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The 24-hour med comms era

The 24-hour med comms era

A medical writer and a recruiter explain how medical communications jobs are changing

The medical writer’s perspective: For many years pharmaceutical companies’ operations have centred around their largest and most profitable Western Hemisphere markets, the US and the EU.

This model has also been followed by many global medical communications agencies, who have located large offices near the major pharmaceutical industry hubs in Europe and the US.

However, as pharmaceutical companies have looked to expand into emerging markets, their operations have followed, creating a truly global operating environment. The regional footprint of the medical communications industry appears to be following suit.

Few people would be aware that the Australasian Medical Writers Association currently has more than 300 registered members residing in Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia, and while many members are employed by local agencies, a growing community of freelance medical writers are also collaborating with European- and US-based medical communications agencies.

The advent of modern telecommunications and the internet has facilitated Asia-Pacific-based medical writers becoming increasingly integrated with the global medical communications community, and many European- and US-based agencies are adopting a partnership or ‘tag-team’ approach that sees them work with their Asia-Pacific offices and/or freelance medical writers in the region.

Interestingly, in many ways this approach mirrors the relationship between medical writers and healthcare professionals when drafting a manuscript. For example, a writer in the UK may develop a broad outline for a literature review, before ‘tagging in’ their partner in the Asia-Pacific region at the end of their working day. The Asia-Pacific-based writer then proceeds to further research content, flesh out the outline and obtain the relevant references overnight before returning the document for review and comment in the morning. The process allows the UK-based writer to maintain full ownership of the document, while efficiently accessing additional writing support to expedite the project.

Alternatively, UK-based medical communications agencies may use the tag-team approach to minimise the impact of the time difference between Europe and North America for US-based clients. In this case, a writer based in the Asia-Pacific region acts as a ‘duty writer’ who is accessible outside of normal UK office hours during the US afternoon.

So, as the pharmaceutical industry becomes truly globalised, it only seems natural for the medical communications industry to follow.

By Blair Hesp.

Blair founded Kainic Medical Communications, a freelance medical communications company based in Wellington, New Zealand, after returning from his overseas experience that included being employed by global medical communications agencies in Cheshire and London.

The recruiter’s perspective: Here at Carrot Pharma we have the ever increasingly difficult task of finding good medical writers. Demand for medical writing candidates is at an all-time high, and experienced writers are the most marketable type of candidate within med comms.

Despite high interest of people looking to move into medical writing, it isn’t always an easy sector to break into, with many agencies only looking to take people with at least 12-months agency experience. Coming from a Phd or even post-doc research background isn’t always the key either. As Blair noted above, agencies are frequently looking to back up their full time resource with a bank of good quality writers, often ex full-time employees. With their UK trained experience and their ability to work around the clock when the rest of Europe is sleeping, the Asia-Pacific market makes a great back up hub for providing fast turnaround writing services to clients.

Many people from APAC regions come to the UK and Europe to gain their experience from the most established companies in med comms, but then unfortunately often have to return to their homelands for either personal or visa reasons. This means that all the training and support the initial employer has invested is then lost to the APAC countries, where markets are not as flourishing, or resource as in demand, as in the UK and Europe. Keeping hold of that that talent on a freelance basis would be beneficial, given the fact that person knows and understands the business, has built client relationships and can work during the hours that the European agency can’t.

As the demand over here is so high for writers, this creates many opportunities and the market is certainly a candidate-led one. This causes a high turnover of good writers, who often can move at the drop of a hat for much larger pay rises, more than in any other industry. Therefore, having a full time permanent writer doesn’t necessarily guarantee that they remain ‘permanent’ on a long-term basis. On that note keeping links open with returning APAC writers can be very beneficial to both client and agency, and even someone with a two- year working visa is probably just as permanent as a European permanent ‘right to work’ candidate.

Adding to our ever-shrinking pool of good writers by opening those links with the APAC regions doesn’t sound such a bad idea.

By Lisa Short

Lisa is a recruitment consultant at Carrot Pharma Recruitment. She has over five years experience of recruiting within the healthcare communications sector and over 13 years experience in recruitment.