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What Do YOU Make?

Salary is usually a taboo topic. No one wants to let others know what he or she makes. But admit it, you want to know what other people make, right? Well, you have to give a little to get a little, so open up and participate in the 2015 AMWA Salary Survey. In the end, you will know what your colleagues make, yet all individual information will be anonymous and confidential. It is a win-win, if you ask me.
 
How exactly do you benefit by participating in AMWA’s collection of data on salaries? In a nutshell, AMWA is the largest organization of medical communicators, which makes the results of our survey the best representation of what medical writers and editors actually earn. This year, to yield an even better representation, we have opened the AMWA Salary Survey to all writers and editors across medical and health specialties, regardless of AMWA membership. So, tell your non-AMWA member colleagues to take part! If they don't think they're a "medical writer," point them to the AMWA definition.
 
Having an accurate account of what medical communicators earn is important no matter where you are in your career. If you are looking for a job, knowing the true industry standard will arm you with the ammunition to negotiate a fair salary. The same goes for those of you preparing for an annual review as well as freelances deciding whether to accept a client’s offer. If you’re thinking about jumping ship to try another, less stressful career, you can compare the industry standards for medical writing and quiltmaking (for example). If you’re a hiring manager, you can use salary survey data for salary benchmarking to make sure you’re paying your employees fairly. If you’re solidly employed, you should know your market value. So, every one of us has a reason to take part in the survey!
 
If you need further evidence for participating, let me tell you that other sources of salary data can’t compete with the AMWA Salary Survey in terms of value. Often, the discrepancy is related to the lack of an appropriate job definition. For example, the US Department of Labor doesn’t recognize “medical writing” as a job classification; the closest job is “technical writer,” and it seems as though medical writers might be found in the subindustry of “Management, Scientific and Technical Consulting Services.” According to US Labor statistics from 2014, the mean annual wage was $71,950 for technical writers and $74,050 for the subindustry. These wages are far lower than the mean salary in the 2011 AMWA Salary Survey ($92,867).
 
Are other sources of salary data better than the US Department of Labor? There’s salaryexpert.com, but that name seems to be somewhat of a misnomer, given that the site reports national averages for “medical technical writer” in 10 US areas, with a range of about $65,000 in Missouri to about $96,000 in California. These wages are lower than the median salaries in the 2011 AMWA Salary Survey for the geographic regions that included Missouri ($74,600) and California ($106,100).
 
Salaries are also lower at salary.com, where you can search salaries according to state. However, the description for “medical writer” (with levels of I and II) indicates a position specifically in the pharma/biotech industry. The median salaries (for a Boston location) listed on the site are $63,558 (level I) and $61,514 (level 2). In addition to the difference making no sense, these wages are far lower than the median salaries reported in the 2011 AMWA survey: in 2011: $112,800 (pharma) and $116,800 (biotech).  Not only that, but the pharma/biotech industry typically offers the highest wages, which means salaries in other medical communication settings would be lower than those reported on salary.com. None of the eight settings in the 2011 AMWA survey had a mean salary as low as those for a medical writer on the salary.com site.
 
Then there is payscale.com, which bills itself as a “leader in online compensation information.” The salaries for “medical writer” here are closer to those found in the 2011 AMWA survey, although they’re a bit higher. (Of course, we don’t know how medical writer is defined.) On this site, the “typical” salary for a medical writer is $95,858 and the “high” salary is $121,997. This high salary is higher than all salaries in the 2011 AMWA survey, except for the category of “supervision or administration ($126,400). Oh, that this site were true.
 
Only one of our sister organizations provides data on salaries, and that’s the Society for Technical Communication (STC). In its 2012-2013 report, the STC notes an average annual wage of $67,250 for writers in the category of “Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services” and $71,040 for writers in the category of “Scientific Research and Development Services.”  Both salaries are lower than those in the 2011 AMWA survey. The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) offers a resource on hourly rates for a range of editorial services but no data on annual salaries; you can, however, multiply the hourly rates of $60-$70 per hour (writing) and $40-$60 (substantive or line editing) by 2,000 (40 hours per week for 50 weeks) to get annual salaries of $120,000-$140,000 (writing) and $80,000-$120,000 (editing). These salaries are high, but this information is limited by many factors... it applies only to freelances, does not take into account nonbillable hours and overhead, and is not specific to writers and editors in the medical or health field.
 
It should be clear by now that other sources offer poor representations of what we really earn. Would you want the information from one of these sources if you were seeking a new job, preparing to ask for a raise, or just wanting to feel good about your work? Without a doubt, the AMWA Salary Survey paints a brighter picture of our worth.
 
The AMWA Salary Survey also paints a more detailed picture, with salaries broken down by many variables (geographic area, employment level, years of experience, employment setting, job category [writing, editing, supervising] etc.). Plus, a nifty formula lets you start with a base salary and then add specific dollar amounts according to many of these variables. So, in addition to all the other benefits already mentioned, the AMWA survey data can help you decide if the money really is greener in a communication or advertising company or a medical education company (about 13,900 shades greener) or if an advanced degree is worth the investment (you could add $8,000 to your base annual salary for a degree higher than a master’s in the 2011 formula).
 
If you’re a loyal AMWA Salary Survey participant, you’ll love the changes to this year’s survey. It’s designed to be more efficient, with separate pathways for employees and freelances. We’ve included questions addressing salary-related issues such as employee benefits and freelance expenses. We have also added questions to provide better data on salaries for medical editors.
 
The survey is easy and takes about 10 minutes to complete. So grab last year's tax form and log onto the survey. Act fast—the last day of the survey is Friday, May 15. If you still need motivation, participants can enter a drawing to win an iPad mini. But the real prize is the survey results, which will bring you a wealth of information about your worth. You’ll be able to learn about the results first at the AMWA Annual Conference in San Antonio, on the AMWA website, and in the AMWA Journal.