Reintroducing Rachel: my health writing journey

Rachel | Freelance medical and healthcare copywriter | Standing in a London street holding a coffee

Even though I’ve been writing about all things health for over 10 years, the start of a new year always feels like a great time for a reintroduction.

I’m a big believer in appreciating the journey, taking time to look back on the details that have shaped where I find myself today and thinking about where I want to be moving forward. I am hopeful that these reflections inspire others too.

I want my words to resonate, in the hope my health writing story motivates others to be brave in their writing journey, whatever their experience.

An early appetite for words

Some of my earliest memories revolve around the beauty of books and the power of words. I have such fond memories of the collections of books that proudly sat in the different rooms of our house (much like the large to-read piles that sit in most rooms of my current home).

My Mum tells me I could read by 18 months. She’s told the story for years. Now I’m a little older and wiser, and have my own little ones, (and despite some pretty heavy repetition of The Gruffalo’s Child) I don’t think my Mum’s proud memory could be correct after all.

On my wedding day, my Dad’s speech was centred around just how much I loved reading and storytelling. He even referenced my favourite childhood story, The Very Hungry Caterpillar (now one of my son’s favourites). Somewhat embarrassingly, my Dad also touched upon my younger years writing fan fiction. Interestingly, I had a tendency to base my earliest forms of content around TV hospital dramas…

Health, science and medicine were already a part of me at a young age, it seems. And I was writing stories about health before I even knew it.

First strategic steps as a health writer

Growing up, I knew I wanted to be a writer. A journalist, playwright or script writer, perhaps. Years later, life would indeed see me find success with words.

After a post-uni adventure teaching English in South Korea, I found a job at a health economics consulting firm. Not necessarily part of a bigger picture I had mapped out, but it transpires it was the start of a career I am proud to have now. I started out as what was, in effect, a proofreading junior. I ended up working there for 4 years, landing eventually in the Strategic Communications department.

We wrote 100-page dossiers presenting evidence about the value and effectiveness of health products. This gave me a great grounding in how to communicate clinical and economic data, and information about patients’ quality of life. I learnt how this information is used to speak to healthcare providers, regulatory authorities, and payors, and support healthcare decision-making.

It was during this period of my life that I knew I was going to be a health writer, but I wanted to try something a little bit different.

A Medical Education

The next chapter saw me move through a series of roles that were key to developing an understanding of a range of health-related content and copy.

The first was my delve into the world of Medical Education (or MedEd), in the highly glamorous world of…wait for it…wound care. Despite the gritty nature of the content, I embraced this role for 2 years. I wrote a variety of educational materials for wound care professionals and patients, attended events and conferences that boosted my confidence, edited manuscripts for journals, and learned how to do my own layouts in InDesign.

A position as Digital Content Manager at a HealthTech startup came knocking next. I took on management of several online communities for patients with rare diseases and wrote health-based content and copy (case studies, white papers, social media posts, consent forms, and more), aimed at recruiting patients to clinical trials.

If you’ve ever come across consent forms for clinical trials, they are notoriously difficult to access. This is a real issue when you’re trying to establish a trusting connection with a real person.

I really enjoyed making these complex topics accessible to patients and the public; I worked hard to ensure materials were simple, accessible, and patient-friendly. I knew this would be something I would continue to pursue further down the line.

The Digital (Health) Age

This period of my career also sparked my interest in the digital health space, which is growing so rapidly right now. There’s so much going on: technology and AI are completely changing the way we think about healthcare. But that’s a blog for another time, as back then I was about to move into what would become my last ever corporate job.

Next step: I spent 4 and a half great years working for a big healthcare communications agency. I started in a mid-level writer role and worked up to leading the writing team. By the time I left, I had co-managed a team of 6 writers and 10 freelancers. It was an invaluable experience; providing me with the understanding to not only ‘win’ the work in the face of competition, but to recruit, coach and lead those around me too.

Looking back, this was a wonderful platform to hone my skills. The company produced many types of health communications, from press releases, to patient advocacy materials, to creative ad campaigns. I worked on a huge variety of projects, from public health campaigns on how to spot meningitis and RSV in babies, to projects co-created with patients, to launching new medical products.

One of my key responsiblities was to review information relayed in press releases and ensure it was accurate. This exposure cemented my desire to embrace responsibility and get things right when it comes to talking about our health.

Getting involved with the creative advertising and consumer health teams was an eye-opening bonus for me. Within a relatively short space of time, my portfolio was developing and I had worked on projects for a range of products and brands.

Finding my freelance feet

About 18 months ago I made the decision to pursue my own path as a health writer. To anyone who has made the decision to ‘go freelance’ or is considering doing so, I know it’s a scary one. Everyone has their own variables at play and imposter syndrome is real.

In spite of this, I was confident that my versatile experience, links to clients and ideas to grow my own freelance health writing business would lead to success. We had also made the decision to start a family at that time, so the world of freelancing appealed to me and would hopefully permit me the flexibility I craved.

The first year was really positive. I could see enough progress and momentum to feel my business was going to be successful. I was able to take on a variety of work, working with clients I already knew and meeting plenty of new connections along the way.

Success as a freelance health writer

Up to this point, my clients have been healthcare communications agencies, health membership bodies, pharmaceutical and medical device companies, patient advocacy specialists, and B2B marketing agencies that need a health expert. I’ve also worked with small businesses and entrepreneurs who want to capitalise on my expertise in the health space.

There’s such a range of possibilities out there as a health or medical writer. And I’ve been fortunate and driven enough to experience writing content and copy for a really diverse range of clients.

So here we are. The first month of another year and another chapter. I am excited to continue growing my client base in 2024 and beyond. I am looking forward to supporting and encouraging other writers on their own journeys within this evolving industry.

As I mentioned at the start, reflection grounds me. I hope you found it useful to read my story and it gives you the confidence to just go for it, whatever stage you’re at right now.

I’ll finish with some quick-fire facts about me!

  1. I’m 35 years young. I’m married with 2 boys. They are now 3 and nearly 1. One sleeps…the other, not so much. I love being a Mum, but the challenge is the daily balance act.
  2. I thrive on intellectual challenge. Mental stimulation. Right now, I have 245 tabs open in my brain. I love the possibility of executing those ideas and bringing them to fruition.
  3. I’m a big reader and audio book fan. I like crime fiction, popular science books and non-fiction. This year I want to expand my literary experience.
  4. I was diagnosed with Coeliac disease at 18 and have been gluten free ever since. I am very passionate about miscommunication in the media and keep up to speed with research in this area.
  5. I’m active. I keep fit and (try to) keep myself moving. I’m a certified Yoga instructor and enjoy the gym. I’m also a black belt in Korean Choi Kwang Do (so watch out… only kidding).

Thanks for reading this far! Let’s chat some more? I’d love to hear about your own writing journey and how you got to where you are now.

  • Drop me a line using the CONTACT form above if you’re interested in one-to-one mentoring from a health writer with a decade of experience,
  • Reach out if you want to connect on a health writing project, or
  • Take a look at this blog to learn a bit more about my experiences as a freelancer.
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I work Tuesday through Friday. I’ll aim to get back to you within 24 hours during the working week.