Nessie Riley – Medical Writer, Alchemy Medical Writing

BSc BVetMed MRCVS

Posted: 22/12/2022

Salary

£31 - 35k - salary will increase with experience.

Travel

None - home-based working! (Though some roles are office-based or hybrid-working).

Region

UK

Essential Skills

A veterinary or bioscience degree Masters or PhD are a bonus.

Values

Creativity, Independence, Proactivity, Integrity

Watch Nessie here

Have a look at the incredibly inspiring panel “Stories from VSGD: Carving out a career that works for me! Teletriage, Charity, Medical Writing and Family!”

Nessie riley

Check out our Career Q & A questions below to take a deep dive into this career path.  If you’re interested in this type of career but unsure how to take the next step, click below to learn more about our services designed to support you.

I first went into small animal clinical practice as a new graduate, but after a few weeks an old foot injury flaring up meant I couldn’t work on my feet anymore.

I had always been looking along slightly unusual career paths even through vet school, and knowing I would now need surgery on my foot to repair the historical fracture, seeking a home-based role seemed like it ticked a lot of boxes. I could be healing from home, with flexibility for appointments, whilst earning money and learning new skills. I initially worked as a freelance writer for a vet-run communications company, but after speaking to a vet colleague who had made medical writing her full-time role with another small writing agency (and the agency handily having an opening for a job!), I decided to apply and the rest is history.

When you look at advice online for getting into medical writing, you’ll usually see that most agencies like you to have a Masters or a PhD. I have neither. It’s all about being a little savvy, and knowing that you already possess a lot of the communication, scientific reasoning, attention to detail and confidentiality skills as a vet!

“We can be courageous when we stand on solid ground, when we are able to say: “This is who I am. This is what I cherish. This is what I take, and what I give back in exchange.” Sometimes, we choose our paths. Sometimes, our only choice is how we make our journey: alone and resolute, or trusting in those who can uphold and guide us. Solitude is not armour, and the need for others is not weakness. We are all at our strongest when we find our selfhood and embrace it with just enough company and just enough space.
But as the famous Barack Obama quote goes: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
Be courageous!”

For me, I was luckily in a position where the company I was hired by were specifically looking to hire another vet; they knew from their first vet recruit the unique skills and insights we could bring to the role. However, you may need to do a bit of self-promotion in your CV and cover letters, especially if you’re applying to a larger agency, to demonstrate you already have a lot of the skills you need to make a great writer.

Additionally, if you have any evidence of freelance or hobby writing, these are great to use as a portfolio in your application. Even just writing your practice’s pet advice sheets, an online blog, or an opinion article in a veterinary magazine, these are all great ways to show your enthusiasm and capabilities for writing.

1) I love how flexible the job is. This is truly a role for someone who has childcare, petcare or healthcare needs that don’t always conform to the 9-5. My company is particularly keen on having a fair work-life balance and never encourages overtime (I know, right!). However, on the very rare occurrence you do end up working overtime, they will always pay it or you can take it back in lieu. My bosses have put so much thought into what they can offer their employees that are truly valuable: we recently had an extra allowance to help with the cost of energy crisis, we have really comprehensive private medical insurance and there are numerous other perks that go far beyond a mere ‘wellbeing webinar and pizza’ afternoon. They’re also really neurodiverse-positive! This won’t be the case for every medical writing company, especially if they’re larger, but you can certainly have your pick of which employer suits you best.

2) I’m always learning. Medical writing is a game of wearing many hats and sometimes several hats in one day. Depending on the area of work you’re interested in, you can be working on a long-term project over several weeks, or you can be working on multiple smaller individual briefs in one day. You can be bouncing from working on the nitty gritty of regulatory documents (think Clinical Study Reports), editing a manuscript abstract, or designing slide decks for a forthcoming symposium on a rare disease. Each of these requires not only getting up to speed on a new therapy area, but also employing different editing, quality-checking, creative and writing skills. You’ll rarely be bored!

3) We’re in demand. Medical writers are much needed at the moment with the scores of new research being published. The Covid-19 pandemic showed us that timelines can be condensed and as such, we now need lots of people who can accurately convey the results of these trials in meaningful ways to various audiences – from the research scientist, to the general practitioner, to the layperson. As such, you can carve your writing career according to your preferences, and there will always be a niche you can fill.

I’m currently writing original-content articles for the digital therapeutic business Sidekick Health. They’ve just received their Series B funding for the development of new health apps that can be used by patients experiencing a range of chronic diseases, to help improve their symptom management and quality of life. These apps are akin to being prescribed a drug to alleviate symptoms, except it’s digital. It’s a really exciting and rapidly-developing area of medicine and it’s an honour to be writing articles for them. Some articles can take me less than a day, especially if I’m summarising a recent published paper for them, but some are much longer, pillar educational articles and these can take me a couple of days to make sure I have thoroughly researched, formatted and referenced everything I say.

A more typical ‘MedComms’ (the term we use for traditional medical writing that isn’t the heavier regulatory work) brief would be to take in slide deck amends. A slide deck is really just a powerpoint presentation (I wasn’t familiar with the term when I began!) but they can be pretty extensive, especially when they’re being used for drug launches or conferences. Every single statement on there has to be referenced and supported by published literature, and depending on whether the content is promotional or non-promotional, careful editing of the phrasing can be required, as stipulated by the client or reviewer comments. You may even be asked to create new slides or design infographics and depending on how long the deck is, this can take anything from an hour to a day or more to complete. The beauty of the role is the variety of what you’ll get in each brief.

Medical writing is often done in an office environment but we are increasingly seeing home-based roles, or a mixture of the two. Therefore, someone who is able to work remotely when it’s needed and has the ability to manage their own time, is going to thrive. That’s not to say these skills can’t be learned, though – it is a big learning curve coming from being a clinical vet anyway and with both introverts and extroverts on our team, I think most people can adapt in a way that suits them!


Someone who loves paying attention to detail is also going to thrive. A lot of the work we do requires reference-checking, editing and quality control, and so someone who will spot the capitalisation mistake or the referencing error will do really well! It’s satisfying, and becomes muscle memory after a while, but it’s not for everyone.

Firstly, avoid the really big agencies to begin with (I’d be happy to let you know which ones to avoid in particular). As with any professional service, they can get overrun with work and unfortunately do sometimes leave their writers with a mountain of briefs and inflexible deadlines. Instead, aim for a smaller agency that takes on overflow work from these larger agencies. That way you’re more likely to gain one-to-one teaching and guidance from your team, and you’ll also always have that extra buffer between you and the end client e.g the pharma company. This takes out a lot of the stress, and means you can stick to your working hours much more easily.

Secondly, keep your MRCVS status but change it to non-practicing on the register. This way, if you ever do want to go back into clinical work, it’ll make it much easier. It’ll also give your work a bit more clout, especially if you find veterinary medical writing jobs (though these are not common, most of your work will tend to be human-based.)

As a vet, particularly as a new graduate freshly out of vet school, I did feel the old imposter syndrome too. I wondered how I could be considered an ‘authority’ on human medical topics, and I was afraid of making mistakes. But, as ever, communication is key. Admitting your worries to your team or those supporting you in the transition can really help to spell out what it is you need to focus on supporting yourself in. For example, for me, I found I was worried about working on new treatment areas that involved a lot of immunomodulatory therapies. Although we do use them in veterinary medicine, it’s not nearly as much as you’ll discover they’re used in human medicine! The answer to this was to get myself up to speed with the help of my mentor. We went through a powerpoint on the basics, and applied it together to the dermatology topic I was working on at the time, and now I feel much more confident.

In the end, it’s all about working as a team. You’re almost never going to be the only person working on a project; you’ll be taking one part of it and handing it back. Therefore, knowing you’re one of many cogs in an amazing scientific machine can help relieve the pressure, and also gives you the solution: ask your team for help! No one knows everything and even your clients will have their knowledge gaps, so try not to feel like you can’t ask for clarity or support. Try instead to see it as an exciting learning opportunity, and be comforted that there will always be someone who can help along the way.

1) Have a go at writing something – even if it’s just a short opinion piece!

2) Overhaul your CV to be writing-based – don’t forget to mention your excellent communication skills, or any creative/design skills you have on the side.

3) Take a look at EMWA (European Medical Writers Association) for tips on getting into the field.

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