In my last post, I mentioned that I had covered a medical conference in Boston last week. I received a few emails in response, from people who’d read the post and had some questions about what medical writers do when covering a conference.

Anne Marie from St. Paul, MN, was curious about how, if at all, I prepare for an upcoming conference, and I promised I’d respond in the form of a post.

So here it is!



8 Things To Do Before The Conference

  1. Register:  As soon as you know you are going to be covering a certain conference, visit their online site & register. Be sure to look for a link for “Press Registration” – basically this allows you to register for free. You’ll likely be asked various questions like “Which organization will you be working for?”, and maybe details of their geographical location. Conferences differ in what they ask you as you register, so just play it by ear, and if they ask any questions that you can’t immediately answer, check in with your news organization’s editor for the answers.
  2. Check out the “Press Information”: This area of the website will provide you with all the information that you’ll need to do for that specific conference. The information may be updated as you get closer to the conference dates, so keep checking for updates that might be helpful for you.
  3. Request a letter of assignment: Ask the editor (of the medical news organization that has contracted you) for a “letter of assignment” for the meeting. This basically will be a note on company letterhead to state that you are working for them and need a pass to attend the conference, as well as access to the press room. This will be your entrance ticket for the meeting on the day!
  4. Select your presentations: Check out the abstracts – these don’t usually appear on the website until a month or so before the meeting, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for them every so often. Once they appear, spend some time pouring through them & select however many you need to report. Check your selection with the editor – just because you like how a topic sounds, doesn’t mean they will. Not everything is appropriate for their needs, so you can maximize the chances of your reports being published (and therefore you getting paid!) by sending the abstracts to the editor in advance so that he or she can give you the thumbs-up.
  5. Sign up for embargoed abstracts: Many abstracts will be embargoed until just a couple of days before the conference. When this is the case, the conference website may list an email address that you can contact to “subscribe” to embargoed abstract alerts. They may not end up being useful to you, but it doesn’t hurt to have them, just in case.
  6. Contact the authors: Most news companies like to have some kind of a direct quote from one of the researchers in your article. Naturally, you can save getting this until the day of their presentation, but be prepared to wait in line if you choose this option, and maybe even chase them around to finally get hold of them! And then multiply this wait by 10 articles, or however many you have to write. So emailing authors in advance can be very useful. Not only does it help you in your quest for a quote, but it also can be helpful for the author. Some people prefer to have some time to construct a well-thought-out response to questions, rather than just having to answer on the fly into your recording device. So you may have to dig out email addresses for the first authors by doing some online searching – not all abstracts include their email addresses – but it can be a worthwhile venture. Once you have their addresses, send out a polite email to introduce yourself and let them know you’re covering the conference and have selected their presentation to report. I usually attach my letter of assignment to the email, so that the author can see that I’m contacting them legitimately. And in the email, I’ll ask a few questions about the research study that will help get me enough information to use as a quote or two in the article.
  7. Start putting articles together: Conferences can be busy, and you might have limited time to complete your articles after attending the presentations. So to try to combat this somewhat, as a head start, I get my Word documents ready in advance for each article. Most news organizations will request that you forward a copy of the original abstract with your news article – so I prepare a 2-page document for each article. I tag the abstract onto page 2. And the first page I “prepare” as best I can for the actual article. I try to think of a title & get that situated. If I have a specific template to follow, I’ll get a skeleton of it in place so that I can just plug in my news information on the day – this might just mean adding in authors names, dates, the meeting information, my name, etc, etc. But it’s amazing how helpful it can be to get some kind of a skeleton in place.
  8. Check in with your editor: Often, you’ll be contracted to cover a conference many weeks or even months before it takes place. Other than checking in with the editor with your list of abstracts to cover, previous to that, there’s no real need to contact him or her. I’m someone who likes to be on the end of good communication, so I tend to treat my clients similarly and assume that they too are comforted by a well-timed email check-in, even there isn’t really anything to report. In the case of my last meeting, after my initial communication with the editor to accept the conference assignment, a few weeks of silence went by, and I then just sent a quick email to say hi, and let her know I was still on the radar, abstracts hadn’t yet appeared, but I’d be in touch as soon as they popped up on the site. I think it just breaks the silence a bit, and reassures the editor that you’re still in the game. And I think this tactic is especially useful if you’re reporting for an organization for the first time – it gives them some confidence that you’re responsible, professional, and reliable – and that you’re taking their work seriously. Then I tend to check in with the editor the day before the conference begins, just to let them know I’m ready and prepared. I usually let them know they can contact me by email at any time during the conference if they need me, and I’ll send my cellphone number too, in case they have any urgent last-minute requests.


And that’s it, really.

It sounds long-winded, but most of it is just habit. And if you’re working in science, likely you’ll be accustomed to doing much of this kind of thing in advance anyway, but as a non-media participant! So I’m sure a lot of what I’ve said will be second nature to some of you, but just with a slightly different angled approach.

So hopefully this has been helpful insight into preparing for a conference. It’s by no means a must-do list – everyone has their own approach – I know writers who do much more than this in advance, and some who do minimal preparation, instead saving everything for the meeting itself. Much of it will boil down to individual preference – some folk prefer to feel prepared, and others work better on the fly. There’s no single correct approach here.

But I hope it’s been useful in particular for new medical writers, or anyone who is coming up on reporting their first conference.

Feel free to leave any of your tips as comments too – everything will be helpful to new medical writers!


Image Credit David Castillo Dominici @FreeDigitalPhotos

Yesterday was our AMWA-New England chapter’s Winter Roundtable Brunch at the Hilton Garden Inn in Waltham, MA.

It was a beautiful winter day here – chilly, but bright and sunny with a clear blue sky. Perfect driving weather for those who made the trek from the opposite ends of New England.

I was privileged to be hosting a roundtable discussion on “Blogging for Medical Writers”. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the local chapter meetings that I’ve been to, but this one was especially fun, what with the “on that note” digressions that some of our discussions took! But, what happens in AMWA-NE, stays in AMWA-NE, so you’ll just have to use your imagination as to where our conversations were diverted!

There were 7 of us at our table, and the 2 hours just flew by. Thank you so much to the wonderful medical writers in our group for making it such a wonderful, productive, and interactive discussion.

Thanks also to AMWA-NE for organizing the event, and to the Hilton Garden Inn for not only hosting us, but more importantly, keeping us fed and watered!

I put together some notes from our discussion – so if you’ve never tried blogging before, but are think of doing so, they might be of some help to you as you get started. Please let me know if you are a medical writer with an active blog – I’ll add your URL to the list! And similarly if you happen to come across any other active medical writer blogs, I’ll be happy to add those too.

I’m already looking forward to our next local chapter gathering next month!



Are you thinking about a career in medical writing, but don’t really know much about the field? Listen to this interview with Dr Emma Hitt, a seasoned medical writer in Georgia. Hopefully it will help spur you on in your endeavors! 

Most of last week, and this week, I’m busy traveling. Combined ACVP annual conference in Nashville, and Exam Committee duties too. I decided to take some extra time before and after so I could actually drive there and back. A long hike from Boston to Nashville, but it’s been worth it so far – I’ve been able to see some lovely regions for the first time. Always good!

In the meantime…..

Last week I introduced the concept of white papers as a good market for you as a medical writer to think about tapping into, if you haven’t already done so.

My favorite business writer, Cathy Miller, writes a lot of white papers, so while she was away in San Diego last week on her 8th, 60 mile walk for breast cancer, she kindly allowed me to write a guest post on writing medical white papers.



Feel free to check it out if you’re new to the white papers scene and are looking for some pointers on writing white papers for the medical industry.



Image credit Photostock at Free Digital Photos

What Is A White Paper

Chances are you’ve probably heard this term, even if you’ve never paid too much attention to what it means. Basically, a “white paper” is just a specific type of report. Importantly though, it’s a report with a mission – to act as a powerful marketing tool. Typically they’ll be about 4-10 pages long, but can in fact range from something resembling a 2 page flyer, to as much as a 100 page book.

Check out these white papers, written for the healthcare industry, to give you an idea of what they can look like.

Who Uses White Papers?

You’ll find them used by all kinds of business organizations, and the medical industry is no exception, and healthcare, biotechnology and pharmaceutical organizations in particular benefit from their use. They are are used as a marketing aid in many areas of these organizations, from financing to new drugs, or even new medical devices.

So How Do They Work?

White papers are often described as being a cross between a magazine article and a brochure:

  • The Magazine Article: Typically the report opens up with this portion, educating the reader about a problem that is affecting them, and suggesting potential solutions.
  • The Brochure: This portion closes out the report, and is where it switches to describe a product or service provided by the company – something that can provide a solution to one of the problems described earlier. It tends to support its message with well-researched facts and data.

The number one focus in medical marketing is to produce a well-constructed white paper that propels a product along a pathway to a final sale. It needs to convince the buyer that the product is of some benefit to them. There’s a fine line to walk, however, since the pitch needs to be “just right”.

Most importantly the white paper needs to be readable to allow the potential buyer to develop trust and confidence in the product or service on offer. It needs to engage the customer, providing evidence that it can serve a purpose for them.

In summary, white papers are used to educate their readers and hopefully help them to make an informed decision on why a company’s specific product or service should be used. If the paper is intended for the general public, it should not be too medical jargon-filled, and it certainly shouldn’t read as a report with an overwhelming sales pitch that drowns the reader.

Why Do Medical Writers Need To Know About Them?

If you’re a medical writer, it’s worth knowing about white papers because they represent a great source of business for you. You don’t even have to be a scientist or even a medical writer to write white papers for the medical industry – you just need to be able to write persuasive copy using a tone that is appropriate for the intended audience. But your scientific background can certainly come in useful.

So if you haven’t already done so, it’s certainly worth using your medical writing skills to tap into this market.

Image credit Photostock at Free Digital Photos

Wednesday turned out to be a big AMWA day for me – there were two meetings of our New England Chapter that day, and I managed to get to both!



The first was a lunch meeting in Cambridge. That was perfect for me since the meeting place was a Chinese restaurant just a couple of miles from where I work. It was a cosy gathering of about 11 of us, so we all managed to fit around one large, round table. I’d met a couple of the members before, and there were numerous new members in attendance too.

One of the highlights for me was hearing one member’s story. Larry Kerpelman is a health writer and author of Pieces Missing, a book that tells the story of his family’s perseverance following his wife’s traumatic brain injury. And the best part about it all was the fact that Larry’s wife thankfully eventually recovered.



As soon as lunch was over, I jumped in the car and headed down into Connecticut. The evening meeting was being held at an Italian restaurant in New Haven, so I had an almost two and a half hour journey to get there. It was a beautiful day here in New England though, so I really enjoyed the drive.

The evening meeting was a “speed mentoring” session. There were four speakers, all from slightly different medical communications backgrounds, and after they’d each shared their general stories, they each migrated to separate tables and small groups of us rotated around them to hear their stories and ideas in more detail.

Lots of ideas were shared by the speakers, as well as other members so another great networking session in general.

A few take-home points from the day:

  • Be sure to have business cards made
  • Have an elevator speech
  • If you’re just starting out (or even if you’re not), never give up – work through every “no”, and bust through any walls that you come across
  • Network as much as humanly possible
  • Have some kind of a presence – if not a blog, use LinkedIn
  • When sending in pitches to magazine editors, try sending them three or four ideas rather than just one – this helps them realize that you’re someone who isn’t just a one-hit wonder


It was a long day for me since I didn’t get home until about 11:30pm after my drive back to the Boston region at the end of the night. But it was a really fun day, I enjoyed it very much – two great meetings, getting to know lots of wonderful new colleagues, tasty food, fun conversation, and useful networking opportunities.


“Science Careers”, from the Journal Science published this great article today – it’s a content collection comprising links to their best resources on careers in science writing. They all make for interesting reads in general for anyone in the medical communications field, but they’re especially valuable for anyone thinking about transitioning into medical writing.




Image Credit  Digital Art @FreeDigitalPhotos

This year’s AMWA Annual Conference is almost upon us, so don’t forget to register if you’re fortunate enough to be able to make it this year.



AMWA have published this presentation on Getting The Most From The Conference when you attend. It contains lots of handy tips to consider if you’ve never attended either this conference in particular.


Inquill is currently hosting a Medical Writing Festival – you can check out the schedule and pricing for the seminars on their site. I don’t know anything about the company, so can’t give any first-hand information about it, or about the festival for that matter. But they do have some very prominent names giving seminars, so even if just one of the talks appeals to you, you may find it worthwhile to register for it – you don’t have to sign up for the whole thing, you can opt to simply buy one seminar if you choose. And maybe you can even buy recordings of past seminars from the start of the festival if one of those catches your eye?

The main reason for me posting this, however, was to share a short video with you. One of the talks is by George Buckland, an experienced medical recruiter – click on this link and play the free 3 minute video clip that is about halfway down the page. He shares some important points about the need for medical writers to have an online presence, as well as sharing information about how he searches for writers.

LinkedIn is one great way to network with recruiters, so if you haven’t yet made yourself a profile there, now is the time to do it – you can use the search box to find recruiters looking for medical writers, as well as by joining medical writing groups where recruiters will often post job ads.


Registration is open for AMWA’s 71st Annual Conference in Jacksonville, FL, October 20th-22nd this year.

If you’re not already a member of AMWA, I’d highly recommend joining.

Cover One Of The Open Sessions

Additionally, you can make the most of your AMWA Annual Conference attendance – AMWA are looking for writers willing to cover one of the 37 open sessions for the AMWA Journal.

Dr. Kristina Wasson-Blader advises AMWA members: “Writing a summary for the Journal will give you a published piece and also bring the conference to those who can’t attend the conference or a particular session. If you are interested in writing for the Journal, send an email to the AMWA Journal Editor at”