Starting Out

How Do I Become a Medical Writer?

Do you want to write about medical health, but not sure where to start? Or are you unsure of what it takes to be a medical writer?

You’ve come to the right place (or post, I should say). While it can be a lucrative niche, there are many types of medical writing you can do. Navigating this niche can be overwhelming, even for the more experienced writers.

How Do I Become a Medical Writer?

You can think of the medical niche as a giant beehive constructed from many honeycomb cells.

You can think of the medical writing niche as a giant beehive constructed from many honeycomb cells. It’s a big niche with many sub-niches within it.

You can write about many topics: from diet to depression, from healthy feet to healthy mind, from canker sores to cancer.

The myriad of topics is one aspect that makes this niche attractive. It’s got something for everyone.

Another advantage of health and medical niche is its dynamics.

There’s always something new: new products, new therapies, new approaches, new ways of living. You will not run out of things to write. Businesses will always need help creating health contents, either to promote their products or just to keep up with the changes.

Since health is a broad area, health writers usually have a sub-niche or several sub-niches. So, how do you choose your sub-niches? There are two ways to do this:

Using the Disease Angle

You may be thinking, “I want to be a medical writer, not a disease writer.” Well, guess what? Being healthy means being free from diseases. So, you can start by exploring the diseases to write about a particular aspect of medical health.

One way to explore the different diseases is by subscribing to reputable health news channels. WebMD and Harvard Health Publishing are great places to start.

They post up-to-date topics written in layperson-friendly language so everyone can understand the contents. After you know more about the disease areas, pick one or two that interest you.

Personal experience is another way to explore disease areas. Maybe you or someone you know had or suffers from a particular disease. You can then research it to see if it’s something you’d like to write about. Sometimes things near and dear to you can give that extra motivation to write medical content.

Once you choose one or two disease areas as your sub-niches, build your expertise by understanding their nuts and bolts. Look for information on who gets the disease, what causes it, what treatment options are available, and how to prevent it. Be on the lookout for new news by subscribing to RSS channels specific to those areas.

Using the Lifestyle Angle

Lifestyle and health are intertwined. By focusing on a particular lifestyle aspect, you can write about the medical and health impact. It can include anything from food to fitness to a holistic approach to mind and body.

Here, you need to explore how lifestyle affects people’s health and select one or two to focus on. Similar to the diseases, do in-depth research and build your expertise in the focus lifestyle of your choice.

For example, if you enjoy writing about food, then study how some food can cause one disease and prevent another.

Now that you know how to find your sub-niches, what else you need to do to be a medical writer? I have good news for you: Being a medical writer is not that much different than any other writers. But, there are a few skills you need to hone in:

Freelance Writing Skills Needed for Medical Writing

1. Love for Life Science

Life science is an integral part of understanding how our body works and how disease occurs, which is a big part of medical writing. Life science can explain why a particular treatment works and why another fails. Or what exercise and food do to our body.

While generally speaking you don’t need to have a life science background to be a medical writer, you do need to enjoy learning and reading about life science.

A significant portion of your writing will involve some life science, so if it’s not your cup of tea, then this niche may not be for you.

2. Select and Use Credible Sources

Just like in other niches, you need to research your topics as a health writer. Selecting credible sources is paramount, especially in medical writing. So is interpreting the information correctly.

Using unreliable sources or drawing inaccurate conclusion can be detrimental to your work and your credibility. In medical and health writing, it can harm the broader health system: causing unnecessary doctor visit or not consulting their doctors when they should, to name a few.

To give an example how tricky navigating the abundant sources of medical information can be, let’s take a look at the topic of coconut oil.  A simple search of “is coconut oil bad for you?” done, yields these conflicting results:

With these conflicting information, how do you tell the good from the bad? One easy way is by looking at the publishers or the authors of these articles. Use articles created by reputable sources.

Examples of reputable sources for general medical topics include WebMD, Mayo Clinic, Medical News Today or Harvard Health Publishing. If you need number-based data or statistics, start with the CDC and WHO websites.

Another good source for statistics on medical-related behaviors is Pew Research Center.

For disease-specific information, use the professional organization and patient advocacy websites as your starting points. A few examples are the American Cancer Society and American Society of Clinical Oncology’s for cancer, or the American Heart Association for heart diseases.

3. Be Detail Oriented

Remember the saying “the devil is in the details”? This applies to medical writing as well. When reading your sources, make sure you go through the entire articles to understand the complete picture and the nuances.

Some articles may start with positive results of a particular treatment but end with a caveat that certain type of individuals won’t benefit from it.

Be careful not to cherry-pick the information by showcasing the good without the bad. There are very few things that work universally in healthcare. Most treatments work better for a select patient type only. The same with diet and exercise.

Health and medical writers need to pay attention to these details and make sure their work accurately capture the nuances and present a balanced view.

4. Stay Objective

When you write on a topic close to you, it’s easy to lose your objectivity. For example, if you have personal experience that certain food is good for your health, you may tend to review data that support your experience and ignore those that don’t.

Always keep your beliefs in check. Be neutral on any health topics, and research them with an open mind. Present the pros and cons in your writing

5. Use Plain English

Similar to other niches, you need to avoid jargons in medical writing. Many jargons in this writing niche are medical terminology, and many of these words are derived from Greek or Latin.

Before you can translate those terms properly, you need to understand what they mean. and are a couple of good resources to help you understand medical terminology.

These websites are easy to use as they allow you to browse these terms alphabetically.

Once you understand the meanings, find the appropriate “plain English” words to describe them.

Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania have quick reference cards to help you find these lay terms. Another simple way is to do a Google search: “lay term for” + medical term.

6. Write at Low Reading Level

Do you know that one major issue involving medical information in many countries is health literacy?

There are plenty of high-quality medical contents out there, but many of them are not readable for average adults. In fact, several researchers found that most of the health and medical information online are written at reading level 10 or above. The reading level of average American adults is only at level 8.

Check the readability of your article, either using the SMOG Calculator or Hemingway App. Break up long sentences into shorter ones. Use words with two syllables or less as much as possible.

The Bottom Line

So, there you have it. Becoming a medical writer is not difficult, and it can be rewarding.

I believe anyone with strong determination can do it. Pick sub-niches that interest you and study them to build your expertise. With a touch of love for life science and a few basic writing skills, you can be on your way to be a top-notch medical writer. I wish you well.


Ida Darmawan is a freelance health and science writer for hire, specializing in immune-related diseases, cancer and surgery. She helps healthcare professionals grow their practice through customized contents that educate, engage and convert their patients. When she is not writing, she likes to play with her two dogs and try different types of chocolate and ice cream.

Leave a Reply


Thanks so much for posting!! As someone in the health and wellness niche, I know how hard it is to establish yourself because it’s such a HUGE field! This narrows it down perfectly.Reply to Emma
Hi Emma, sorry for the late reply but I’m glad that you found it helpful. Best wishes to you in 2020! Cheers, IdaReply to Ida
Hi Ida! Thanks for all the wonderful information! I am especially grateful for the many specific references you provided. I am just starting in the freelance field and plan to go into this niche. Your information will be immediately put to use. Thanks again!Reply to Kathy
Hi Kathy, glad you found it useful. Good luck on your journey! Cheers, IdaReply to Ida
I am curious if you need to use a disclaimer of any sort when you are blogging about health topics?Reply to Ellen
Hi Ellen, Usually, I use references to support any claims made in the blog post (can be in the form of hyperlink to the original source or a more formal list of references on the bottom of the post). If you are blogging for a client, then it depends on the client. Hope that helps. IdaReply to Ida
Hey Ida, thanks for this informative post! I’ve heard about the Hemingway App before, but never thought to give it a try. I guess it will definitely help making health content easier to read. All the best, NickReply to Nick
Hey Nick, thanks for your kind words! Let me know what you think about the Hemingway App. It’s free so there is no harm in trying 🙂 IdaReply to Ida
Hi Ida, I am also an RN and am exploring a career in Health Writer. I am at a disadvantage because I graduated from Nursing School in 1996, when the internet was used only for search engine purposes. I have taken 2 online non- credit courses in technical and medical writing. Taking these courses made it clear that my writing is not the problem, but my unfamiliarity with writing tools and programs. Do you have any recommendations on what online degree programs to attend for people like me? I am open to a second Bachelor’s , but would prefer a Master’s… StephanieReply to Stephanie
Hi Stephanie, If you want to familiarize yourself with writing tools/programs, I think there are many online courses or books you can use. I’m not sure which tools/programs you are interested in, but you can browse online and look for courses or books or even YouTube videos that teach you how to use these tools. These tools take practice, so the more you use them, the more expertise you will have. Hope that helps. IdaReply to Ida
Hey there This post gives me more confidence to try out the mental health niche thanks to your suggestion that medical Jargons aren’t a must. I’d like to write about mental health such as Depression and Anxiety due to my own experiences with them. What I’m unsure about is the scope they have. Is it broad enough to garner clients? If I do settle for this niche, will I be restricted within it or is there wiggle room to explore further?Reply to Saim
Hi Saim, Glad that you gain more confidence after reading my post! Medical jargons are not a must if you target consumers/laypersons. I think mental health is a broad enough niche as there are many different issues you can cover and this has always been a hot topic. Once you pick a niche, you can always expand or even change later, so I would go ahead and try and see if you enjoy it. Hope this helps and best of luck!Reply to Ida
HI Ida! Great post! I am an RN and would love to be a health writer. As you so well documented here, it is a wide niche. But I worry that if I chose just one disease to write about I will run out of topics. So I am having a hard time niching down. I will pin this article so I can come back to it. Very informative. Thank you!Reply to Jane
Hi Jane, glad you found this post useful. Choosing a niche is a process and you can refine it as you go. Maybe pick something broader first, like mental health or immune-related diseases, then narrow it down as you learn more. Good luck to you!Reply to Ida
I write a lot on disability, health, and medical topics. (Cerebral Palsy, Chronic pain, Anxiety, ADHD, chronic pain, treatment, etc.) This article was super encouraging and had great resources – but a huge part was missing. Where can health writers find jobs? Where should we even start? This kind of stuff is really my passion and I would love to be able to do it full-time.Reply to Brittney
Hi Brittney, thanks for your comment. There are a few places to find health writing jobs, some of them are similar to any other writing jobs: job postings on LinkedIn or other job boards, advertising agencies, hospitals/clinics, web owners/bloggers in the health and wellness space and non-profit organizations in health/wellness. In my experience, the best place to start is by reaching out to people you know who can either give you the jobs or refer you to someone who can. Hope this helps and good luck to you.Reply to Ida
Hi Ida! Thank you very much for your insight on the health and wellness writing niche. Since I’ve worked in health and human services for 40 years, I recently chose health and wellness as the starting point for my freelance writing career. Your tips are extremely helpful! CheriReply to Cheri
Hi Cheri – good to hear that you found the article helpful. Good luck on your writing journey!Reply to Ida
hey Ida, thank you for the great tips. I’ve had blogs in the health niche and still have a few, and taking inspiration from reputable sources is a very important aspect for writing good-to-great content. Warm regards from Bucharest, Romania! 🙂Reply to Codrut
Hi Codrut – glad that you found my article useful. Keep up with the health blogs, we need more of those with credible and compelling content 🙂Reply to Ida
Hi Monique – thanks for your kind words and I’m glad I can help 🙂Reply to Ida
Hi Ida I’m interested in Food & Nutrition writing, and this article is very helpful. Thank you!Reply to Monique
Thanks Ida, I’ll keep that in mind.Reply to Sola
Hi Sola, Glad to hear that you find it helpful. Let me know if I can help along the way and good luck on your journey!Reply to Ida
Hi Ida, Thanks for writing this, i really learnt a lot. This question has been in my mind for a while now because i want to write about health and wellness. Your post helped me to understand the niche better and also come up with an action plan. Great post!Reply to Sola