Medical Writing in New York

Medical Writing in New York

Writers' organizations in New York have meetings on medical writing: The business and marketing, the practice of medicine and journalism, and the ethics and politics. I write about these meetings for their newsletters, and for my email mailing list. Below are some stories that may be useful to my fellow writers.

If you're a medical writer, and you want to get on my mailing list, send me an email nbauman@nasw.org <Norman Bauman> Subj: List. If you're in the New York area, ask me to put you on the list that also contains the calendar of local NYC events nbauman@nasw.org <Norman Bauman> Subj: Calendar.

If you want to hire me for something, or if you wonder what else I do, here's my resume.

If you're a medical writer looking for work in the recession, my best advice is from Brian Bass and Wendy Meyeroff in the story below, How to Find and Price Medical Writing Jobs (or go to the article directly). I also wrote up a meeting at the American Society for Journalists and Authors about alternative income sources.

Medical magazines

Consumer

The Huge Health Market:
4 consumer editors at ASJA
Andrea Bauman, Redbook; Laurie Abraham, Mirabella; Deborah Pike, Good Housekeeping; Susan Roy, Self.

Science

Big science magazines want scoops,
and dramatic, narrative story.
Consumer style and rates: $1-2/word

Grow young or die:
Science magazines redesign for better demographics
Some readers squawk but most like it

Writing for doctors

Med Trib on Web, into complementary med,
but freelancers aren't getting paid

McMahon needs clinical and business stories
for gastroenterologists and pharmacists

Medical science

Nature Medicine, Nature Biotechnology
need non-science news about science

New media

Write for the Internet, shop at the Salvation Army
Webs offer great opportunities, $.30-1.00/word,
Chance to break into TV or Science

Top 10 health-related web sites,
and structure of the industry
from Media Metrix and Jupiter

Medscape and CBS spawn HealthWatch,
"Advanced" consumer stories $500+ for 900 words
Meeting coverage but no expenses

Writing about cancer at Sloan-Kettering:
Explaining work of busy researchers to worried laymen;
Online becoming more important

Alternative medicine

Liebert's alternative medicine journals
targeted doctors, aspire to science,
need business writers, RNs and editors.
Medical establishment demands controlled trials

Dietary supplements for reporters:
American Chemical Society road show comes to NYC

Nutrition

Educating cooks at Woman's Day;
Ghostwriting for diet docs

Medical books

Idiot's Guides are Successful Formula,
Looking for the Right Writers

I used a lot of these ideas to organize the information in this web site, like the "Tips".

Covering medical meetings

Medical Education:
Medical writers needed for specialty jobs,
24-hour CME meeting reports

MEN writes tight, objective news reports on medical conferences for doctors

Also see the How To Cover a Medical Meeting archive from the NASW email list.

PR, advertising, other media

ASJA panel:
PR pays $60 an hour and up in hard times
Journalists find transition isn't that bad
Ethical caveats, but needn't sell your soul

Medical Writers Get $300-700/day
Working for Drug Companies

PR pays business writers $250/day,
but some see ethical problems

Well-paid medical writing drifts into marketing,
doctor education and firing up sales reps.
Warning: Don't violate the medical culture

AMWA meeting:
CME for doctors is highly-structured,
accreditation rules fight conflicts of interest
good writing still has dramatic tension

Fun and profit with medical entertainment
and direct-to-consumer marketing
How Jenny talked her way in to TV

Marketing

How to find and price medical writing jobs
Fast, good or cheap? Your research or mine?
60 letters, 10 interviews, 6 accounts
This is the best advice I know for experienced medical writers on how to find medical writing work.

ASJA meeting:
Alternate income sources for writers
when your writing work disappears
Expanding into technical writing, grant proposals, adjunct teaching, and photography takes chutzpah and isn't always easy.

Syndicating your stories at Featurewell.com;
CondeNet pays $1/word, 2 kinds of web sites
David Wallis explained syndication for freelance writers. But how much can you make from Featurewell?

Journalism

Writers & Editors:
Fast Friends or Eternal Enemies?
Can't work with prima donnas and jerks

Can medical reporters get the message out?
Better educated, write a glut, defer to NEJM
"What is a virus anyway?"

Teenage deaths linked to irresponsible press!
Columbia J-school seminar on medical journalism
Learn from the stupid mistakes of the past

Lundberg editor-in-chief of Medscape;
"opinion leaders" cover medical meetings,
peer review "on the spot"

Dealing with FOI rejection
How to file a Freedom of Information request, and what to do when they turn you down

Journalistic ethics

Promoting Neurontin off-label:
Why drug companies pay us so much
and why our stories violate FDA regulations

What's worse--faking stories or capitalism?
Self-criticism at ASJA-NYU ethics panel
News judgments: Monica yes, tobacco no

What's wrong with that?
Corporations adopt methods of left activists
Massive resources, legitimate debates, sometimes deceptive

Copyright

Copyright After Reid:
Publishing lawyer Doreen Costa
Explains work for hire

Copyright Basics:
Strategies for Negotiating Freelance Contracts
Paul Zuckerman at AMWA

U.S. Supreme Court
Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid
490 U.S. 730 (1989)

More cases are at Stanford University

How much of a previous article can you reuse? Law professor Pamela Samuelson explains in Self-plagiarism or Fair Use?

Libel

Arkell v. Pressdram
The often-cited letter in the British libel case. "We refer you to the letter of Pressdram to Arkell" has become a standard response to libel complaints throughout the world.

Text search programs

Let's be blunt. For Law Office Computing magazine, I wrote the best stories ever written on text search programs. (If you know of anything better, let me know.) While these stories are from the last century, I wrote about concepts, not just software, so they're still valuable today.

Text retrieval:
How to use and abuse search programs

The story behind the BART crash. Why text search programs crash too.

Data bases made easy--or hard
Depending on the demands of the project, there are two kinds of programs

Streamlining Discovery with Computers
Abzug vs. Kerkorian: A 115,000-document database wins a $35 million settlement.

The best article I ever read on Internet text search engines was "Hypersearching the Web," Scientific American, June 1999, which explains why Google works so well: Google ranks web sites according to the number of other sites that link to them.

The best articles I've seen on programming text search engines are On Search, the Series, by Tim Bray.

Scientific topics

JAMA theme issue:
Medical research in the 21st century

Heart disease:
AMA briefing on heart failure
(Or should we say "heart success"?)

Science and sales of sildenafil:
NO strikes again in the corpora cavernosa;
Pfizer's cost-benefit pitch for Viagra
Buy it on the web: "Online consultation" $85

Food for All or Frankenfood:
The Genetically Modified Foods Controversy

This is actually an example of how to interview a scientist about a controversy

Molecular biology of prostate cancer

Urology Times: Molecular biology of PCa

Public policy

Sue HMOs? Change ERISA?
Debate over "incremental" reforms,
no plans for 43 million uninsured

My interview with Hillary Clinton
Q: Would we be better off with a Canadian-style single payer system if it were politically possible?

Is greed good?
Financing medicine

Shopping for health insurance?
A writer compares Canada and U.S.

September 11:
People asked me if I was OK.
This was my reply.

Medical literature

Cochrane Library. First see if there's definitive evidence on a treatment.

Cochrane Consumer Network. Easy to read; conclusions on top of page instead of bottom.

How to Research the Medical Literature in Steve Dunn's CancerGuide web page. Good simple introduction, explains important concepts like review articles.

How to research the medical literature:
Framing specific foreground and background questions in an evidence-based way

Medical librarians understand how the medical literature is organized. I asked one for guidance.

Medical textbooks

Free! The world's best-selling medical textbook, The Merck Manual, is now available in fulltext on the web, in both the standard 17th edition for physicians, and the newer Home Edition for consumers ($8 paper). This is the one best place to start research on a medical topic, and also a good link for a consumer story.

Medical journals

Free! Medscape (home or specialty pages) is probably the best single source of medical information on the Internet, although it's written for doctors so you first have to know the basics. I find the conference summaries most useful, and you can usually go directly to the conference web site to get abstracts and more information. (Requires free registration.)

Free! American Family Physician, journal of the American Academy of Family Physicians. This is a well-organized, peer-reviewed journal, in full on-line.

Free! British Medical Journal, journal of the British Medical Association. An excellent, peer-reviewed journal, also available in full on-line, but doesn't always match American interests. Good news reports, which are written by freelancers, for a pittance.

Free! Canadian Medical Association Journal (Franšais). Their Year in review is convenient.

Free! Findarticles.com is a free on-line database of articles from a good, small collection of medical magazines, such as The Lancet, BMJ, and AFP, and also some good tabloids such as Medical Economics, Urology Times, etc. This is a back door for free access to content not available on the magazine's own web sites. I'm there. 'Nuff said.

Free! MedicalStudent.com is a library, or portal, of links to more peer-reviewed, accredited medical sites.

Free! Amadeo is another portal, with related sites FreeBooks4Doctors and Free Medical Journals. (Some of these links are "free" with restrictions, such as 1-year delay after publication, form, and many of the books are in foreign languages.)

Free! Cell and Molecular Biology Links to lots of good biology sites, from basic to advanced.

Free! Kimball's Biology Pages. Good on-line cell biology textbook, just the right level for background on medical news stories.

Free! Molecule of the Month by David S. Goodsell. Molecular biology explained a molecule at a time.

Free! SparkNotes. Written by Harvard grads. Slower and easier than Kimball.

Free! Medline Bookshelf. Standard biology textbooks by Nobel Laureates. Comprehensive explanations of basic biology.

Free! The Nobel Prize official web site (medicine). World's greatest biology textbook.

Free! For a particular topic, Yahoo Health Full Coverage has the best-organized, selective links, although the main Health page has more links, and Yahoo Health Media links to publications for information or marketing leads.

Free! If you have a New York Public Library card, you can enter your card number and use the NYPL Electronic resources, which includes the EBSCO database, with lots of full-text medical magazines, Gale periodical listings (750 medical magazines) for marketing leads, and New York Times full text for 1 year.

No free lunch:

New England Journal of Medicine gives some useful content to non-subscribers, particularly their editorials and special articles. But the full NEJM is available on-line only to subscribers. :(

  • Best feature: The excellent review articles, which identify an important clinical topic and summarize current knowledge, emphasizing recent developments, written for the doctor but edited for the intelligent layman.

  • Tip: Call the review article authors, ask their secretary to send you a copy, read it, and interview them for an authoritative article.

  • Tip: Student subscriptions are $63. :)

The Lancet also contains some content free to non-subscribers, notably their news reports, which are also written by freelancers for a pittance. Full content only available to subscribers.

JAMA also contains some free content, but most of the site is now available only to paid subscribers.

  • Tip: In my reading of the on-line contract, a library or institution with one subscription can get the online edition from any computer on their web server (e.g. the entire New York Public Library system). Tell your librarian.

  • Tip: The Contempo reports, short reviews of major clinical topics, are a great introduction to current issues and controversies. That's where I found authoritative psychiatrists to comment in my antidepressant story.

  • Tip: The JAMA Science News Update press releases, which are archived back to 1995, are often a passable substitute for the full article.

If you get stuck, quote William Osler

Doctors to interview

A good way to find doctors to interview is to search Medline . With an advanced search, you can search for review articles on a standard Medline Subject Heading (MESH) in a major journal. For example, search for Review articles in NEJM on epilepsy with: n engl j med [ta] AND review [pt] AND epilepsy [mesh] . That will give you the name of an opinion-leading doctor and institution. Then you can call the doctor directly, or, if the doctor doesn't return your calls, call the institution's PR department.

Another way to find an authoritative doctor to interview is to call the PR department of one of the hospitals listed in the U.S. News & World Report "Best Hospitals" rankings. While you should't take these rankings too seriously (they omit the Veteran's Administration hospital system, for example), they're great for what they are--a journalist's ranking of hospitals by reputation.

The easiest way to get to an academic PR department is through the Science Sources page on Eurekalert (although you must first register for Eurekalert ).

  • Tip: Search for "USA" to get a file of every institution in the USA--about 900 of them. Then you can copy the file to your own computer, for a handy searchable off-line directory.
Medical societies from the Virtual Hospital. Great sources, like American College of Cardiology, American Academy of Ophthalmology, etc. This page links to their web sites, where you can get an overview of the specialty, PR contacts, press releases, doctors to interview, and upcoming meetings. Caveat: Some major societies are missing, like the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Council of Medical Specialty Societies
17 big national medical specialty societies: American Academy of Dermatology, American Academy of Ophthalmology, American College of Surgeons, etc., This page links to their web sites, where you can get an overview of the specialty, PR contacts, press releases, doctors to interview, and upcoming meetings. Caveat: Many medical important specialty societies are not members, such as the American Urological Association, American College of Cardiology, etc.

Association Of American Medical Colleges
Links to its 125 member colleges. Another good way to find a doctor. Call the PR department, which is usually listed in Eurekalert .

American Board of Medical Specialties
More general than above. The medical establishment at a glance. How the specialties are organized. Conceptually useful, but not complete.

JAMA Organizations of Medical Interest, 284(4) 26 July 2000 is a comprehensive reference directory updated regularly in JAMA.

Lawyers to explain health law can be found on the American Bar Association's Health Law Section. Tip: Ask them to send you a good law review article on the subject before you interview them.

How to Interview

What to do when the doctor doesn't call you back

How to pin a scientist down on the issues

Hardball interviewing
Transcripts of White House and State Department press briefings with questions by Amy Goodman, WBAI-FM. And listen to Goodman's incredible interview with President Clinton [Transcript] (since then, Pacifica fired Goodman). Russell Mokhiber does a pretty good job too.

Great checklist on interviewing
and more general great reporting tips

Analyzing data

I wrote this story about an AHCPR report that had some problems. The New York Times got it wrong. Here's why. I learned a lot about reading medical literature critically from the editor of The Lancet at a Columbia Journalism School conference.

Medical writing books

Barbara Gastel, MD. Health Writer's Handbook. Iowa State U. Press, 1998, $29.95. A great book on technique for beginning medical writers by a journalism teacher at Texas A&M. Stories are analyzed with commentary in the margin. Great Sidney Harris cartoons. This is like an Idiot's Guide to medical writing.

My all-time favorite journalism book is by William E. Blundell, The Art and Craft of Feature Writing, Plume, 1986, $8.95. Based on the Wall Street Journal's own in-house style book, it shows you how to think out, report, write and organize those WSJ page-1 stories on science and medicine .

Magazine Directories

Publist is a goldmine--a free online abbreviated version of Ulrich's Periodical Directory. You can browse for over 15,000 medical titles. (It doesn't tell you whether the publication takes freelance writing, but the CD-ROM version of Ulrich's in the library has a "Trade magazine" field.) Not as complete but still useful is Oxbridge Media Finder with over 1,000 medical titles (use boolean "AND Magazine" search for publications likely to hire freelancers).
  • Tip: A big library should have Bacon's and Standard Rate & Data, 2 additional excellent, well-organized sources of markets.

  • Tip: For a better understanding of medical magazines, read the book librarians read in library school: Magazines for Libraries, William Katz.

  • Tip: Read the "Brandon-Hill list," the medical librarian's standard bibliography of most useful medical books and journals, published every 2 years in Bull Med Libr Assoc.

Another goldmine is Tracking Healthcare & Biotech Media with its archives. Designed for PR people but useful for freelance writers too, they profile medical publications and interview the editors, particularly new and expanding publications.

A useful source for public relations firms is the O'Dwyer's PR Firms Database.

What can you do for me? My greatest need, and I think everyone's greatest need, is for an on-line directory or other way of finding medical publications to pitch a story on a given subject. For example, when there's a cardiology meeting in town, I'd like to have a list of cardiology tabloids and other publications to pitch a story. I envision a free on-line directory, like Bacon's, that profiles the 500-odd medical tabloids that use freelancers. I'm working on it. (See Kropotkin).

Medical Libraries

An indispensable skill for a medical journalist is understanding how to use the medical library, and how the medical literature is organized, like review articles, the Brandon-Hill list and Bill Katz, as the medical librarians at the New York Public Library explained to me.

  • Tip: A good medical librarian is more valuable than the whole Internet.

    (Unfortunately, the NYPL laid off its medical librarians.)

  • Little-known fact: The NYPL discontinued its "post-graduate" medical collection, because it was too expensive to maintain.

  • Little-known fact: A basic collection of medical books and journals costs $49,000. A "minimal core" collection costs $13,000. Bull Med Libr Assoc 1999 Apr;87(2):145-169

  • Little-known fact: Those Herman Miller Aeron chairs in the NYPL's Science, Industry and Business Library cost $750 apiece.

Consumer Reports Recommended health sites gives links to listings of medical libraries. Their How to research a medical topic online explains strategies of online research. Many Consumer Reports articles on health are free.

Television

ER fan page with plot summaries and medical-legal commentary. Bioethics commentary from Bioethics.net, with good footnotes (warning: may be sophomoric).

Favorite Sites

For other useful medical writers' web sites, see the other Members' Homepages at the NASW web site.

Emma Hitt has a good site for medical writers, especially her spreadsheet for organizing medical meetings.

Kathy Summers' HealthWriting.com has a good collection of links to articles about financial bias and other problems in medical writing, and medical writing generally.

Probably the most useful journalist's portal is Laurel Touby's Media Bistro, with surprisingly good job listings (many in science and medicine), a bulletin board for apartment listings, and well-selected links to writer's web resources.

Favorite web sites
(this link is under construction)

Organizations

See a description of how they work, and my comparison of what each can do for you.

National Association of Science Writers
Science Writers in New York (SWINY)
American Medical Writers Association
Editorial Freelancers Association
National Writers Union
American Society of Journalists and Authors
Society of Technical Communication NYC
PRSA Technology Section
Intl. Assoc. of Business Communicators NYC
New York New Media Association
Association of Health Care Journalists
An annotated list from The Mining Company

Editorial Photographers Useful for writers too. Magazine contracts annotated; magazine ad rates, circulation and web sites.

Meeting calendars

I use these meetings calendars and other links when I create my own calendar of events of interest to medical writers. (This is not a finished work.)

Manhattan apartments

Manhattan apartments, $468 a month
Writers have gotten subsidized apartments for as little as $468 a month.

Radio broadcasting

Need a quick crash course in radio recording? Read the This American Life comic book.

More advice from The Association of Independents in Radio. Transom.org gives advice on production techniques like ProTools free software.

Etc.

Shaving without shaving cream
My famous contribution to science.

Bauman Institute of Technology
Where the PROTON rockets were designed!
(OK, they also designed the Chernobyl reactor)

Web design

This page was designed with the help of the HTML tutorial at Project Cool. Thanks, guys! This is my crib sheet with samples of the HTML codes I used on this site.

For AOL, here's a great tutorial by Karen Lawson, How to Make a Web Page in AOL, which takes 1 hour using simple software like Windows Notepad that you already have.

Good visual design is far more important than HTML coding. One of the best web designers is Jakob Nielsen, at useit.com. The Alertboxes are particularly useful. I designed my site before I ever heard of Nielson, but our sites look similar because we both used the same principles: Keep it simple, stupid.

Powerpoint makes it easy to be stupid. see Peter Norvig's Gettysburg Address in Powerpoint and the commentary.

I recommend against Microsoft's free web page creator, FrontPage Express. MS deliberately creates pages that Netscape can't read properly. Furthermore, MS creates complicated code that you can't figure out and modify (although HTML TIDY may clean up the mess). Start with your word processing program, and save the pages as text or HTML files. Or use Notepad or NoteTab.

How to cite this page

Parting quote

Far more seemly to have thy study full of books, than thy purse full of money. -- John Lyly, Euphues
... the fittest are not the physically strongest, nor the cunningest, but those who learn to combine so as mutually to support each other, strong and weak alike, for the welfare of the community....

Syevertsoff concluded that the white-tailed eagles combine for hunting; when they all have risen to a great height they are enabled, if they are ten, to survey an area of at least twenty-five miles square; and as soon as any one has discovered something, he warns the others.

-- Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, Peter Kropotkin (1902)

I did it for fun.

-- Linus Torvalds