If I’d heard of medical writing when I finished university, I think I would have made a beeline for it as a career. However, it was a few years before I encountered it, by which point I’d been working in science communication-oriented roles, which was thankfully all very relevant when I made the move to a medical writing agency role.

Over the years, several fellow medical writers talked about how great the opportunities for freelancing were. However, I didn’t really think about this aspect too much because I always thought I would be happiest in a nice, secure permanent role. All of that changed, though, when I got talking to an engineer. Yes, an engineer and not a medical writer persuaded me round to freelancing because they were desperate for writers with all the attributes of a medical writer – someone who could get to grips quickly with complex subjects and write meticulously for a variety of audiences. They offered me a safe opportunity to dip my toe in the water of freelancing and I loved that all the skills I’d honed as a medical writer were very applicable across different sectors and were highly valued. And I realised I loved the freelance lifestyle.

The work–life balance was an obvious bonus, although I sometimes struggled to get that right! I was very attuned to ‘being there’ for my clients and so I wasn’t making the most of the freelance lifestyle, until a wise person said to me, “This is your chance to make your life what you want it to be”.

Also, I deeply missed medical writing. I missed the subject matter, the variety of the writing and the dynamism of the industry generally. By this point, many medical writer friends had started freelancing, and they were very persuasive and reassuring about the opportunities. They’ve been key to putting me in touch with new clients and providing a general support network, which has been invaluable.

Freelancing as a medical writer has allowed me finally to get the work–life balance right. Consequently, I’m far more productive than I ever have been in my working life and I’m also more motivated as I get to work on the things I love the most, with fantastic clients. That’s an incredibly satisfying feeling!

Are there any downsides? There’s always an awareness that it’s not a secure job like a permanent role. But in the 10 years I’ve freelanced, I’ve never had to look too far to get work. Plus, if all else fails, I now know that us medical writers have skills that are highly desirable in other sectors.

My top tip is to establish good communication with your clients from the outset. This is reassuring for both sides and will help you mesh as part of their team quickly. Also, be amenable to mucking in with the less glamorous jobs. Your client will be grateful, and it always makes the better jobs seem even better!

Reach out to Gemma on LinkedIn

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

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