AMWA members share their experiences with AMWA and how it has helped and continues to help their medical writing careers.
Nicole Van Hoey
By Karen Klein, MA, ELS, GPC
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Without AMWA, I wouldn’t have a career – or at least, not one that seems to fit me so perfectly. Rewind the clock to 1989…
I was a brand-new managing editor at a national society’s journal – the kind of job I’d been aspiring to for years. My supervisor said, “We require that all our managing editors join AMWA and attend its annual conference.” So I joined and registered for the annual conference, unsure what I’d find there.
I didn’t appreciate everything AMWA has to offer right away. (Did I mention I had a newborn?) But after a few years, I found myself eagerly working toward my first certificate…and then my advanced certificate. I realized how much I didn’t know about grammar, and paragraph structure, and macroediting, and so much more. I soaked up great information from outstanding workshop leaders. I relocated, and had a major job change. Once again, I acquired new skills I needed through AMWA. And when I realized it was time I shared some of what I’d learned, AMWA was a place to do that, too. I find deep satisfaction in learning from my workshop attendees. Their enthusiasm and encouragement, in turn, helped me professionally. I became more confident in teaching, and lo and behold, more opportunities to do so arose. I’ll never be as naturally gifted as the Golden Apple awardees I’ve had the pleasure to learn from, but my skills and confidence both have grown – along with my appreciation for how new avenues can be rich learning experiences.
Career development? Networking? Sensing the pulse of our profession? Meeting people who become cherished friends? All these, and more, I found – and still find – in AMWA. You can, too.
By Cherie Dewar
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As a mother of two who could see the light at the end of the toddler-time tunnel, I was seeking a new challenge. For the past five years I had been freelance writing for a parenting newsletter, and, before motherhood, I had worked at the bench in biochemistry. I wondered to myself, “How could I combine my love of writing with my science background?” A friend told me about AMWA, which turned out to be the ideal vehicle to launch my second career as a freelance medical writer.
After attending some local chapter events to query AMWA members about medical writing, I signed up for the 2007 National AMWA conference in Dallas, TX. The lecture selections were exciting and it took me a few hours to sift through all the choices of roundtables, workshops, and open sessions. The “How to launch your freelance career” and “Business aspects of freelance” workshops filled me in on how to establish a company by filling out a “Do Business As” form, and how to obtain a medically-based writing sample when I did not have one. This was all very helpful, but I unexpectedly found my first big “break” at a roundtable breakfast regarding medical journalism. During the breakfast, I asked questions about confirming quotations and where one could find work as a medical journalist. Afterwards, another participant at the table informed me that her company was looking for writers. We exchanged cards and a few months later her organization assigned me my first writing project.
Additional networking at this conference brought about a second client when I met with a conference coach at the conference’s onset. We continued to email each other after the conference, and a few months later my coach referred me to a friend of hers who was an editor at another newsmagazine. With my coach’s recommendation, the editor assigned me some projects and they have continued to work with me over the years.
I will always be grateful to AMWA for giving me the ability to start a rewarding second career. The key has been to regularly attend my local chapter’s networking events and the national conferences, which I do every other year. You never know what doors these meetings may open up!
By Nicole Van Hoey, PharmD
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Since the first time that I ventured to describe myself as a medical writer instead of a practicing pharmacist, AMWA has bolstered my professionalism and provided numerous opportunities along my chosen career path.
I first learned of AMWA by reading about the association in medical writing job advertisements and in searches—thanks, Google! Before writing anything, I joined AMWA, threw myself into the basic core home study classes, and immersed myself in resources like Edie’s column and the biomedical essay collections (see the “Did You Know?” box for more information). I am confident that my AMWA membership was a key factor in obtaining my first professional writing position—with no prior experience—as a technical writer/editor for the National Library of Medicine, Clinical Information Services. My pharmacy pedagogy is and remains essential to my successful outreach, but the AMWA affiliation symbolizes my commitment to a nontraditional scientific career calling.
I completed my core certificate in 2011 at the Jacksonville, FL, conference—my first annual event, despite a 6-year membership. Finally I really felt like a professional medical writer! Though I only attended for 2 days, the connections I made in Florida continue to extend my career growth. In addition to my valuable certification, I was able to undertake a professional co-mentoring partnership that provides camaraderie and brainstorming, both often lacking in solo proprietorships. Between classes, unstructured networking brought me out of my introvert shell and opened the door to a new, long-term freelance contract that continues to broaden my publication experiences with its variety of writing and editing needs.
As I dive into my professional future, I cannot see what is ahead. But I do know that AMWA, both regionally and nationally, will continue to play a vital and growing role in my business networks and as a supportive educational resource. Through AMWA, I have the confidence and ability to always learn more, to acknowledge my professional peers, and to say yes to any new opportunity that comes my way.
By Jun Yan, PharmD
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When I joined AMWA in 1999, I was happily employed as an editor, my first job out of pharmacy school. A long and winding career was not the first thing on my mind. What drew me to the organization was a sense of camaraderie and belonging. Five years later, I was struggling to break into a writing career, but every job ad underlined “experience required.” A typical Catch-22.
I took the only step I could think of. I went to AMWA conferences and talked to fellow members with a lot more experience in work and in life.
“Be patient. Keep networking. Don’t give up,” one member told me.
“Take the AMWA classes. Get a certificate. It’s valuable,” another member suggested.
“You need to be willing to move to where the jobs are,” said another member.
All the advice proved correct. I continued networking. I got my AMWA certificate. I talked to dozens of AMWA members about my interest in medical writing. I listened to stories of how others pursued their careers and achieved their goals. Finally, I met a long-time member who led workshops at AMWA conferences year after year. She connected me with a colleague who was hiring writers and willing to train someone without experience. I have been a writer ever since.
Over the years, AMWA remains my professional home. When I embarked on a freelance venture, a listing on the Freelance Directory brought at least two long-term clients whom I still work with and a number of other opportunities.
Perhaps more than the actual gains, AMWA offers an intangible but priceless benefit for medical writers like me - a wide range of career paths and possibilities. No matter what your aspiration, if you love words and health science, you can find role models and mentors in AMWA.
By Beth Pulaski, PhD
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Given the current economic environment, reviving my career after an 8-year hiatus (or rather retirement, which is how I like to refer to my time off as) should have been an impossible task. During these past 3 years I have had to make a lot of choices and strategic moves. Money was so excruciatingly tight that every dollar spent had to count. (I bet that does not sound too unfamiliar.)
I opened a business, which meant licensing fees…
I went back to school, which was definitely not cheap...
Then, I joined AMWA, which I have to say has given me the best return on my money and time by far! (Apologies if I sound so pragmatic.)
AMWA has provided me:
So how did this all begin?
My journey began in February 2010 when I landed an opportunity to write a review article for a highly respected ovarian cancer researcher. But like most first assignments, it was very awkward. Did I know anything about contracts? No. In fact, I ended up not getting paid, but then I was just grateful for the experience. Confidence was a low commodity.
All I kept hearing inside was:
“Who is ever going to hire someone who hasn’t worked in over 8 years?”
Then I started hearing from recruiters:
“You have no experience” (which still stings my ears every day, even now).
Thanks to my first AMWA meeting, I made a connection with a medical communications firm and volunteered to work with them for a few months. Again, I wasn’t getting paid, but at least I was gaining experience!
It’s now 2 years later and I am working full-time for a major pharmaceutical company and as an adjunct professor during the summer semester. Both of these opportunities were facilitated by AMWA connections.
AMWA provided the doors. Staying open, friendly, and active, which is not that difficult to do in the Delaware Valley Chapter, is what actually opened those doors. Which is why I like to say, “I have engineered my luck through AMWA.”
If you would like to tell your story, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.