Venturing into the world of choosing a freelance medical writer can be daunting. There are writers with specific subject-matter expertise, writers who specialize in certain types of writing, and writers with varying degrees of experience.
Below are helpful interview questions for finding an independent medical writing partner who can become an ongoing resource!
Experience: Not all medical writers can write for advisory boards. Some writers are excellent at writing patient education materials, while others belong eyeballs deep in a regulatory document. Advisory boards are almost never recorded, and the tight deadlines and fast-moving discussion (over the course of several hours) call for an experienced writer.
- Ask the writer if they have experience covering advisory boards or investigator meetings.
- Often, when I ask clients what kind of summary they need, they ask me to do the “usual.” An experienced writer can keep asking questions and help the client figure out exactly what the summary needs to look like. Sometimes it is a long document, and other times it is a presentation that they need for Monday!
- Ask the writer if they are comfortable covering an unrecorded meeting. If there is any hesitation, it’s best to find someone with more experience.
- Ask if the writer is okay with short deadlines. Clients want to act on the information they get from meetings right now! Not in three weeks. Not all writers work best on that type of time table. It might sound crazy, but everyone has their own level of comfort with tight deadlines. Don’t try to talk a writer into a deadline if they seem unsure; it is important that they are confident that they can deliver quality writing quickly.
A Client-Facing Professional: A medical writer is representing your company on site and should be able to support your relationship with your client. A great writer doesn’t have to be a flaming extrovert (and many aren’t), but they do need to be able to confidently interact with your team and advisors in a professional manner.
- Ask the writer if they are comfortable touching base with the client on site to learn more about what the executive summary needs to look like. If a writer isn’t adaptable or confident in their face-to-face communication, it’s best to move on
- Ask if the writer is able to conduct a slide review the day before the meeting. This isn’t always necessary, but a writer should be able to perform this function
Flexibility. Ask the writer if they are willing to come early to make sure that the room is in order. This is a great way to weed out people who have “not my job” syndrome. If a writer tries to negotiate an extra fee for this or balks at the idea of helping for 30 minutes, move on.
- Meeting disasters are rare, but do happen. I have had to step in when a moderator was late, help move a meeting to another room because of a noisy party next door, and help find food for three (yes, THREE surprise vegans). You want a helper, not a writing diva!
- Ask if the writer is able to produce a range of different deliverables without renegotiating fees. I have an arrangement with my clients for a flat fee that covers “standard deliverables,” whether it is a slide deck, summary, article – basically, whatever the client needs. Fees should only be renegotiated if the scope changes dramatically (it almost never does), or if something dramatic happens in a meeting and the client then wants a press release and a summary and a half-dozen other deliverables (this has happened to me…once!).
A note on areas of expertise: Many times, a client will ask for a writer with expertise in a certain area. This can get tricky when you’re looking for someone with meeting and subject matter experience (especially when it comes to rare diseases). While experience with unrecorded meetings is critical, there’s a little more wiggle room with subject matter expertise. Most medical writers have advanced degrees and are able to get up to speed in most areas relatively quickly. A writer with any amount of experience will do “homework” ahead of the meeting to be sure they are ready. The meeting slide deck is an excellent guide, and providing it ahead of time (even if it is a draft) can help the writer be prepared.
- Ask a medical writer if they have experience in a certain therapeutic area.
- If a writer doesn’t have experience writing about a particular disease, ask if they have written about anything related. For example, a writer with tons of bladder cancer experience will probably be able to cover lung cancer just fine. Similarly, a writer who has never written about rare infectious disease X, but has a PhD in microbiology will also be just fine. An ethical writer will take the time to explain how their expertise is related to the subject of the meeting or let you know if they aren’t able to cover an area.
- Ask the writer if they have a conflict of interest. I always tell clients immediately if I have a conflict of interest, but it is important to ask, especially if the medical writer has not covered many advisory boards. Medical writers, especially those with subject expertise, may write about competing drugs. For example, a writer might write a sales slide deck for Diabetes Drug A and a manuscript for Diabetes Drug B. Advisory boards are a little different. They are confidential and strategic in nature, so it is important to confirm that the writer doesn’t have a conflict of interest.
The above questions should make it easier to find a medical writer to help you get the most from your meeting. Medical writers can be great allies on site, and they should also add value to your meeting to help keep insights at the forefront and keep the momentum going. Hopefully this article helps you find a perfect medical writing partner!