After 25 years of working with various healthcare advertising, public relations and medical education agencies, Corinne Swainger spoke to me about her career journey as a medical copywriter.
From what she thinks is one of the biggest challenges in medical communications to what she looks for when partnering with an agency, Corinne shares with us her experiences, tips and advice based on what she’s learnt throughout her career as a medical copywriter.
What attracted you to this career in the first place?
I kicked off my career as a freelance medical copywriter and consultant 14 years ago, after a decade of handling creative and editorial roles at various UK healthcare advertising, public relations and medical education agencies. In 2017, I began trading as a limited company (MediQuill Ltd).
I originally achieved a BA degree in Mass Communications from the University of South Florida over 20 years ago. Today, you might call this subject ‘Media Studies’ but at that point, the internet was in its infancy. So my degree focused on traditional journalism, advertising, creative writing, public relations, photojournalism, design and economics. I also completed an internship as a junior copywriter in the communications department of a private hospital in Tampa, Florida.
That initial role gave me an excellent opportunity to combine my new communications skills with my creative marketing flair to target clinical specialists and private patients. After graduating and returning to London, I used these skills to win a fulltime medical copywriter job working for a small ethical advertising agency.
Several years later, after moving to different UK MedComms agencies, I began studying part-time for a BSc in Life Sciences, at the Open University, where I focused on psychology. That gave me insight into different aspects of human healthcare. Along with my diverse agency experience, this scientific knowledge helped me to craft focused content for over 50 therapeutic areas, as well as countless over-the-counter products (OTC), prescription brands, disease awareness, and corporate communications.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
It’s rewarding to see the results of medical communications campaigns that I’ve contributed to, which are making a real impact to real people. For example, in the past few years, these projects have included developing a new website for patients with neuroendocrine tumours, writing nursing guidelines for rare diseases, and launching pioneering vaccines to GPs.
What do you think is one of the biggest challenges for a medical writer?
Whether you’re seeking freelance or fulltime roles as a medical writer, one of the biggest challenges is picking the right niche for yourself in medical communications. It’s a competitive market out there. So it’s essential to identify what you enjoy about your ideal job, and how you can stand out from other scientific or medical writers.
It’s also a lot easier to land well-paid roles when you’re positioned for these with your unique strengths. Identifying your professional niche can take time but it’s definitely worth it. Working for various agencies on a fulltime basis allowed me to pinpoint my own strengths before I stepped out to market these as freelance services.
What do you look for in a medical communications agency?
As a contractor, I enjoy partnering with medical communications agencies that treat me as part of their team, rather than “just another freelancer”. That often means I participate in virtual meetings directly with their clients, and offer them consulting services on a regular basis. These activities allow me to establish long-term relationships with key agency individuals. If I’m treated as part an agency team, I can also suggest new business opportunities or ideas they may want to pick up.
I’m also attracted to agencies that realise developing new creative concepts and strategic approaches can take time. These ideas don’t automatically happen when you’re glued to a computer screen. So these agencies give creative teams the chance to get inspired outside the office, by working from home, through brainstorming sessions or group workshops. Currently, these activities may be more limited with the Coronavirus but ideally they will be offered by more agencies in the future when the pandemic is over.