The Department of English celebrates and highlights the achievements of alumni as they find careers with their degrees. This week, Walter Orr, Medical Research Writer for the Department of Anesthesiology at University of Kansas Medical Center, discusses how his degree in Professional Writing has prepared him for his job.
What is your current job? What does that job entail?
I am a Medical Research Writer at the University of Kansas Medical Center in anesthesiology and pain medicine. I work closely with physicians and researchers to summarize and publish the results of clinical research studies by providing writing support. This support includes reviewing and editing scientific manuscripts, conducting literature reviews, developing research proposals and protocols, summarizing background information on various research topics, and preparing visual representations of data. I also manage all stages of the scientific publication process by communicating with researchers and medical journal staff. Additionally, I have had opportunities to create health-related communication materials aimed at translating research to plain language for lay audiences.
How has your degree helped in your current position?
As the only writer in a large department, the skills I attained through my professional/technical writing degree have allowed me to become the “writing expert” among my colleagues. It has given me the confidence to work on a variety of projects on topics of which I have had no prior knowledge. The client-based projects especially prepared me to delve head-first into complex topics in order to produce usable documents and content by collaborating with a subject matter expert. In fact, I still treat my day-to-day work as client-based projects, as I am always working with new people who do not always understand the value or role of a medical writer. Thus, I have to work closely with each client to maintain a project’s accuracy and enhance clarity, while tactfully communicating specific strategies to improve the writing style or design of a particular document.
What advice do you have for current English majors/minors who are looking to do something similar to what you do?
I would advise students who are interested in medical writing to focus their class projects on medical or health-related topics. This allows you to begin developing a portfolio that demonstrates proficiency in writing or editing for the medical field. I have found that medical professionals are often more comfortable working with people who have some kind of demonstrated experience in a scientific field. Don’t be afraid of taking classes or picking up a minor in a health-related science to strengthen your knowledgebase. You could also look for internships in health departments, health clinics, hospitals, medical centers, or pharmaceutical/medical device companies. If you are interested in learning more about healthcare or medicine before entering the workforce, you could also look into graduate programs in public health, healthcare administration, or clinical research.