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My freelance medical writing and editing work in 2013

When I first went freelance, there were two things that used to cause me great anxiety – not having an IT department to turn to if something went wrong with my pc, printer, broadband connection, etc, and not having enough work.

As I became more established and started to build a client list, I occasionally had the opposite problem – too much work (or rather not enough time to do all the jobs that I had been offered). And if not having enough work was worrying, turning down work for the first time went to another level of scariness!

In the 11 years that I’ve been working as a freelancer, I have learned that the next job will come along, and that it is better to turn work down than to take on a job that I can’t finish to the standard expected by the client (and myself) and in the time required. Feast and famine go with the freelance territory.

Last year was one of those years: feast from January to August followed by famine through the autumn – partly because two contracts were severely pared back, and partly (sadly) because one of my clients went bust. Happily, not only was the failed company bought by a former competitor, but my work also picked up again towards Christmas!

Here are my highlights.

Medical writing

My biggest area of work in 2013 was on training materials. These included modules on new drug classes, procedures or therapy areas for pharma company internal use or for company reps to use with healthcare professionals in the field, as well as a really interesting project that allowed regional sales teams to share their most successful promotional campaigns with similar teams in other countries. While most of the training materials that I wrote were interactive elearning courses, others will only appear in hard copy and one was in the form of a video.

I did a lot of PowerPoint work in 2013. Interestingly, these decks were split between those designed to support drugs at the point of launch, and those that supported products off- or coming off patent. I was also happy to do more work in an area that was new to me in 2012 – payer brochures. Not all of the intended audience for these will have a pharma/medical background, and so it is important to strike a balance with the tone and language used, in order to provide accessible information without patronising the reader.

I have a long-term relationship with a dermatology team in Germany via one of the agencies that I work with, and just at the end of 2013 two reviews that we have been working on for about 18 months – one narrative and one systematic – were submitted. Sadly one was rejected very quickly, but I believe that the other one is progressing to publication.  I also helped a couple of teams to turn the results of surveys of adherence to medication for diabetes and of attitudes to fungal nail disease into manuscripts during the year.

My biggest therapy areas in 2013 were diabetes, eczema and B-cell lymphomas. Diabetes and eczema are areas that I have written about for many years, but B-cell lymphomas were fairly new to me. I also wrote about schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis for the first time.

Editing and proofreading

I continue to proofread the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Community Eye Health Journal, which comes out quarterly. I was also acting editor for three issues of a business-to-business journal for the customers of a medical device company. The latter involved working in-house with the design team at the end of each publication cycle, which was very enjoyable. My slew of PowerPoint work extended to editing and proofreading slides – and I found myself wondering (not for the first time) why you can’t track changes in PowerPoint.


This is a new section for this year – inserted because there were two areas of work that accounted for quite a lot of my time in 2013, but which don’t really fall into the medical writing and editing categories.

A few years ago, I was very fortunate to receive formal Zinc training (see http://www.zinc-ahead.com/ for information about Zinc) while I was doing a long-term contract for one of my clients, and I subsequently added it to my freelance offering. This year saw a major spike in Zinc activity, though, and I logged hundreds of hours marking up references for Zinc and creating linked reference packs within Zinc for two existing clients and three new clients.

Two clients asked me to track the posters and plenaries that their clients’ competitors were presenting at international meetings. A lot of the work in this type of project is in deciding how best to display the information gathered.

Away from the keyboard

I was very pleased to be asked by Peter Llewellyn (of MedComms Networking) and Ryan Woodrow (Aspire Scientific) to take part in a series of workshops aimed at current and aspiring freelancers. These were incredibly informative and useful for making new contacts and sharing hints and tips, and I’m looking forward to the follow-up session this year.

I attended the International Society of Medical Publications Professionals (ISMPP)  European meeting in London in January 2012. I was only able to attend for one day, but, as always, it was time well spent for getting up to speed on issues affecting the medcomms industry and meeting new and existing contacts. One of things that I particularly like about ISMPP meetings is that they are well attended by pharma companies, and it is interesting to hear the industry viewpoint.

The European Medical Writers Association (EMWA) held its 2012 annual meeting in Manchester. I spent a very useful two days attending a symposium on writing for payers, various workshops and the freelance business forum. I also had a meeting with the editors of the ‘Out On Our Own’ section of EMWA’s journal (Medical Writing) to discuss a series of three articles that they had asked me to write on how I use social media in my business. The first two are already published (see http://wp.me/p15PpZ-2G and http://wp.me/p15PpZ-2S) and the third will be available soon.

The annual publication planning meeting in London in the autumn as always included a review of changes to the various codes that govern our business, including, of course the US Sunshine Act which had only recently been enacted then. We also had some lively presentations and discussions on changes to the academic publishing model. It was good to see more freelancers attending this (free) meeting – and other meetings organised by Medcomms Networking during the year.

Looking forward

Some of my new clients from last year have already re-commissioned me for this year, which is very heartening, and I have been talking to some potential new clients – some via the Freelance Workbook service and others who’ve found me via my website – about potential new projects. I’ve also been very pleased to do more work with some of my long-established clients.

A very exciting development for me this year is that I have agreed to mentor a student who is interested in making a career in medical writing when she graduates. That will start in the spring and in addition to providing advice on writing style and practice, we will be looking into employment opportunities for new first degree graduates – if you have any thoughts, do get in touch.

5th March, 2014


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SoMe and Me

Earlier this year, the editors of the freelancers’ pages in EMWA‘s journal, Medical Writing, asked me to write a series of articles about how I use social media in my business. These articles are not intended as ‘how to’ guides – I am no expert – but hopefully will help to convince a few more freelance medical writers that using social media doesn’t have to be scary.

The first article was published in the September 2013 issue of Medical Writing (©Maney Publishing; www.maneypublishing.com), and you can read it here.

SoMe and Me_Networking

The second article will be published in December 2013, and I will post that on Trickerish Allsorts in due course.

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)

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My freelance medical writing and editing work in 2012

2012 was a good year! I signed with more new clients than in any year since I went freelance. These included individuals, small medcomms agencies, large multinational agencies, a publisher and, for the first time, an advertising agency. I also continued to work with existing clients – some that I have worked with for a number of years. This also brought a huge variety of work, which I always appreciate.

In contrast to 2011, most of the work that I did in 2012 was on a freelance basis, interspersed with three short contracts. My contacts with new clients were made through a variety of channels: recruitment agencies, LinkedIn, EMWA, my website and a new initiative, the Freelance Workbook. Most of these were in the UK, but I worked with new clients in France and Germany too.

Medical writing

By comparison with previous years, very little of the writing that I did in 2012 was on primary research papers.  Instead, from a writing viewpoint, 2012 was about PR and training. I wrote a number of articles (on biologics and HIV care) for business-to-business magazines, which felt a bit like coming home for me, and which I was particularly pleased to do. Among the training programmes I was involved with were three interactive courses for iPad and/or the web for healthcare professionals , two slide-based courses, and two more traditional booklets aimed at sales and marketing teams. HCPs were also the target for some web copy, a couple of drug monographs and a short series of adverts.

A new target audience for me in 2012 was payers. Demonstrating cost-effectiveness is an important part of bringing drugs to market and the challenge for me was to provide an engaging summary of the therapy area and technology concerned for readers who may not have a medical background, before going on to summarise the health economics data in a fairly short brochure. It’s been challenging, but it’s been absolutely fascinating too.

In terms of therapy areas, 2012 was primarily about diabetes (types 1 and 2), cardiovascular disease, eczema and rheumatoid arthritis. I wrote about Alzheimer’s disease for the first time, did a little bit more work on rare diseases – this time patient leaflets for the parents of babies with rare skin diseases – and revisited vaccines for the first time in a while.

Editing and proofreading

I did more editing and proofreading work in 2012 than I’ve done in recent years. As usual I’ve had a steady throughput of papers requiring editing for English – either from doctors that I work with directly or via med comms agencies – but I did a lot of slide deck edits too. Most excitingly, I have been taken on as a freelance copy editor for a quarterly magazine sponsored by one of the big medical device companies and as a freelance proofreader for a quarterly ophthalmology newsletter produced by the London School of Tropical Hygiene for HCPs and patients in emerging markets. In terms of editing and proofreading, medical devices in their various guises provided quite a lot of my work in 2012.

Away from the keyboard

As in other years, I made sure to get out of my office and attend a few workshops and conferences. This helps to ensure that I keep abreast of changes in the pharma and medcomms industries, and enables me to find out about other things that are going on in the world that might prove useful  in my work. This year these included conferences on changes in the way that pharma delivers continuing medical education to doctors (InPharm), the growing influence of patients in healthcare management and treatment strategies (MedComms Networking), how to use Twitter in business (Digital Surrey) and the use of mobile technology to improve policing in the community (Digital Surrey). The Publication Plan’s annual publication planning workshop proved a great opportunity to learn about how open access publishing is evolving, what it can offer our clients and its customers and to get up to speed on how the requirements of the US Sunshine Act might affect the provision of medical writing/editing assistance to American doctors.

What about 2013?

Well it has started at a frenetic pace! I have been solidly booked since the beginning of the year and each project has been very different from the last – hopefully that is a trend that will continue throughout the year.

I’ve already attended the European ISMPP meeting as well as a workshop on social media for the pharma industry. I am looking forward to the annual EMWA meeting in the Spring, and am hoping to get to other events later in the year. I’m also looking forward to being a panellist at two workshops for new and would-be freelancers that are being held in March.

On the social media front, I feel that it is time to freshen up my website – it’s been up for a little over 2 years now, so a good time, I think, to have another look at the copy and the artwork. I’m still enjoying participating with Twitter and LinkedIn and, as I say every year, I will try to write more blogs!

To find out more about me and my medical writing work, please visit my website at www.freelancemedicalwriting.co.uk .

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For #raredisease day

February 29th is Rare Disease Day – an opportunity to celebrate steps forward in the understanding and treatment of rare diseases, to pay tribute the people who live with them – and their carers – and to draw attention to the pressing need for more research, more treatments, more recognition and more help to address the hundreds of diseases and disorders which are designated as ‘rare’.

Until a year ago, my understanding of rare diseases was, to say the least, limited. In the last 12 months, however, I have provided writing and editing support to a number of teams working on rare diseases. These have included several blood disorders (porphyria, haemophilia, idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura [ITP]) and metabolic disorders (hyperammonaemia, chronic cholestasis), as well as hereditary angioedema (HAE) and ichthyosis.

Most of these have the potential to be life threatening. Most require prompt recognition in order for optimal treatment to be delivered before the situation becomes critical. Most are hereditary (although some also appear spontaneously – ie without a family history). All of these affect children.

In the work that I’ve done in the last year I’ve identified some common threads in communications about rare diseases, which I’ll share here.

1.Traditional media – traditional response

I have worked with two teams this year who have been trying to publish papers on the treatment of porphyria and HAE, respectively. My involvement – funded by drug companies in both cases – has been to edit for length and for English. Both papers were summarily rejected by the authors’ first choice of journal for being of limited interest to their readership. This is something of a brick wall, then, against which to bang your head. Most doctors will never see a case of porphyria or HAE (or any other rare disease), but if they don’t know about porphyria or HAE, how will they recognise it if they do? It is all very well to publish in journals that specialise in rare diseases, but you’re probably only reaching doctors who know all about those conditions anyway. This does not help patients, as the following two examples will hopefully help to illustrate.

A couple of the conditions that I have written about this year initially present with very general symptoms. Sadly the most obvious choices of therapy or procedure for those symptoms exacerbate rather than alleviate them, which, if doctors had been able to read case reports on patients with these disorders, could be a clue to the fact that something more unusual is going on.

Haemophilia, renowned as a hereditary disease in males, is now known to affect women and to arise as a result of spontaneous gene mutations. Doctors who are unaware of those facts could expend a lot of time, money and patient goodwill on exploring unexplained and/or heavy bleeding in a patient who could be easily helped by prescribing the appropriate clotting factor.

It would be great … if the general medicine journals could commit to taking a few papers on rare diseases each year. The planting of those seeds of knowledge could make a huge difference to those few patients whose quality of life (even life itself) may depend on it.

2. Social media: making contact and spreading the word

I don’t think that it is possible to underestimate the huge difference that widespread uptake of social media has made and continues to make, to patients with rare diseases, their carers and their doctors. Starting with websites providing news and information about the disease and its treatment, case histories that might prove useful in differential diagnosis, space for discussion and links to other useful sources of information, and moving on to Facebook and Twitter, which provide more natural environments for interaction with other patients, researchers, drug companies and healthcare professionals, social media is generally making the world a better place for people with rare diseases.

Here’s one example of how motivating social media can be, particularly for young people with a rare disease.

British professional cyclist Alex Dowsett has haemophilia – Google him (plus haemophilia) and you will see how social media allows him to reach out to young people with haemophilia (and the rest of us, of course) and let them know that not only can you lead an ordinary life with a rare disease, you can lead an extraordinary life if you are motivated to stay fit and healthy.

Haemophilia is a disorder that we know a lot about, and medication and diagnostics for checking clotting times have been available for some time and are being continuously improved. This is not the case for many rare diseases, however. Going forward, Twitter and Facebook are likely to become essential in the recruitment of patients into clinical trials for new drugs to treat rare diseases. With comparatively few patients being eligible for inclusion in these trials, it is really important to contact as many as possible at the outset and it is easier to do this through social media than through patient records.

France-based Eurordis (www.eurordis.org) – a non-governmental patient-driven alliance of patient organisations representing >500 rare (orphan) diseases in 46 countries – and the US-based National Organization for Rare Diseases (NORD; www.rarediseases.org) have created a portal (www.rarediseasecommunities.org), which links rare disease communities together, provides automatic translations of websites, and acts as a centre for the collection and dissemination of news on rare diseases. I was fortunate to meet Rob Pleticha of Eurordis last year at a meeting for representatives of ITP patient groups and he provided them with useful tips for staying safe online, reaching as large an audience as possible and ensuring the accuracy of information on their sites.

It would be great  … if everyone followed @eurordis and @NORD on Twitter and retweeted their news and requests for help. The more people they reach, the more people are likely to be helped.

The patient is king/queen

The chances are that if you are a patient with a rare disease, or the parent or the partner of a patient with a rare disease, you know at least as much about that condition as most of the healthcare professionals that you will come across. Patient groups play a vital role then in not just being a resource for patients, partners and parents, but also for healthcare professionals.

I was invited last year to act as a scribe for representatives of patient groups from across Europe at an international meeting for physicians and nurses who treat patients with ITP. The whole event – which happens annually – was sponsored by Amgen, who had included the patient group representatives for the first time in recognition of the important role that they play in supporting newly diagnosed patients. In addition to their own sessions, these groups took part in discussions of case studies with the HCPs and led a session on how patient groups can help HCPs in their work with patients.

I found this meeting at the same time profoundly moving and immensely uplifting. It is impossible not to be moved when you hear the how and why these people came to set up or be involved their groups. But it was truly uplifting to hear about their successes, to see how seriously they were taken by the HCPs at the meeting and to understand how deeply committed they were to sharing best practice and supporting other patients with ITP and their families.

It would be great … to see other formal opportunities for patient groups and HCPs to share best practice and learning, and to look at life from the other’s perspective – there were some real ‘lightbulb moments’ at the sessions I attended.

And finally …

The ITP meeting was a watershed for me, coming at the end of a year of closer contact with rare diseases. It inspired me to find out more about Eurordis and to do my bit in the social media that I use to promote its aims. Ultimately, it inspired this blog.

I realise that this is (another) long post – and there’s still plenty that I’d like to say (perhaps another time) – but before I finish I particularly want to mention @Rose_arr and @pjbjib, who follow me on Twitter (@jytricker). They have family members with rare diseases and they’ve been asking me to sign a petition (wh.gov/OMR) to improve state funding for treatments for rare diseases in the USA. I’m not a US citizen, so I don’t think that I can sign it. This, then, is my next best thing, using social media to be an extra voice for the cause – I hope that someone reading this will sign the petition.

To find out more about me and my medical writing and editing work, please visit my website at www.freelancemedicalwriting.co.uk .

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