Achieving Career Success and Fulfillment — What I Learned from a Star Chemist and Tips on Transitioning into Medical Writing

About two weeks ago I had a chance to interview Jaime Curtis-Fisk, a 2015 Rising Star Award winner recognized by the American Chemical Society’s Women Chemists Committee.

Like many scientists I have previously interviewed, Curtis-Fisk’s professional achievements are impressive. But what struck me the most is how she successfully switched her career path from academia to industry.

Curtis-Fisk landed her dream job, an assistant professor position, right after earning her PhD in Chemistry. The dream job, however, didn’t last long. Her husband landed a new position and the family needed to relocate. To stay with her family, Curtis-Fisk accepted an industry position, leaving her dream job behind.

But she kept her passion for education alive. Recognizing her enduring passion, Curtis-Fisk’s supervisors created a unique dual-role position for her. In her new role, she got to conduct research as a R&D scientist and implement a volunteer-based outreach program as a STEM leader, all at the same time.

Today Curtis-Fisk is thriving in both roles. And she feels fulfilled. Even though she gives credit to many people who have supported her, her determination to keep her passion alive no doubt has played a huge role in her ultimate success.

Curtis-Fisk’s story got me to think about medical writing, the challenges of entering the medical writing field, and how to overcome them.

Quite a few medical writers I know entered into the profession of medical writing “by accident” — they were doing something else but were asked to help out with writing-related tasks at work. Then there are others who are passionate about medical communication but find it challenging to get into the field without experience.

And I was one of those dying to get into the field. When I first started out about 10 years ago, I envied those who got their medical wiring jobs “accidentally”, and resented those who made it sound super easy.

But the truth is, switching careers is never easy. Curtis-Fisk’s story tells me that successfully switching careers takes time, requires persistence, and needs a strategy.

Besides never letting your passion die, here are a few tips for those who strive to enter the medical writing profession.

  1. Learn what you don’t know and improve what you already know.  Medical writing is a diverse field. No matter what degree or background you have, there are things you don’t know and need to know, be it a new scientific breakthrough, or recent changes of healthcare policies and regulatory rules. So be prepared to continue your education. Take self-study courses, participate in workshops, and attend conference. Take whatever learning opportunity is available to you.
  2. Network. With peers and others. To learn, to exchange ideas, and to seek opportunities. Social media like LinkedIn works. But the old-fashioned face-to-face meetings remain the best.
  3. Build your portfolio. If you don’t have writing samples to show, there are ways for you to build your portfolio. Here are a few options: volunteer to write for professional organizations, submit articles to the AMWA journal, report on AMWA meetings, or write your own blog posts.  
  4. Create your own opportunities. If you are already in the industry, seek out opportunities to use your skills at work. Volunteer to help out with any writing projects with which you are allowed to get involved. Not only will you gain incredible experience, you may be offered a whole new position before long.
  5. Stay positive. We all get the blues from time to time. But it’s important for us to get rid of the negative thoughts. Talk to an encouraging friend, meditate, or read inspiring stories. Figure out a way to boost your confidence.    

Looking back on my own experience with transitioning into medical writing, I have to admit that it wasn’t easy at all. Did I get discouraged from time to time? Yes. Did I ever doubt my decision? Absolutely! But just like Curtis-Fisk was passionate about education, I was passionate about writing. So I kept trying. After years of persistent learning and hard work, today I am happily working in the medical writing field with rich experience and increased confidence. And that’s probably why Curtis-Fisk’s story resonated so much with me.

If medical writing is want you are passionate about, don’t give up! As Curtis-Fisk says, “there is always a way to follow your passion.”

To learn more about Curtis-Fisk, read the full story, Jaime Curtis-Fisk: When a Professor Goes to Industry

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