Time for a Mid-Life Skills Upgrade?

I became a medical writer (what’s that? Someone who writes about medicine) in my early 30s after earning my PhD in molecular biology and an MS in technical communication. I now run my own medical writing business, which has several writers, and which has grown organically to pretty healthy annual revenues. It’s going well, and I can’t complain.

However, the early fifties, the age at which I now find myself, can be a scary time for some working professionals. While your earnings and job title are likely ramped up, you are nowhere near wanting to retire. You may start worrying about the crop of workers coming up behind you, whom you suspect came out of the womb being able to code. You may start wondering if your own well-honed skillset could become obsolete. With the emergence of artificial intelligence, as a writer, I consider that a possibility. And, as a small business owner, if I ever needed a real job (for example, if I wanted affordable health insurance), what’s the chance of me being hired when they could hire a more tech-savvy 30-year-old whom they could pay less? Not high. Fortunately, my business is doing great, but what if it weren’t?

To help myself sleep better at night, I decided I needed to upgrade my skillset. I started looking around at some online programs. What set of skills would be most useful given my current career? I toyed with the idea of learning artificial intelligence, or python, or data science, but I landed on Udacity’s Digital Marketing Nanodegree Program. I thought this program would be a great fit because it would help me with the marketing in my current business while providing me with a set of valuable and marketable (pun intended) skills. It was a great choice. I am learning all about content marketing, social media management, Google ads, targeted ads, and the like. Udacity’s program is reasonably priced and has the added benefit of office hours and feedback on projects. The videos and instructors are top notch. Udacity is also based out of Silicon Valley and has partnerships with certain tech companies of which I’m a fangirl. I am using my own company, Nascent Medical, to do my project work on, so I’m not wasting any time on theoretical projects.

I look forward to increasing both my skills and my business revenues even further with the help of this program. Maybe we will be looking to hire some of those up-and-coming tech-savvy 30-year olds!

Emma Nichols, PhD

Medical writers are not ghost writers!!

Someone sent me an article published in 2016 about ghost writing where at the end, a scientist stated the following: “I think major journals should discourage and eventually prevent the use of professional medical writers, and I think investigators should be required to write their own papers.

My response: Dr. Tannock’s quote reflects a common lack of understanding about the role of medical writers in scientific publication writing. Medical writers are to scientific publications as accountants are to taxes. No aspersions are cast simply because an accountant works on someone’s taxes. In fact, it means the taxes are more likely to be done correctly. The same is true when medical writers work on journal articles.

The problem arises when transparency is lacking. If medical writing assistance is used, it’s best practice to acknowledge that at the end of the manuscript. It’s up to medical writers to make sure that happens. And most of us do.

Medical writers perform a much needed function. Just because a doctor made it through medical school doesn’t mean they have the writing ability to describe their findings. After all, writing skills are rarely taught in medical school–doctors have enough to learn as it is.

Medical writers (many of whom have an advanced science degree themselves) bring expertise to publication writing. We are distinct from ghost writers in that we write things only when our work is reviewed by the contributing scientists whose papers we are writing. It’s a red flag to us when a scientific expert is not involved in approving the outline and reviewing the final manuscript.

In summary, medical writers are a group of highly educated professionals who provide an important service. We are committed to ensuring accuracy and maintaining integrity in medical communications. Dr. Tannock is simply misinformed about that issue.

Breaking news on off-label promotion and the first amendment

Today the FDA made an announcement. This commenced before the new administration takes office, the FDA released a “memorandum” taking positions on the First Amendment of truthful off-label speech.  However with no particular regulatory significance it may be  an attempt to put agency views on record before the change in administration.   


The top 5 medical writing mistakes

In my role of reviewing the work of multiple medical writers on a daily basis, I see the complete variety of what’s possible in medical writing. Here are 5 mistakes in medical writing to avoid. I could probably include more than 5, but these are the most common.


How to grow your small medical writing business, what to do and not do

Tuesday, Feb 23, 2016
How to grow your small medical writing business, what to do and not do

In this episode, Emma Hitt Nichols talks to her business partner Chrystie Leonard, co-owner of Nascent Medical. This is the second part of a three-part series. We talk about strategic planning, how to grow a business, and the key metrics that are needed to evaluate the growth of you medical writing business.

In the first part, aired a week ago, we talked about what to look for when buying a business. Next week, in the final third, we’ll talk about getting the business ready for sale.

Selling your medical writing business: What is involved?

Tuesday, Feb 16, 2016
Discussion With Chrystie Leonard about the sale/purchase of Hitt Medical Writing and considerations when selling your medical writing business.

What is involved in selling your medical writing business and getting it ready for sale? What do buyers look for in a business?

Join me as I talk to my business partner Chrystie Leonard about what to look for in a business purchase and also what to consider if you ever want to sell your medical writing business. Maybe as a freelance medical writer, you have never thought about how your business is going to end, but end it must at some point!

Chrystie, who has formerly conducted several mergers and acquisitions transactions in corporate America, bought into Hitt Medical Writing, LLC, in August, 2015, and together we formed Nascent Medical, LLC.

Part Two: Physician Education Using Off-Label Indications

In today’s medical environment there is a two-fold element of risk that affects a medical device company. It is comprised on the one hand by the risk of improper treatment through the agent’s lack of scientific disease state knowledge, and on the other by the medical device company’s fiduciary duty to ensure patient safety, including the facilitation of proper education to the physician of off-label indications. The body of law that regulates the marketing of medical device products in the United States is the Drug and Cosmetic Act, which places a restriction on off-label marketing and advertising. To date, proponents have argued that off-label utilization is a First Amendment right necessary to ensure that patients receive the most effective treatment. Read more about physician education using off-label indications.


When Poor Communication Puts You at Legal Risk

In recent case reviews, off-label promotion of medical devices and pharmaceuticals has been presented as a prime focus for government investigation.  Learn more about how poor communication puts you at legal risk.

This is no doubt due to the two-fold nature of the issues surrounding off-label promotion. In the first place, off-label promotion is an illegal activity that violates federal law; secondly, it places individual employees and the corporations for which they work in jeopardy since infractions for such activities can include incarceration and heavy fines, for the employee as well as the corporate entity. Though the majority of off-label promotion cases have transpired from rather limited causes such as poor communication and inadequate corporate training programs, more than a few categories of off-label marketing complaints were observed during a legal query for this article. These included expansions to unapproved diseases, unapproved disease subtypes, and unapproved drug doses.