By Natalie Losada
Humans have come a long way from communicating with cave paintings. We have written communication (temporary and archived), social media in multiple formats, and even careful regulatory documentation that help keep people safe, organized, and informed. Simply put, communication has become a multi-faceted field. Medical communication (MedCom) specifically has more to offer than you might expect, as became clear after the iJOBS with McCann Health career panel.
MedCom can be defined a little differently depending on the organization/entity. McCann Health described it as “the industry in which complex, scientific information is conveyed in a clear and engaging way.” This field can involve scientific/medical publications, materials for scientific meetings/conferences, digital works for social media, and documentation for regulatory affairs. Annie Webb, Talent Acquisition Partner at McCann Health additionally expressed that there were many different examples of writing and communication within each of those four categories. You can write manuscripts for clinical trial results, make presentations for conferences (or as the field refers to them, congresses), create animations or websites, and create clinical study protocols and reports. The list goes on! Employees at McCann even go to some of the congresses, although this has slowed during the pandemic.
A screenshot of the McCann Health website with a graphic of six of the eight agencies that make of McCann Health medical communications.
McCann Health medical communications is part of the Interpublic Group (IPG) Network, a collective of over 45 agencies all over the globe. Within McCann Health, there are eight MedCom agencies that have clients in pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, and over 90 client teams worldwide. One of McCann’s agencies, Caudex, is where two of the career panelists are employed: Brooke Bouza, an associate medical writer and Alexus (Kolb) Shirk, an associate medical writer. Another agency that is a part of McCann Health is Complete Healthvizion, where Ryan Staudt is employed as a medical writer. Most of the remote positions are in the US while many UK positions still require employees to work from the office a few times a week. All the panelists work mainly with publications for their agencies. However, Ryan also recently started working with medical education projects because he expressed interest in this topic to his superiors. Medical education usually consists of infographics and webinars, but Ryan clarified it can be vast in its scope of work. Brooke emphasized the message to communicate your preferences by calling on her own experience. She had discussed she is passionate about women’s health topics with her supervisors and now they bring her project opportunities on those topics as they come up. This not only shows the company cares about the employees’ interest in their work, but also shows you should always speak up about your interests, for example, if you want a diverse mix of work or not. You never know who will remember and send fun projects your way.
The medical communications field has benefits and challenges, which can be overcome if the field is the right fit for you. For example, Alexus explained that there are crucial deadlines for large projects and usually smaller deadlines in between. Ryan described that the deadlines are navigable partly because someone on your team is always there to help you directly or help you find someone with the knowledge you’re looking for. And despite the deadlines being concrete, the work hours are flexible, for example, you can stay later one day and leave early the next day. Still, the general warning question was: do you work well under pressure? The career also requires you to balance many opinions of experts in the field, clinical trial organizers, and pharmaceuticals companies, which sometimes conflict with each other. This begs the question: are you a good mediator/problem solver? The last challenge mentioned in the career panel was the need to be agile and collaborative as you will be working with multiple projects and a different team for each. The team you work with depends on the client's project size; a small project could require a couple whereas a large project would require many more people. Overall, though, Annie shared that the job satisfaction in this field is significant, as well as the job security. It is a growing sector that works across a variety of scientific areas and involves preparation of multiple types of deliverables for different project types. If you like problem solving and don’t shy from deadlines, you can prosper!
You might be interested in medical communications but are nervous about the extent of your experience in the field. McCann Health has its own entry-level training and development plan called FuEL (Future Experts and Leaders). The FuEL program provides separate training for four different types of associate positions within medical communications: medical writer, medical editor, regulatory writer, and account executive. Although, it was mentioned that the regulatory agency under McCann is strictly UK based and doesn’t accept people working remotely from the US. As shown in the picture, these four categories can train you for a whole career with various levels of promotions. They all work together, in harmony, as one well-oiled machine. The regulatory writer provides concise and accurate documentation while the medical writers develop the communications materials. Then medical editors ensure the materials are clear, accurate, and to the style of the client. Finally, the account executives provide support with the delivery of the project, financial management, and help build strong relationships with the clients.
The FuEL training can be used for entry-level jobs across the McCann agencies because they all have very similar functions and roles but differ in the focus of work. Senior-level jobs can differ across agencies depending on the agency’s needs, i.e., producing more promotional materials versus more publications. FuEL training consists of on-the-job experience preparing and delivering communication materials to clients, which is supplemented by specific training for skill development in your career field. Additionally, all the positions previously described are entry-level and equally paid. FuEL is designed for BS/BA holders who want to go straight into MedCom, but the panelists ensured that all degrees were welcome into the program if you don’t have previous experience in medical communications. In training they teach you most of the skills you’ll need for that role, so you don’t need an elaborately filled resume, but some publication or presentation experience is extremely helpful. If you have experience in the field already, Annie explained that you could skip the FuEL training and go straight into your role in the agency, depending on the level of the position. Training takes about one year, but you can take longer if you need. There’s no hard deadline as people flow into their official roles after training because the whole time you are paid as your full role in the agency because you are expected to work full-time after training.
Adapted from screenshot of presentation. Showing how FuEL is the start of four categories of career journeys in Medical Communications.
The last thing to know about FuEL is that about 50% of applicants get accepted into the training. Before getting accepted you need to take two writing assessments; for one you are given a week to write, and the other is just one hour long. The panelists and Annie said the problem is usually the one-hour timed test that judges how well you work under pressure. Not everyone passes. Brooke and Alexus recommended preparing for the test by researching how plain language summaries, press releases, and clinical trial abstracts are written. As graduate students in academia we already know to write manuscripts, so preparation would just cover things you haven’t written before. Other than that, the test details were not to be disclosed.
As expected, part of the decision to apply to McCann Health was the thorough training they provide and the large number of resources. But Ryan also added that he enjoyed the culture of the company. The company is large, so you get exposed to a lot of different project topics, clients, and types of work. There’s a lot of roles to suit different personalities and there are options for flexible work. For those interested in this career follow the company on LinkedIn and visiting their vacancies website page to apply for a position!
This article was edited by Junior Editor Shawn Rumrill and Senior Editor Samantha Avina.
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