A combination of work and domestic pressures has meant that it’s been several years since I last able to sit down in a timely fashion to write a review of my working year. I find that it is a useful thing to do, though: it helps me to take stock of what went well, what could have been done better, and what I might choose to concentrate on (or avoid doing) in the future. For anyone interested in freelancing in medcomms, it also provides a snapshot of a freelancer’s lot, and I hope that it will be useful in that respect.
At the beginning of 2017, I was in the position of having quite substantially expanded my business – in terms of the number of clients that I was working with, the types of work I was taking on, and the size and scope of the projects that I was working on – over the previous 2 years. Realistically, without changing the nature of my business (ie by subcontracting or taking on staff) that expansion could not continue, and 2017 has been a year of consolidation.
For many years now, medical writing has been the cornerstone of my business, with editing and proof reading making up an increasingly smaller part of my workload. I have always enjoyed these area of work, however, and I was delighted to be asked to proof read the annual report and updated resource materials for an international not-for-profit organisation that I have been working with now for 3 years. I also edited a good number of slides – primarily for symposia – during the year. Almost always, these projects also included fact checking the slides against cited references or finding references to back up claims made in the slides. This can be very challenging when the slide concerns the finer points of clinical practice that owe much to the expertise and experience of the faculty member, but which perhaps have never been completely captured in a peer-reviewed publication.
As in previous years, an important aspect of my medical writing work in 2017 was the creation of training materials for members of the pharma sales force. This work is interesting to do because it usually involves assembling multiple modules covering basic information about the disease in question, how it is diagnosed and treated, a competitor analysis and information about the new drug/class of drugs, including a review of the available clinical data. In the past, I have done a number of projects with different medcomms agencies in type 2 diabetes, multiple myeloma, and leukaemia; in 2017, I added chronic kidney disease and mucopolysaccharidosis Type I to this list.
One of my favourite medical writing activities is attending and writing up advisory board meetings, and I had several opportunities to do this in 2017. Each was different in terms of the therapy area (breast cancer, allergy and diabetes), the make-up of the board (one or more of consultants, academics, specialist nurses and pharmacists), and their purpose (two being reviews of the therapy landscape and one a discussion about the positioning of a new drug). While two of the meeting reports were simply for the attention of the board members and sponsors, one resulted in a paper which is currently making its way through peer review.
In a similar vein, I was asked to write summary reports of two symposia, one in haematology and one in psoriasis/psoriatic arthritis. Apart from the obvious difference, these were notable for the fact that in one case I received a very poor audio recording and a correspondingly poor transcript, and in the other case I received very high-quality video recordings of the meeting, along with the slides, which was almost as good as actually being there. Recording meetings is often fraught with difficulty, and bitter experience has taught me to make my own audio recording (with the permission of the participants, of course), also to accept a copy of the agency’s/sponsor’s recording (if there is one), and always to take handwritten notes just in case the belt and braces fail. Copies of the slides (or photographs) also help to ensure that the report is as accurate as possible.
My writing work in 2017 also included a few papers: in addition to the review paper based on an advisory board mentioned above, I was commissioned by a start-up medical device company to work with its lead investigators to publish data from trials of its new fertility device and towards the end of the year I worked up an outline for a paper on developments in aesthetic medicine that is currently back with the authors.
The medical device company was one of three brand new clients for me in 2017. That company and one other (a PR agency) found me through my website (www.freelancemedicalwriting.co.uk), while I found the other client through the MedComms Workbook (http://www.medcommsworkbook.com/) – a freelancer listing service that I thoroughly recommend to freelancers in medcomms. It was also good to work for existing contacts who have moved to new agencies. During the summer, I took a 3-month in-house contract with a medcomms agency in West London. Unhappily, that period coincided with the refurbishment of Waterloo station, which made my commute more difficult than I had expected. Clearly, I didn’t do enough background research there. Generally, I enjoy in-house contracts as opportunities to get out of my home office and interact with real, present, people. They also serve as reminders of the pressures that writers and account managers are under when they place work with freelancers.
So that was 2017, what of 2018? Well, as far as work is concerned, I am off to a busy start. I am looking forward to two days at the European ISMPP meeting (http://www.ismpp.org/european-meeting) later this month and to a Medcomms Workbook networking meeting in March. Having missed both meetings last year, I’d also like to get to at least one of the EMWA meetings this year (https://www.emwa.org/conferences/future-conferences/). I am keen to understand how/if Brexit is going to affect medcomms – one of the topics for the ISMPP meeting – and I hope that this might become clearer during the year. I am trying very hard to keep open-minded about this, and I think that it is important to get out and listen and talk to people from agencies and pharma and device companies about their views and expectations. A particular regret about 2017 for me is that, having suggested them in the first place, I didn’t organise many local meetings for Kent freelancers last year. Hopefully, life in general will be a bit more settled this year and more of these events will happen.
To find out more about me and my medical writing work, please visit my website at www.freelancemedicalwriting.co.uk . You can also follow me on Twitter (@jytricker).