EducationNottingham Girls’ High School (1984-1996). Imperial College, University of London (1997-2001); University of Glasgow (2002-2006)
QualificationsA-levels in biology, chemistry and English; BSc (Hons) in applied biology and a PhD in behvioural ecology
Current JobEditorial director
My Work: I help pharmaceutical companies tell doctors and patients about drugs and diseases, and make sure all my colleagues are producing high-quality written work without any mistakes.
Why does anyone need a medical communications company?
When pharmaceutical companies have a new drug, they want to make sure that doctors and nurses know about it – which diseases it’s for, how it works, how effective it is and any side effects it might cause. They can also provide information to patients about their disease and about possible therapies for it. It’s my job to help pharmaceutical companies do all of this.
So, what does an editorial director actually do?
I have quite a broad remit so what I do varies a lot from day to day and client to client.
A lot of my job revolves around clinical trials – big tests set up by pharma companies to see if their drugs are any good (see links below). A big part of my role is helping them communicate the results of their clinical trials to doctors. This means understanding the data from doctors’ points of view (“why should I prescribe this to my patients?”), the patient’s point of view (“is this drug suitable for someone with my illness?”) and also from the pharma company’s point of view (“We’ve invested £millions on developing this drug; we want doctors to choose to prescribe it rather than our competitor if it’s right for their patient”).
I then look at how they can talk to doctors and patients about their drugs. In the same way as your teachers use lots of different ways of helping you learn (e.g. talking, getting you to look at text books, showing you diagrams) I use lots of different ways to help people working in healthcare learn about drugs. This can be pretty basic things like PowerPoint presentations that explain whether or not a new drug is any good, or posters and information leaflets; or it can be quite cool digital things like ibooks, websites and online meetings. I also get to spend a lot of time talking with very senior doctors about their views on a drug or disease – and that helps the pharma company understand what it most important to physicians.
The other parts of my job are based around developing and implementing processes to make sure everything we work on is editorially excellent. I do lots of internal training to ensure everyone works to the same standards and if following all our internal guidelines. I’m also in charge of editorial recruitment – setting and marking tests for potential writers, and then interviewing them if they make the grade.
But you’re not a doctor…how do you know about diseases?
Because I’m not a medical doctor or a nurse I often have to learn about different diseases before I can write about them. An example of this is if I’m writing about a drug for leukemia, I have to understand what causes leukemia, how it affects the body and how a drug can get make a patient better. I then put all of these pieces together and make them into something that people in healthcare can use to discover more about the drug.
What’s this clinical trial malarkey all about?
If you want to understand a bit more about clinical trials there are a couple of good website that can explain them in more detail –
http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/studies/clinicaltrials – this tells you how and why trials are done and the different stages drugs go through before they’re tested in humans.
https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/about-studies/learn – this is quite an in-depth site of you want to dig a bit deeper. It is US-baised but it tells you all about the different types of trials that are carried out.
My Typical Day: I could be flying anywhere in the world to attend meetings; sitting at my desk preparing PowerPoint presentations or research papers; or meeting a doctor who is a world-specialist in a particular disease.
I work three days a week (my other two days are mummy days) so I always have a full inbox when I come in.
Often I’ll have teleconferences with clients to update them on how projcts are going and to talk to them about their commercial priorities. If a clinical trial has recently finished I’ll spend lots of time talking to the doctors who worked on the trial to understand what they think about the data. I’ll also talk to the commercial team to understand the most important aspects to them to help market the drug.
I try to do as much writing as I can (my English literature A-level is not forgotten!) I might be developing a leaflet for cancer patients to help them understand how a bone marrow transplant might help them; or a website that helps doctors recognise the symptoms of rare diseases; or slides for internal drug company meetings that explain why everyone should be excited about a new drug.
Afternoons are often full of meetings – which can be anything from talking to a client about their products to brainstorming ideas for a doctor’s training session. I’ve also worked on some cool digital and social media projects so sometimes I get to play on sites like Facebook and Twitter to see what other companies are doing – and I don’t get told off for it!
What advice would you give someone who wants to be in the same career as you?
Go for it! It’s never too late to change your mind if you decide you’d rather do something different instead.
What do you see as your next step in your career?
I’m pretty much at the top of the food chain so will be staying where I am, doing more of what I’m already doing.
What other sorts of jobs can you do with your qualifications?
Based on my A-levels and degrees, I could be working in fields including conservation, ecology, animal behaviour and environmental biology. It’s not just qualifications that count though – outside interests can open up lots of doors. I got into my current job because I loved writing and did some science writing on the side of my (very boring) day job.
What's the best part of your current job?
Being a part of the machinery that ensures patients get the most suitable drugs, and knowing that it can save their lives.
What don't you like about your current job?
Sometimes the hours are quite long, so it can be tiring.