Through my career, I’ve gone from magazine journalism, to old school PR, to writing websites, then video and animation, then e-learning, digital patient support programmes and apps. Over the past 20 years there have been so many changes in healthcare communications, and they are coming at us faster all the time. It’s always felt like I’m just one minute ahead of a big wave – aiming to surf the trends, instead of being swept away. That makes freelancing exhilarating or terrifying, depending on your outlook.
For me, it’s been exciting from the start. Before I got into journalism, I was a not-very-good lab tech. When I moved to London from Colorado, I decided to try a new line of work too, and have a go at writing about science.
Working on specialist magazines was a great way to break into writing. After a few years as a staff reporter and editor on science and medical titles, I worked in agencies for a while before going freelance. This was the right move, because I had time and flexibility for my kids as they grew up.
I started out freelancing for magazines and pharma clients, but I quickly decided to diversify. I pitched for work with patient groups, and then over time I added website publishers, the NHS, Royal Colleges, private clinics, big healthcare companies and start-ups. Today I have a varied portfolio and clients I love working with.
Recently, I’ve been studying part-time for a postgraduate certificate in digital health. This is one of the best decisions I ever made – it’s going to be worth every minute and every penny. This was a big move, because it meant re-locating back to the USA, at least for a while. I’ve started a new business here, to work for clients on both sides of the Atlantic. Doing the initial admin took a few months, and that was harder than I expected, but now it’s all set.
Advice for aspiring freelancers
My advice to anyone who wants to go freelance? Work in a staff job first, so you learn how things are done. While you’re there, build a network of contacts, including health professionals. Boost your savings account too. Start publishing work with your name on it, even if it’s on your own website or guest blogging for little or no money at first, so you have a visible portfolio.
Once you’re on your way, commit to your continued development. Keep on learning about your profession and medicine in general. Do a great job for your clients and they will keep coming back. They will tell their friends too. Referrals and repeat customers are the way to go.
And always keep your eye on that wave.
This personal profile first appeared in the FirstMedCommsJob careers guide, Making it my own business: a guide to being a freelance writer in MedComms, published April 2022