or setting up an appointment for an
interview with an assistant, a pleasant disposition goes a long way. Establish
relationships. If hired as a steady freelancer, you will invariably talk to
these physicians again and again.