There are many reasons that can make you want to become a health writer. Sometimes, you’re perfectly happy in patient care, but you’re looking for an additional income stream. In other cases, you’re starting to get bored or burned out, and you’re considering non-clinical careers. You decide to do some copywriting to get your name out there as an expert. And, lastly, you might simply love writing! And it might come so naturally to you that you want to make a career of it.
This guide is meant for health professionals (especially rehab professionals like PTs, OTs, SLPs, and assistants) as they seek to transition their clinical knowledge into careers in writing.
I created this article to:
- Help you understand how to become a health writer
- Determine whether health writing is right for you
- Give you resources to help you launch a health writing career
Without further ado, let’s get started!
What is a health writer?
A health writer creates written copy for a number of purposes. A copywriter could write ad headlines, web content, white papers (informative documents about products), educational materials, video scripts, sales copy, and copy for brochures and flyers. Frankly, that’s just scratching the surface.
Other names for a health writer might include (depending on your specific role):
- Health copywriter
- Health content writer (PT content writer, OT content writer, etc.)
- Medical content writer (not medical writer)
- Web copywriter
- Health marketing copywriter
- Health or medical content specialist (Sometimes, this term will denote other forms of content, though, such as video or audio.)
- Technical writer (This is slightly different, mainly in that you write technical documentation vs. classic copy/ad copy, etc.)
What does a successful health writer look like?
Successful health copywriters are:
- Great at writing – This is essential. People often love the idea of writing, but don’t really like writing. Or, they enjoy writing for fun, but find writing for clients is less enthralling.
- Detail-oriented – Even if you’re a talented storyteller and enjoy writing, you’ll need to take it to the next level. A copywriter is expected to have impeccable spelling, grammar, and syntax usage.
Communicative – While you might not be doing any public speaking, you’ll likely interface with others on your team. You might even wind up collaborating with clients directly, depending on your role.
- Organized – Copywriters typically work on multiple projects at the same time. This is a good thing, trust me. If you get writer’s block on one project, it’s nice to have other projects to tackle, just to keep things fresh and exciting! But you need to be super organized and able to keep track of where you are on what. If organization is not your strong suit, you might not love a copywriter role.
- Experienced – Unfortunately, you can’t just waltz into a copywriter role without having a portfolio and some experience under your belt. Again, never fear. I’ve got the steps you need outlined below!
- Humble – No matter how incredible your writing is, you’re going to have moments where your copy—copy you poured your heart into to ensure its perfection—comes back with some serious red lines through it. It’s painful, but you’re not writing for you; you’re writing for someone else. They’re paying you so they call the shots (within reason). Keep that in mind and you’ll be just fine.
- Dedicated – Copywriters live and die by deadlines. You must be confident enough to submit your best possible work by a deadline. If you’re not the type to step up to a deadline and stand by your work, it might not be the right role for you.
What does a day in the life of a health writer look like?
There’s really no single typical day for a copywriter, since writers work in SO many capacities. I’m going to go through a few of the most common roles here, though, and delve into what they’re like.
A healthcare tech writer
Your role can greatly vary at a healthcare tech company. For example, one day, you might write patient-facing copy for email blasts, websites, brochures, or other materials. At one company where I worked as a contract health copywriter, I wound up writing short messages that were sent out to patients via text and email.
I would also write for a monthly health bulletin that was sent out to the company’s users (patients with chronic diseases). This type of communication is called business-to-consumer (B2C).
On the other hand, you might also wind up writing different types of communications, where your target audience will be another corporation. This is often called business-to-business (B2B) communication.
For example, you might work for an electronic medical records (EMR) company and create copy that speaks to clinicians or practice owners who are considering using your software.
In some cases, that copy will be trying to convince your audience to buy your software, while in other cases, your copy will be educating existing users on the ins and outs of your EMR.
You might even wind up writing about PT itself; you might write about physical therapy news, run a pediatric physical therapy blog, or focus on any other type of niche! In my case, one of my freelance clients runs an OT website, so I frequently write about topics like “What is OT?” 🙂
An agency copywriter
Many agencies (including advertising, content, SEO, and more) keep clinicians on staff to manage health content. This is where a physical therapy, occupational therapy, or speech-language pathology professional would make the perfect match; we understand how to talk to patients and medical professionals because we’ve done it.
Your background will make you an exceptional candidate at an ad agency that serves healthcare clients, if you can prove that you’re an exceptional writer.
If you work for a small clinic, there’s a chance the owner(s) wrote the copy themselves. If you work for a larger hospital, communications are either kept in-house or outsourced to ad agencies.
There’s no rhyme or reason to whether a hospital will keep its communications in-house or choose to outsource. In fact, many of the largest systems will do a combination of both.
If you work for a traditional ad agency, you’ll likely spend a good part of your day answering emails, attending meetings and writing content. This content is then proofed by editors before being passed before clients’ eyes.
If you work for an in-house communications team for a healthcare facility, you’ll have a similar day, but your content will be passed to more senior members of a marketing and/or communications department (sometimes shortened to “marcom”), rather than to clients, for approval.
A medical writer
I am actually planning to do an entire article about medical writing. It’s quite different from standard health writing, so it deserves its own article 🙂 Stay tuned!
A freelance/contract health writer
This is the dream, folks, and it’s what I do! Yep, I get paid good money to write for a few therapy-related publications while I run The Non-Clinical PT.
When you work as a contractor or a freelancer, you truly have a degree of freedom and flexibility that you’ll never find in patient care. You can pick and choose clients, and you can work when you feel like it.
The only downside—and this is a big downside—is that the work can be very inconsistent.
Frankly, contracting and freelancing are best if:
- You’re in a two-income household where you’re the second income
- You’re willing to work per diem as a PT to fill in the gaps when contract work dries up.
Freelancing vs. contracting as a health writer
When you freelance, you work for yourself. Freelancing is more flexible than contracting. You negotiate your own rates, and you set your own hours. You bill the client yourself, and you’re responsible for taking care of taxes and all that fun stuff.
The nice thing is you can often get paid more as a freelancer IF you know how to set respectable rates for yourself. It’s also possible to take on more remote work as a freelancer. Thus, if you’d like to be a partial-clinical PT and treat two to three days per week, you can easily fill the remaining days with freelance work.
When you’re a contractor, you work for a staffing agency. You get paid through this staffing agency, much like a travel PT would be paid by the travel staffing company instead of the employing facility itself. The staffing agency makes money off of you—often quite a bit—as a “finder’s fee.”
You can sometimes negotiate your rates so the agency keeps a bit less, just like you can as a travel therapist. I never negotiated too hard because I wanted agencies to work with me as often as possible. The easier I made their lives, the more they’d want to work with me down the line.
The hardest part is establishing yourself with a staffing agency, but once you’ve done so, you’re in business. The best way to start is to start applying for jobs on their website. If you have no luck, try to simply set up an appointment with a recruiter to go through your portfolio.
A staffing agency will find you short-term or long-term copywriter roles at various companies. Some of these companies will be looking for a copywriter for a contract role, but they’re considering making a permanent offer for the right candidate. Other organizations will work with contractors with no intention of making permanent offers, because it’s cheaper to hire someone at a higher hourly rate than pay benefits.
The best agencies will actually offer benefits and retirement plans if you work a certain amount of hours per week for a certain amount of time.
I have worked as a contractor through two agencies: Aquent and Creative Circle. Both were fabulous, and I highly recommend them. If you’re in the San Diego area, get in touch with me and I’ll connect you with my recruiters.
The pros of being a health writer
There are plenty of reasons why I pursued health writing, and some of these might resonate with you.
- Relative calm. Compared to patient care, you’re going to feel like you’re in absolute heaven on some days. If you’re introverted and felt sucked dry, you’ll enjoy the ability to sit in your little cave, type out some literary gold, and leave by 5 PM.
- Predictable hours. Generally speaking, copywriters aren’t overworked (unless you work at a tiny startup or something). You’ll arrive and leave at the same time every day, and you’ll enjoy an excellent work-life balance. That said, I’ve heard stories that medical writers do have very stressful, long hours, so stay tuned. I’ll update once I chat with a few of them 🙂
- Pay. This is going under both pros and cons because it varies so widely and really depends on how you play your cards. I’ll explain more under the cons section. But you can make good money as a copywriter. I’ve earned as much as $45/hour as a contract copywriter!
- Flexibility. Copywriting is such a wonderful job for the gig economy. You can choose to work full-time, of course, but if you want, you can also work freelance or as a contractor. I’m going to be interviewing a recruiter from CreativeCircle, a staffing agency I’ve used for contract copywriting roles, soon. Stay tuned!
- Pride. In some jobs, you work and work and work, but there’s nothing to show for your efforts. When you’re a copywriter, that’s not the case! You toil for hours over your copy, but then it’s all worth it! You’ll see your words in advertisements, on brochures, and maybe even on billboards! It’s pretty awesome.
- Work from home. Once you’ve hit your stride as a copywriter, working from home might become an option. Whether you opt to freelance or negotiate partial-remote hours into your contract, working from home with a cat on your lap simply can’t be beat! It’s also an excellent perk for new parents.
The cons of being a writer include
- Repetitive. If you enjoy writing, but get bored by it, you might not enjoy copywriting. As I mentioned, you’re literally writing all day, every day.
- Lots of sitting. Yes, that’s a big change for the super active therapists out there. That said, many workplaces have become savvy to the risks of sitting all day, and you can usually find employers that are willing to spring for a stand-up desk.
- Workplace politics. Frankly, this is not unique to copywriters. In fact, I’ve found that copywriters are some of the kindest, most supportive people out there. But once you’re out of patient care, you might that—in general—office politics are more pronounced than they were in your tight-knit therapy team.
- Occasional stress. Frankly, the only time copywriting has ever felt stressful to me (and I have an anxiety issue) was when I was working at an early-stage startup. It wasn’t the startup’s fault, either. There was just SO much work. At normal writing jobs (again, aside from medical writing), you’ll generally deal with very little stress.
- Temptation. You’ll be doing a lot of internet research as a copywriter. It can be sooo tempting to just pop open that browser and start stalking people on Facebook. Beware!
Where you can go: career paths for the physical therapy writer
Copywriters have pretty incredible options, in terms of career paths and opportunities to climb that career ladder.
Here are just a few:
- Content writer → lead/senior content writer → assistant creative director → creative director
- Copywriter → lead/senior copywriter → managing editor → head of content → head of marketing
- Medical writer → lead/senior medical writer → director of medical communications
- Copywriter → content editor → managing editor → editor-in-chief
- Copywriter → content manager or content coordinator → communications manager → head of communications
- Copywriter → content marketing specialist → content marketing manager → marketing manager → director of marketing
How do I become a health writer?
Becoming a copywriter is fairly easy, to be honest, as long as you have a natural knack for creating copy. It doesn’t happen overnight, but if you enjoy writing, it’s an easy transition for a clinician.
Make sure your non-clinical resume reflects every single writing project you’ve undertaken, regardless of how big or how small.
1. Familiarize yourself with writing terminology and get to know the AP style guide
Before you start writing (if you intend to make a profession of it), it’s a great idea to read about the different types of writing. For example, web content writing is very different from print content writing. Not sure what a CTA is? That’s OK, but you’ll want to learn.
Psst…a CTA is a Call to Action. It’s designed to get a reader to take action, whether that’s make a purchase, click a link, or sign up for a service. And multiple CTAs are called “Calls to Action.” You’re welcome 🙂
Learn about white papers, B2B vs. B2C, and memorize what a KPI is (it’s a key performance indicator). A KPI for a writer will be different for each role, but if you’re a marketing copywriter, one KPI might be how many likes your article gets on social media. If you’re sending out email copy, the number of people who open your email or click your content might constitute your KPIs.
You’ll also want to spend some time familiarizing yourself with helpful resources. For example, if you intend to blog, follow Copyblogger.
2. Take a course
There are three reasons to take a writing course:
- You’ll get where you want to be faster
- You’ll have the skills you legitimately need
- You’ll have relevant coursework for your resume
I recommend the following online/remote courses for aspiring medical and health copywriters:
I may make a small commission for recommending courses on my site. Any commissions I earn go directly toward the operating costs of this site. Thank you for supporting The Non-Clinical PT!
- Breaking into Health Writing – This course is awesome. It’s a great introduction for a new or aspiring copywriter needs to understand how to actually start writing. It covers types of writing that are out there (medical vs. marketing vs. health, etc.), and it explores what you need to make an actual plan to get there. Highly recommend.
- Principles of Health and Medical Writing – This course is a great fit for writers (and aspiring writers) who want a really in-depth look at how to create compelling and effective health and medical copy. This course is only offered on a limited basis, and I’ll have a blackboard ad below when it is!
3. Get some writing published
You’re going to need to start small. Start your own blog or reach out to sites to write guest content. You should definitely post an article on The Non-Clinical PT 🙂 Here are other sites that will sometimes accept high-quality guest submissions:
4. Set up a writing portfolio that is easily accessed
I highly recommend setting up a portfolio at Contently. At some point down the line, I’d love to build out The Non-Clinical PT so that you can showcase your resume, writing samples, and other non-clinical materials right here!
Until that time, promise me you’ll take the time to create an online portfolio. Why? When a recruiter or potential employer asks to see some of your samples, it’s an easy, central spot where all your work lives. Plus, you look like a legit writer if you have a Contently portfolio 🙂 For reference, here’s mine. Feel free to steal ideas or make suggestions 🙂
5. Adapt your resume for copywriting jobs
It’s all about making that non-clinical resume perfectly free of errors when you’re gunning for copywriting jobs. Make sure to use the right keywords and highlight the right experiences in your resume.
Copywriter-friendly keywords to include in your resume include:
- Liaise (This shows you can communicate well, and can spell “liaise” and “liaison” correctly!)
Try to chop out anything overly specialized from your resume, unless it is directly relevant to the job you’re targeting. For example, if you’re applying to write for a neuro rehab website, leave ALL your neuro experience on your resume! But if you’re applying to a generic healthcare tech company, you can probably slash a huge chunk of your con-ed bragging section, if not the whole thing (again, unless it’s relevant), to make room for your awesome copywriter skills! One mistake I made when I was leaving patient care was keeping my resume far too clinical for far too long.
Non-clinical hiring managers and recruiters won’t recognize PNF or NDT, but they will understand that your monthly task of auditing other therapists’ charts translates to being detail-oriented.
Let’s do some surgery on your resume:
Anderson Rehab Hospital – Lead PT – 10/2012 – 11/2013
- Cultivated relationships with case managers, physicians, nurses, OTs, and SLPs by organizing annual rehab potluck. (Keep this: It shows you can work well in a team.)
- Coordinated seamless scheduling of acute care physical therapists on weekends and holidays. (Only keep this if there’s room: It shows you’re organized, and can help if you’d like to move into a managing editor role.)
- Exceeded stringent productivity expectations by collaborating with OTs by dovetailing appropriate treatments. (Cut this: Nobody
cares aboutunderstands dovetailing in the content world.)
- Utilized Epley’s Maneuver for challenging BPPV cases. (Cut this: Unless you’re writing for a vestibular company, nobody will understand what this means.)
As you can see, your patient care section will shrink significantly. That’s OK. You’ll want to fill that space with your copywriting roles.
Consider adding a section like this until you land your first real copywriter job:
Freelance Copywriter – 10/2016 – Present
- NewGradPhysicalTherapy.com – “6 Ways to Collaborate with an Occupational Therapist” – Published 10/31/2016
- StudentDoctorNetwork.com – “Preventing Burnout in Subacute Facilities” – Published 9/20/2015
- APTA Student Pulse – “How I Survived PT School With a Chronic Illness” – Published 4/20/2013
Here’s where you need that contently portfolio. Spare your recruiter or hiring manager the hassle of typing all these things into a browser, trying desperately to find your work and read it. Keep everything in just one place!
Don’t forget that you need to insert relevant keywords into your resume, too. Carefully study each job for which you’re applying. If the job specifies that it requires experience with B2B or B2C communications, make sure you have business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) somewhere in your resume (as long as you’ve really got that experience).
Again, don’t forget, if you don’t have the experience, reach out, ask around, and write for free. It will pay off in spades down the road.
6. Tweak your cover letter for copywriting jobs and start applying
Again, the ideal copywriter resume will be flawless and free from errors. Avoid making it canned; instead, really tailor the tone to the employer’s own tone, and try to inject plenty of buzzwords from the company’s website and mission statement, without sounding like a suck-up.
Ensure that you mention why you’re looking to change careers. Be honest, transparent, and optimistic about this career move. Don’t sound like a victim.
(For the “start applying” part, just scroll to the bottom—I discuss where to find copywriter jobs!)
7. Hone your interview chops to present as a true copywriter
- As in step 1, make absolutely sure that you’re familiar with all types of writing. Even if you just study a basic wikipedia article, understand what a copywriter role will involve.
- Study the job description carefully and consider examples of times that you’ve shined in similar ways. If these instances have been in patient care scenarios, that’s ok, but try to come up with instances where you’ve solved problems through the gift of your written word.
- Be personable, pleasant, and memorable. Personality goes a long way in non-clinical jobs. Whereas you primarily work with patients as a clinician, you’ll be doing lots of collaboration with other professionals as a copywriter.
- Be transparent about why you’re eager to take on a non-clinical role, without being too much of a downer.
- Explain that you’re very comfortable shifting between different brands’ tones. If you’re a copywriter for a single company, that’s less vital, but ad agencies have multiple clients and you’ll need to explain that you can shift your writing tone and style to meet each client’s unique preferences.
Again, discuss how much you enjoy collaborating with other professionals, and explain how you’re detail-oriented and comfortable writing a wide range of copy.
Make sure that you convey in your interview that you’re capable of stepping up to the plate and taking on extra assignments and staying late as needed. It won’t happen often, but you’ll likely be salaried and staying late might happen from time to time. Being that you’ve come from a job that might have been hourly, your interview team might want to ensure you’re not the type to just leave assignments with deadlines until the next day.
If you can convince your interviewer that your PT work ethic and attention to details will make you stand out as a writing employee, you’re in good shape.
Additional education needed to become a health copywriter (health writer)
Very little. Check out the courses above if you’d like a jump start. I really like the Health Writer Hub course Breaking Into Health Writing (use code TNPT to save 10%) because it’s designed to teach clinicians how to seamlessly transition to health writing careers.
You don’t NEED coursework to launch a writing career, but I WISH I had taken that course three years ago. My path would have been much easier and I would have made more money along the way.
What is an average copywriter salary?
Obviously, you’re thinking about salary. If you want to go non-clinical, you still need to consider pay, especially if you’re dealing with student debt.
All salaries below were compiled in 11/2017, when this article was initially published.
According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a copywriter in the U.S. is $56,600
According to Salary.com, the average salary for a copywriter in the U.S. is $56,000.
Don’t forget, though: You can quickly graduate to senior copywriter, managing editor, etc. It’s easier to advance as a copywriter than it is as a clinician, from my experience…
According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a senior copywriter in the U.S. is $75,720
According to Salary.com, the average salary for a senior copywriter in the U.S. is $74,000
According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a managing editor in the U.S. is $71,193
There’s definitely wiggle room. You won’t get rich as a copywriter, but you’ll enjoy stellar work-life balance. I could never create this website if I didn’t have a job as a copywriter!
With full transparency, I wrote for free for a long time. When I was launching NewGradPhysicalTherapy, it was all on my free time. I also offered to write free blog posts for sites like MyPTCorner, WebPT, and more.
Once I had a certain amount of unpaid articles published, I was suddenly landing hourly contract jobs paying $35-45/hour!
Where to find copywriter jobs
I like to search for jobs on Glassdoor because you can review companies’ ratings while you’re at it. Here are the results of a LinkedIn search for “healthcare copywriter.” Don’t forget to try different iterations of the same job title when you search for jobs.
Another trick is to find a healthcare/healthcare tech company that you really admire and see if you can find a role directly on their website. It’s a long shot, but you’ll occasionally get lucky!
Don’t be discouraged when you don’t have the needed skills for these roles right from the get-go. You’re starting from scratch, which is why you’ll need to be patient. Lots of companies won’t respond to your application…until someone does. The whole reason I started this website was to make the process easier for you by giving you resources. I’ll feel like I’ve done my job if any of you come back to me and say, “Hey, I got a copywriter job on my first try!”