Tuesday, June 18, 2013

It Is Still Spring

The summer issue of the AMWA Journal will soon be hitting the Web and the mailboxes of print subscribers. But before it does, please take another look back at the spring issue. It was the first issue with my name listed as Editor, but in truth, its contents can be credited, to a very large degree, to Lori Alexander, who is now our Editor Emeritus and my invaluable, ever-available consultant. Thank you, Lori! And thank you to all the journal contributors. With each issue, we hope to provide a valuable, eclectic look at the world of medical writing. In the spring issue, you can learn about language translation, compendial science, designing documents with the FDA audience in mind, creating continuing medical education, and a lot more.

The AMWA Journal is a benefit for members of the American Medical Writers Association
Older content is available to the public.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Of Editorships and Mentorships*

The December issue of the AMWA Journal is my last as editor. Making the decision to step down was not easy. For the past 10 years, the Journal has been my passion. The work has been sometimes frustrating, often time-consuming, and always fulfilling. But, as I've said to anyone who's asked, "Ten years is enough time for doing almost anything." It is time for me to move on and, more important perhaps, it is time for another editor to put his or her mark on the Journal and bring it into a new era. I know that our new editor, Vicki White, will do just that, and I'm looking forward to her improvements to the Journal.

The theme of the December issue is mentoring. Over the past several months, Vicki and I enjoyed a mentoring relationship as she gradually assumed all the responsibilities of editorship. Because of this, it seemed appropriate for my last issue to be focused on mentoring, especially given its increasing importance to medical writers at all career stages. The mentoring articles in this issue span a range of medical writing settings. The feature article (page 147) presents a mentoring experience in an academic health care center's grants office. You can read about three distinct mentoring experiences in the pharmaceutical world (beginning on page 169) and about educational experiences beyond mentorship in the continuing medical education world (page 166). And, you can find some blogs on mentoring (page 177), as well as a list of online resources (page 173). Before this issue, virtually nothing had been written about mentoring in the Journal. I hope that this themed issue stimulates readers not only to form mentoring relationships but also to explore the topic of mentorship and submit a manuscript on the subject to the AMWA Journal.

During my editorship, I had informal mentor relationships with several Journal volunteers, helping new section editors, peer reviewers, manuscript editors, and proofreaders to achieve success in their roles. In turn, these dedicated volunteers helped me enhance the Journal over the years, moving the Journal from a simple publication to a more complex one in terms of both content and design. I thank all the Journal volunteers who not only made my job easier but also made me look good—issue after issue. I am forever grateful for their time, commitment, and ongoing friendship. I am also thankful for Amy Boches, of biographics, who has been a loyal partner in the design and production of the Journal; the evolution of the Journal's design is due to her talent.

Aside from the benefits of mentoring, the Journal has provided me with countless other rewards. It has given me the opportunity to talk with AMWA leaders about their vision for AMWA and initiatives to enhance our association. AMWA leaders have been an inspiration to me over the years, and I look forward to their continued support and mentoring. The Journal has presented the chance to work closely with staff at AMWA headquarters, who today represent an amazing collection of bright and enthusiastic partners with AMWA leaders. I thank them for their support in producing the Journal and in exploring new ways to deliver content to members.

All good things must come to an end. And so my editorship ends.


*Based on the From the Editor column in the December 2012 issue.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Countdown to Sacramento

According to the countdown clock on the AMWA website, only 60+ days remain until the start of the 2012 AMWA Annual Conference in Sacramento. This year's conference, to be held October 3-6, offers many exciting new features, and the educational and networking opportunities at the conference comprise the best value a professional medical communicator will ever find to enrich and advance his or her career. The registration brochure is available online, and you can take advantage of early registration until August 25, 2012.

If you have never attended an AMWA annual conference, 2012 is a good time to start! Not only is the educational program exceptional, but AMWA is the friendliest, most gracious group of people you will find in a professional organization. So, if you haven't come to a conference because you "don't know anyone," think again! Come, and you will soon be exchanging business cards with many colleagues, vowing to keep in touch. Every year, I meet new people, learn new things, gain more insight into our profession, and leave the conference further enriched by my experience and my colleagues, both old and new.

I know that cost is always an important factor for people considering a conference, especially during these economic times. But our conference registration fee is much lower than that for many other conferences. And it's a great value—with a wealth of sessions included at no extra fee, and this year, with three—yes, three—networking events and two—yes, two—free lunches! One pass of your business card or conversation with a new colleague could lead to a work assignment, which just might cover some of your conference cost! The AMWA Journal even offers an article
on how to get your employer to say "yes" to the conference.

If you're not convinced yet, just look at some of the highlights of the conference.


Workshops are, and always will be, the number-one reason AMWA members and others attend the annual conference. This year, attendees are able to register for more credit workshops than ever before—a total of four including up to 3 advanced workshops. AMWA workshops fill up quickly, so you should act fast if you want to take advantage of these outstanding educational opportunities. You can learn more about AMWA's extensive education program on the AMWA website.

Guest Speakers

Dr. Neal Baer, Executive Producer of CBS-TV's A Gifted Man, will give the keynote address on Thursday morning and receive AMWA's John P. McGovern Award. Mary Roach, award-winning author of Stiff—The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Spook—Science Tackles the Afterlife, Bonk—The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, and Packing for Mars—The Curious Science of Life in the Void will receive the Walter C. Alvarez Award and speak at the Alvarez Luncheon on Friday.

Open Sessions

Over the span of 3 days, attendees have about 37 open sessions to engage their minds at this year's conference. You'll find hour-long and 90-minute sessions on a wide range of topics relevant to the broad interests of AMWA members. In listening to members, we made a special effort this year to offer open sessions of particular interest to medical editors and medical writers in the field of devices and diagnostics.

Especially notable this year are two open sessions hosted by the FDA: "FDA Drug Safety Communications: Principles, Practice, and Evaluation," presented by Laura L. Pincock, PharmD, MPH, and "FDA Dos and Don't's of Advertising and Promotion," presented by Lisa Hubbard, RPh; an open session hosted by the National Library of Medicine (NLM): "After the Gold Rush: NLM and Gold Nuggets of Information," presented by Kelli Ham, MLIS; and an open session hosted by the Drug Information Association: "Planning for Future Scenarios in Medical Product Development." Also look for the many sessions being presented by your fellow AMWA members, including "How to Get Your Second Medical Writing Job," presented by members of the AMWA Young Professionals group, as well as by esteemed guest presenters. Admission to all open sessions is included in your registration fee!

Networking Opportunities

Members asked for more networking opportunities and this year we deliver. There's the "California Dreaming" welcome reception on Wednesday evening, a new free Networking Luncheon on Thursday, a new free Networking Reception on Thursday evening, a free Networking Breakfast with the poster presenters and conference exhibitors on Friday morning, and another free Networking Luncheon on Saturday afternoon. All this is also included in your registration fee!


The Breakfast Roundtables are always popular with conference attendees, and this year is no exception. There are about 76 roundtables to choose from on a wide range of topics, offering an excellent opportunity for you to feed your body and your mind. From "How to Write a Book Proposal" to "How to Rock Conference Coverage" to "Biomarkers and Personalized Medicine" to "Transitioning from Benchtop to Medical Writing," there's something for everyone: freelances, staffers, seasoned medical communicators, and newbies alike.

Eureka! There's a lot to discover at the 2012 AMWA Annual Conference. Let's find each other there!

Thursday, March 22, 2012


The March issue of the AMWA Journal has hit the street—well, the online street anyway--and should reach your mailbox soon. You can read the issue online at the AMWA Web site. The theme of the issue is ethics, which is the number-one concern of AMWA members, according to the most recent member survey. Ask anyone in AMWA what the most important ethical issue is and you're most likely to hear "ghostwriting," a term AMWA avoids in favor of "acknowledgment of medical writers." Although acknowledgment is an important issue, ethical issues abound in our profession, and all deserve attention. That attention is given in the March issue, with the contents addressing a range of ethical issues in various settings, including regulatory writing, continuing medical education (CME), journal publishing, freelancing, and medical journalism.

At the center of the March issue is a feature article by Cindy Hamilton, PharmD, ELS (a name I automatically associate with medical writing ethics), "The RIGHT Way to Avoid Doing Wrong: A Multistep Model for Making Ethical Decisions." The article focuses on the RIGHT model, developed by the leaders of AMWA ethics workshops, and Cindy demonstrates practical application of each of the five steps in the model with use of a case report. A reprint of the AMWA Code of Ethics accompanies the article. Most AMWA members (84%) are familiar with the Code, but that means 16% are not. Don't be in the minority—review the Code to know your ethical responsibilities as a medical writer. You should also be familiar with AMWA's Position Statement on the Contribution of Medical Writers to Scientific Publications.

In the regulatory industry, the Good Clinical Practice (GCP) guidelines outline patients' rights and the obligations of investigators and sponsors when conducting research on humans. The GCP guidelines are discussed in the Regulatory Insights section of the March issue. Medical writers involved in writing the results of medical research, for either peer-reviewed journals or presentation at scientific meetings, should follow the guidelines set forth in Good Publication Practices 2 (GPP2).

In the CME world, the most-debated ethical issue is industry sponsorship of CME activities. The March issue features a point-counterpoint on this issue in the CME Rising section.

Medical journal editors face many ethical situations, such as suspected plagiarism, fabrication of data, undisclosed conflict of interest, and duplicate publication. The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), which was established to provide support and guidance for dealing with these issues, is profiled in the March issue. COPE offers several resources on its Web site, including flowcharts for handling several types of misconduct. A complement to the COPE profile is a podcast interview with Liz Wager, the chair of COPE. The AMWA Journal is excited to add podcasts as another medium to bring news and information to Journal readers. Look for more podcasts this year.

Working alone, without the advantage of company guidelines on ethics, freelances must rely on their own instincts about ethical dilemmas. The veteran freelances who comprise the Freelance Forum panel provide important guidance as they answer four questions about dealing with ethical situations. In answer to the first question, "When is it time to run away from a client who is not behaving ethically?" several panelists give their accounts of when they knew it was time to flee. Perhaps more important, panelists emphasized the need to first determine if the client recognizes his or her behavior as unethical and to educate the client on ethical practices.

The high prevalence of flaws in media coverage of medical research is well-documented, and the Top 10 lists the criteria that Gary Schwitzer, a leading authority on health care coverage in the media, uses to review and grade health news reporting on his Web site, Health News Review. (Media coverage of medical research is such a fascinating topic for me that I plan to discuss it in a separate blog post, so be on the lookout.) Elsewhere in the March issue, the Social Media section addresses privacy issues, ethics-related blogs, and recent discussions of ethical issues on the AMWA LinkedIn group.

The March issue also announces the availability of two ethics-related publications. One is the Essential Ethics for Medical Communicators self-study module, which can be purchased through the AMWA Web site. The other publication is one volume of the new AMWA Journal Collections series, Authorship and Acknowledgment, which features articles originally published in the Journal. (Upholding my own ethics, I must acknowledge that the Collections series is published by an arm of my own business, with a profit-sharing arrangement with AMWA.)

The theme of the March issue reflects AMWA's commitment to ethics as a high priority. Further evidence is found in AMWA's requirement of an ethics workshop as part of an AMWA educational certificate. Two new ethics workshops—one in the area of business and one in science and medicine—will debut at the 2012 AMWA Annual Conference in Sacramento, bringing the total number of ethics workshops to six. There is an ethics workshop for everyone!

Make ethics your priority, and learn more about the ethical issues facing medical writers in all settings.




Thursday, January 5, 2012

Happy (Green) New Year!

As hard as it is to believe, the holiday decorations have been taken down (or are fading), and new year's resolutions have been written (and hopefully not yet broken). If you don't have "Be More Green" on your list of resolutions, you should, and the December issue of the AMWA Journal is specially designed to help you keep that resolution.

A green theme runs throughout the current issue of the Journal, with a wealth of tips to help you save a bit of our environment while working more efficiently. Articles in the issue focus on how technology is helping to reduce those mounds of paper and to conserve other types of resources. Regulatory writing has seen this effect of technology, and the Regulatory Insights section describes the evolution from paper to electronic submission of regulatory documents.

Technology also brings us closer to each other, allowing us to work, network, and learn regardless of geographic distances. Telecommuting is an option offered by many employers these days, and Meredith Rogers, an "experienced" telecommuter, describes the joys (and woes) of telecommuting in a Practical Matters article. In the Social Media section, Cyndy Kryder relays stories of members who found success (ie, work!) through social networking sites, and elsewhere in the issue, David Caldwell describes how using podcasts can expand the reach of your chapter events. You haven't podcasted yet? Don't despair, a new AMWA Pocket Training on podcasting will be available this month.

Using less paper is perhaps the easiest way to be green. If you still use a hard copy résumé or CV and writing samples, take a look at Cheryl Lathrop's article on how to develop an electronic portfolio. Sharing your samples this way not only saves paper but also allows you to be creative in highlighting your experience or accomplishments.

To learn more about how to make your office paperless—or at least have less paper—check out the Freelance Forum, where our resident freelance experts talk about their versions of the paperless office. As medical writers, we often use a great deal of paper during research and source documentation. Why not read the reprinted article on creating a paperless office (thank you, International Journal of Clinical Practice), which provides advice on how to gather references and store them as electronic documents, helping to reduce the clutter in your office while saving trees. (If you're worried about how to use electronic files for source documentation, read Tim Peoples' article "An Electronic Method for Confirming Documentation," which was published in a previous issue of the Journal.)

You can learn more about being green and green initiatives by checking out the LinkedIn Groups and blogs noted in the Social Media section and the Web sites described in Web Wanderings. Also, in his summary of the (outstanding) 2011 AMWA Annual Conference, Steve Palmer lists several ways AMWA headquarters has gone green.

If you're already green enough, you still need to read the December issue because you will find additional valuable information. You'll find summaries of the invited lectures and several of the open sessions at the 2011 Annual Conference. (More summaries will be published in the March 2012 issue.) You can also read about AMWA members who were recognized with awards in 2011 and learn the steps to AMWA fellowship. The issue also features original research on the effect of editing on time to manuscript acceptance, and offers the debut of a new section—CME Rising. With the addition of this new section, the Journal now addresses the needs of the three greatest factions of AMWA membership: medical communicators in the regulatory, freelance, and continuing medical education settings.

Sadly, the December issue also marks the end of reign of our queen of medical word usage. Our Dear Edie column ends with thank you notes to Edie for more than 30 years of answering our grammar and usage questions. No words can convey our appreciation for her knowledge, humor, and commitment over the past decades.

If you need more inspiration for resolutions, review my list of new year's resolutions from last year. That blog post drew one of the biggest audiences, which can mean only one thing—medical communicators are dedicated to professional development! I'm pleased to report that I kept many of those resolutions in 2011—well, for varying lengths of time. I can definitely do better, and that's my resolution for 2012. My other resolutions for this year? To continue to improve the Journal during 2012, my last year at the helm (more on that in an upcoming post), and to post blog entries on a more regular schedule. I encourage you to make reading the Journal and the Journal blog one of your resolutions. Make that resolution greener by signing up to get the Journal online only.

Happy new year!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Our Spirit of Giving

AMWA's mission is education, but its spirit is giving. Our organization is one of the most volunteer-driven professional associations out there, with many members dedicating hours to AMWA at both the chapter and national levels. I always say—to anyone who will listen—that I have never met a group of people as generous as AMWA members. Our organization is full of people who give freely of their time and expertise to help other members, as evidenced by our chapter programs, networking events, and social media participation.

At no other time is our volunteer effort more profound—and visible—than during our annual conference. This year, about 200 AMWA members are lending their expertise as leaders of breakfast roundtable, workshops, open sessions, and coffee klatches. Many are volunteering time to be conference coaches, helping first-time attendees learn how to get the most out of the conference. Others are volunteering to report on the conference, contributing posts to the conference blog and more in-depth summaries to the AMWA Journal. It's the spirit of giving en masse.

I have the honor of being one of the local arrangement coordinators of this year's conference in Jacksonville, FL. In that capacity, I have been working with many local establishments to negotiate deals for AMWA attendees, and I'm happy to say that the community has responded! Among the benefits that conference attendees can enjoy include

  • 50% off admission at the Museum of Science and History (check out The Body Within exhibit and the space film in the planetarium)
  • 50% off admission at the Museum of Contemporary Art (works of art, plus Café Nola, a popular restaurant serving lunch and dinner)
  • 10% off dinner at Bistro Aix (named Jacksonville's best restaurant)
  • Free house wine, home brewed ale, or soft drink with the purchase of an entrée at River City Brewing restaurant (fun restaurant and bar across the river, with the best bar deck downtown)
  • 10% off dinner at Vito's Italian Café (conveniently located at Jacksonville Landing)
  • 10% off Jacksonville's water taxi (purchase your discounted tickets at the Florida Chapter table)

We thank these local merchants for supporting AMWA and its conference! If you're coming to Jacksonville, make sure to stop by the Florida Chapter table (in the Exhibit Area) to find out more about these discounts, as well as other local information—and surprises too! You can get additional local information with a Jacksonville app—a few are available in the App Store. The spirit of giving grows.

The Florida Chapter is also proud to announce a special drive to collect donations for Hubbard House, a Jacksonville shelter for victims of domestic violence. The shelter has general needs as well as special holiday food and gift needs. We encourage conference attendees to pack "a little something extra" to help make the days easier and brighter for these women and their children. You can drop off your contribution to the Florida Chapter table. We thank you in advance for being part of this spirit of giving.

Two Florida Chapter members you may see at our chapter table are 2010-2011 AMWA President Melanie Ross and Publications Administrator Donna Miceli. Our chapter thanks Melanie and Donna for their service over the past few years, helping to develop and implement AMWA initiatives that enhance our organization as well as our profession. I am honored to count them among my chapter colleagues and friends.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank a group of people who give to AMWA throughout the year with their work on the AMWA Journal. Most readers of the Journal probably skip right past the inside cover. But on that inside cover are the names of more than 50 people who raise the quality of the Journal with each issue. I am immensely proud of the Journal but prouder still of the largely unheralded contributions of this talented and dedicated group of people. Thank you, my friends and colleagues.

You can thank Journal volunteers too by visiting the AMWA Journal table (in the Exhibit Area) at the conference. While you're there, ask these volunteers about what they do—it just may be something you'd like to do yourself! And be sure to take a few minutes to complete a short survey on what you'd like to see in the Journal. You give us a few minutes, and we'll give you an opportunity to win an AMA Style Manual, 10th ed. Stop by the AMWA Journal table for more details.

One last note. According to weather.com, the days of the conference promise to uphold the state name, offering sunny skies, with temperatures in the high 70s. Perfect weather. AMWA and Jacksonville…we just keep giving.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

People Are Talking

The topic of certification certainly has people talking. The last blog entry drew the most attention of all entries to date, with the topic generating quite the buzz. As is true for any important issue, debate is healthy and consideration of all aspects will ultimately lead to better decision-making and outcomes.

Medical communicators are talking about more than certification—they're also talking about medical communication. The most recent evidence of this conversation includes an interview on BitesizeBio (brain food for biologists), in which Lauren Donaldson, PhD, describes her move from science to medical writing, and an article published in Nature, in which Laura Bonetta discusses a medical writing career. Medical writers on the other side of the ocean have contributed to the conversation, primarily through MedComms Networking, a UK-based site that offers short videos of medical communicators describing their careers and other "starting out" resources.

I love that people are talking about medical communication as a career because, let's face it, our profession needs more exposure. (How many times have you had to explain exactly what it is you do?) However, two things concern me.

First, many people talking about medical communication are not AMWA members, and I think this may skew the outside perception of our field. For example, in a videotaped panel discussion on science writing, one of five panelists (none of whom was an AMWA member), drew a distinction between "science writing" and "medical writing," noting that the latter "tends to be" writing regulatory documents. However, every type of "science" writing and editing discussed by the panel fell into the category of what we know as "medical writing." Pharmaceutical writing is also the focus of Donaldson's interview and the videos on the MedComms Networking; neither Donaldson nor the video presenters are AMWA members. In contrast, the Nature article includes information on various types of medical writing—probably because Bonetta spoke with several AMWA members in developing the article. (As a point of disclosure, I was one of the members quoted in the article.) We have to let people know that we are more than regulatory writers

The recent conversations on medical writing also included an article by one writer (not an AMWA member) who left the field because of authorship issues. Obviously, our profession is not presented at its best by articles declaring rampant authorship fraud. So, we also must let people know we are not g-writers! (AMWA members are loathe to spell out or say that dreaded word.) We should be talking about our ethical handling of authorship issues and the resources AMWA provides for such issues, primarily the AMWA Position Statement on the Contribution of Medical Writers, the AMWA Code of Ethics, and easy access to a host of publication and ethics guidelines and statements.

AMWA members should also be doing more of the talking because we know the value of AMWA's educational resources, particularly for those new to the field. If more AMWA members were engaged in the public conversation of our profession, people considering the field would not only better understand the various career options in the field but would also discover an organization that can help them enhance their professional skills and knowledge.

My second concern is the intended audience of these career descriptions. Most articles are directed at young scientists, with medical communication presented as a career alternative to a life at the bench. Targeting young scientists has a long history, and previous articles in magazines such as Science have extolled the virtues of our profession. What's wrong with this? Nothing in and of itself. But where are the articles targeted to people in nonscientific fields, such as writing, communication, mass media, English, and journalism? Where are the "starting out" videos for students who may be interested in applying their writing/communication education and skills to the field of medicine and health? Why is it always about attracting people in science who like to write rather than attracting people skilled at writing who may like the complexities and challenges of writing in the medical field?

Because of the paucity of articles directed at writing/communication professionals, I was thrilled when the Society for Technical Communication (STC) asked me last year to write an article about the medical communication profession for its member magazine. Together, I and Lili Fox Velez compared medical communication and technical communication as two branches of the same family tree, hoping to entice some technical communicators to venture out on our branch. It was the first time (to my knowledge), that another organization of communicators wanted to promote our specific profession. Similarly, the freelance writing community recognized our niche and interviewed AMWA member Cyndy Kryder about her life as a freelance medical writer, publishing the article on the FreelanceSwitch Web site. Kudos to Kryder for promoting AMWA as a valuable resource throughout the interview! But these two articles seem to be the exception, and for some reason, the writing/communication world has not presented medical writing as a career option to the same extent that the scientific community has. That means we must take it upon ourselves to promote our profession within the writing/communication world. And we should broaden the focus to encompass not only experienced writers but also writing students early in their education.

Why? Because our profession will benefit by having more people preparing for a career in medical communication rather than falling into it, as most of us have. Sure, the majority of us made successful career transitions, but just as we have benefitted from the expertise that scientists have brought from the bench, we will benefit from what writing/communication experts bring to the table. As Tom Lang has written, we create the most effective documents when we draw on the evidence base for writing and editing; ie, theories of composition, cognitive processing and learning, persuasion, publication design, visual perception, instructional design, Web design, memory, and so on. We need people with expertise in these areas in our profession.

AMWA has a variety of materials to promote itself, and they are valuable for both the nonscientific and the scientific community. One example is the AMWA Annual Conference Student Scholarship, and the subsequent success of scholarship recipients is a testimony to the value of conference attendance as a "starting out" resource. AMWA members also collaborated on a slide set that introduces medical writing as a career. I have used this slide set myself, as have others, to talk to research postdocs and students in pharmacology and other science-based programs. We need to use the slide set more often for students in writing/communication programs. The most recent AMWA effort is a compilation of AMWA Journal articles on the theme of exploring a career in medical communication. This compilation will be available as an e-book at the time of the annual conference. (You will hear more about it here when it's available.) We should ensure that this compilation is marketed to a broad audience in a variety of fields.

What can AMWA members do on the individual level? Volunteer for career day or a career exhibit at a local high school or university. Ask the faculty of university writing programs to consider a panel presentation on various careers in writing—and tell them you'd be happy to speak about medical communication. (You can use the AMWA slide presentation, after all.) Send flyers to colleges and universities about your chapter conferences and other regional events to give students an opportunity to learn about the field. Have copies of the AMWA Career Path brochure on hand for them. Most of all, just keep talking!

If you're not an AMWA member, why aren't you? Visit the AMWA Web site to see what you're missing, and join the conversation as an AMWA member.