Last Sunday was our AMWA-New England Chapter’s Winter Roundtable Brunch at the Hilton Garden Inn in Burlington, MA. It was a week later than originally scheduled, due to the winter snowstorm we’d been expecting the previous weekend (although that turned out much lighter than expected, but better to play safe and reschedule, rather than go ahead and have folk stuck in the snow – Murphy’s Law!).

I’d been asked to host one of the roundtables again – the same one as I presented at last year’s winter brunch meeting, on “Blogging for Medical Writers”. I’d also hosted the roundtable at the AMWA Annual Conference in Sacramento, CA, last October, so this was its 3rd run (I was recently asked if I’d present it again at this year’s Annual Conference in Columbus, OH, but I don’t yet know whether I’ll be able to make it to the meeting, so I haven’t been able to accept).

Once again I really enjoyed meeting some new fellow writers at the meeting, as well as catching up with some old friends – and the group discussion turned out to be a really fun and interactive one. Interestingly, all 3 of these roundtable sessions have brought up different discussions and commentaries, and it’s been great hearing experiences, tips, and comments from other writers about managing a blog.

And, as always seems to happen after our local meetings, I left feeling very inspired and motivated.

Are you new to medical writing? If so, I highly recommend joining AMWA and attending your local chapter meetings.

I guarantee it will be money well-spent.



Update from our AMWA-New England Chapter

I was recently asked by the President of our local AMWA-New England Chapter to become an Executive Committee (EC) member. Naturally I was delighted and honored to be asked, and I accepted very graciously. Tonight was our summer EC meeting, and my first as a member.

We all met in Burlington, MA at a local Panera Bread there – apparently they used to have a ameeting room there where members could congregate, but this is no longer available. But it was still a great location for everyone – central for most members to get to, and I have to say I always love the food there. Plus they always have decent coffee too – and they keep tabs on the timing of when it was brewed, and refresh it regularly – always a bonus in my book!

It was great catching up with a bunch of folk who I know already from the New England Chapter, as well as meeting some others who I’ve not yet met. We had a full agenda for the evening, but managed to accomplish everything in decent time. And the plentiful supply of coffee was a great help!


2012 AMWA Annual Conference

If you’re thinking of going to the AMWA Annual Conference this year, don’t forget to register in advance to take advantage of the lower fees and ensure that you secure a hotel room. The conference will be held in Sacramento, CA from Oct 4-6, at the Convention Center in the city.

I’m hosting a breakfast roundtable on Saturday on “How to Advance Your Medical Writer Career Through Blogging”, so I’m excited about being involved in that, as well as being able to catch some of the other great sessions on the schedule. 


Not a Member of AMWA Yet?

If you’re starting out in medical writing, I’m going to send you my regular plug to join AMWA! Hopefully there will be a local chapter within reasonable commuting distance – if so, regular involvement in meetings will be really beneficial for you. And if you’re considering going to the annual conference, you’ll pay less for registration.




We’re in the thick of conference season, so covering meetings is still very much on my mind. I recently shared some of the things I do before covering a medical conference, and thought I’d follow up by sharing some of the things I do when the conference rolls around.

This might be helpful to you if you’re preparing to cover your first conference.



  1. Check in: Sounds obvious, yes, but be prepared! You likely won’t need to use the same line to collect your badge as the conference attendees. Most of the time you just have to report directly to the Press Room at the meeting – usually located in a quieter location than the main area where the meeting is being held. Check on the conference website before you go – sometimes the “Press Information” link will provide details about checking in. If there are no specific instructions, simply ask where the Press Room is when you get to the meeting, and likely your badge will be ready and waiting for you. Obviously you don’t necessarily need to arrive at the conference venue until you’re needed there. So if your first presentation to cover isn’t until the afternoon of the first day, don’t feel the need to arrive when the meeting opens up in the morning –  unless you want to, of course.
  2. Settle in: I like to arrive at the meeting each day about an hour before the start of whatever I’m covering. Usually I’ve traveled in from somewhere – interstate driving and trains have been involved! So I like to sit around and gather my thoughts in the Press Room. Typically there are plenty of goodies to be had in there too – coffee, pastries, cookies, etc. So it’s always nice to grab a drink and a snack while I plan out my attack. This is a good time to check the building plan too, so you can figure out what rooms are located where – if your conference is a huge one at an even more huge venue, this can be really helpful, especially if you have to switch from room to room in between talks without too much time to spare. This is the time to double-check the times and locations of your presentations for the day.
  3. Get a good seat: When you’re covering an oral presentation, you’ll want to do whatever you can to get the best seat possible. Obviously if you are running between rooms with little time to spare, you might just have to settle for what you can get. But if time isn’t an issue, do try to plan ahead – this will make all the difference to your comfort (and hence coverage of the presentation), especially if it’s a longish talk. Arrive in advance of the session if you can – this might make it more likely that you’ll be able to grab one of the table seats. Sit close to the front, and along the aisle – especially if you want to take photos of the screen, grab the presenter at the end for questions, or make a quick exit to cover a parallel session in a different room. If you are recording the session, avoid rows closer to the front than the loudspeakers – the sound often ends up muffled.
  4. Plan ahead for the poster sessions: At the large conferences, poster sessions typically are constantly rotating, so you need to ensure that you don’t miss out on seeing the ones you’d planned to cover. Sometimes if you hit the poster boards as your particular session begins, some posters may not have been pinned up. But I admit that I usually still try to get there within the first 30 minutes of the session to get an early viewing of those that are ready. I like this time because it tends to be a bit quieter than when presenters are required to stand at their board. So you get a head start in catching some of the poster presentations that you want to cover, and allows some space for photographing them without too many other folk elbowing you. It also gives you a chance to scope out any extras that catch your eye – this can be useful if you have a last-minute emergency, say if someone doesn’t turn up for the meeting and your chosen poster isn’t presented after all. Having a stand-by can be helpful – and your editor will be happier with a replacement than one less story! 


Image Credit David Castillo Dominici @FreeDigitalPhotos

A couple of months ago I received an email from a gentleman called Paul, from Georgia. He asked if I had any tips on getting into regulatory writing. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to be of much help to him since this is not an area of writing in which I work.


Regulatory Writing

Regulatory writing is a specific branch of medical writing, and as is often the case with other aspects of medical writing, it can be a difficult one to break into. Companies don’t typically want to hire writers without regulatory experience, yet at the same time, it’s tough to get the experience when nobody will hire you!

Recently, however, I came across an interesting thread on LinkedIn that I forwarded to Paul. It was in the group Medical Writers’ Forum”, and was started by Ellen Barosse, CEO of Synchrogenix, a large international regulatory writing firm.

She specifically discussed the problem of how many people want to be regulatory writers but they don’t know where to start.

One problem that she highlighted, however, is that frequently when she interviews candidates, she is surprised at how few actually set themselves up to increase the chances of being hired in the first place. She says that in order to maximize your chances of being hired, be sure to follow these basic points:

  • Understand what’s involved: You must like science, have good mathematics skills, know how to write well, and be able to sit at a computer for at least 8 hours each day. But you also need to be social enough to interact with colleagues and clients.
  • Have good computer skills: You need to be an expert in Windows (make sure you can efficiently manage files and folders, and that you know how to control where your documents end up when you save them) Word (make sure you know how to apply styles to paragraphs, and can paste from different source without corrupting the styles; that you can switch between portrait and landscape pages, insert cross-references, and handle a table of contents; that you have the necessary skills to make complex tables) and Excel (know how to use built-in functions such as sum, average, standard deviation) – practice makes perfect, so make sure you can work swiftly and correctly. And use a PC – Macs are not often used in the regulatory field.
  • Develop an understanding of language fundamentals and style-guide conventions: Know when to use commas, hyphens, and other punctuation. Study the AMA Manual of Style (in particular Sections 2,3, and 4) – most pharmaceutical companies have adopted modifications of this as their writing style.
  • Develop excellent proofreading and editing skills: Find proofreading and quality-control tests online. Regulatory writers often have to do quality control as part of their work, so you should practice these online tests over and over until you can catch every error.
  • Learn how to write well: Many writers swear by Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style”. Practice writing for at least one hour each day. Get other writers to critique your work. Take as many opportunities as possible to write – for your local church or community group, local newspaper – any chance you can take! Write simply and clearly.


Ellen Barosse concluded these suggestions by noting how these can all be followed without much expense – online resources can be utilized, and don’t forget your local library for books. Pursuing as many of these options as possible will only further increase your chances of being hired, and will leave you better prepared to learn regulatory writing – when you are hired, you’ll be able to concentrate on learning the content of the profession rather than beginning to learn to use Windows and Excel effectively, etc., or learn AMA writing style.

Barosse mentioned that her company, Synchrogenix, has a new program to train a small number of inexperienced regulatory writers – they offer this program their in Nashville & Austin offices here in the US, and in Manchester, England too. 

So the future for writers wanting break into the regulatory field may be opening up! Be sure to check out these options if you’re looking to get into the regulatory writing field.


And Finally……

Another writer also left a comment on the thread, adding that anyone who wants to get into regulatory writing needs to produce a CV that is well-structured and correctly formatted – otherwise it’s unlikely that anyone will trust you with regulatory documents.

He noted that it’s also important for writers to know what they are getting into in this particular field of writing. Regulatory writing is not just about medical writing – but also about looking for relevant patterns in data, and recognizing what is important. So if you don’t enjoy statistics and data evaluation, or complex tables, the regulatory writing field may not be the career for you.

He reminded everyone of how important it is to have some awareness of the regulatory aspects of the pharmaceutical industry – simply having qualifications such as a medical degree or a PhD are not necessarily going to immediately qualify you for this branch of writing. Guidelines differ across different areas, such as veterinary products, human pharmaceuticals, and the medical device industry. They also differ across different geographical locations. So another piece of advice that he offers when applying for a job, is to be aware of what the specific company does – check what products it has, and the regulatory environment in which it operates.

I thought this was all great advice for budding regulatory writers, so in addition to forwarding the link to Paul who had originally emailed me, I decided to share it here for anyone looking to break into this field.


Image credit jannoon028@FreeDigitalPhotosl

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.