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If you’re interested in medicine, science, and health, you may have narrowed down your career options to doctor, nurse, dentist, or physical therapist (or something along those lines). However, if you’re good with words and equally interested in perfect prose and punctuation, have you considered becoming a medical editor?
You might be wondering, but what does a medical editor do, exactly? What medical editor positions are out there? Do you need a medical editing certificate? And, importantly, what is the average medical editor salary? Read on to find out.
On top of actually diagnosing and treating patients, medical professionals also engage in research and the dissemination of medical information, breakthroughs, treatments, and case studies. And anywhere writing exists, editors have work to do. Medical editing is a sub-field of editing that relates to medical writing. Editors aren’t necessarily trained medical professionals themselves, but they often have a science background.
Medical editing jobs include proofreading (catching errors), copyediting (improving the flow of language), developmental editing (helping authors develop their ideas), or the whole production process of creating a book, journal, or website. The only prerequisites for medical editing jobs are an interest and background in medical science and good knowledge of grammar and composition.
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When you enter the world of medical editing, there are several different ways of working.
Medical Journal Editing
Medical research is usually presented to the world through academic medical journals. These are published monthly, quarterly, or annually, depending on the publication. Many of the people who work for medical journals are medical researchers and academics themselves, working with the journal as part of their academic service requirements. Some of these journals work with in-house or freelance editors to perfect the content and presentation of the research before publishing.
Medical Book Editing
Journals are where cutting-edge, timely research is published, but medical books are also needed for reference and learning purposes. Publishing houses or presses that put out these types of books may need specialist medical editors to check the text and do light fact checking.
Freelance Medical Editing
Freelance medical editors aren’t employees of medical journals or publishers but might work with them on a contract basis. Sometimes, freelance editors work directly with authors working on medical topics, helping them develop manuscripts or journal articles before they’re submitted to journals or publishers.
Medical Website Editing
When we feel ill, many of us turn to Dr. Google first. Some medical websites are more trustworthy than others, but the best ones use medical experts to inform their articles. Medical experts are rarely writers and editors, though. Many medical websites need editors—either staffers or freelancers, or both—to copyedit and proofread their content. General editors often do this work, but if you’re a specialist medical editor you will likely be better qualified—and you may enjoy it more!
With the right combination of interest and training, there are many paths that lead to a career in medical editing.
Education Needed to Become a Medical Editor
Unlike becoming a physician, you don’t need specific education or qualifications to become a medical editor. However, a degree in a science subject—particularly the biomedical sciences—is a valuable asset for a medical editor. Having a strong science background can not only make you better at your job, but it will make reading medical studies and books much more enjoyable—and understandable.
Having a master’s degree or a PhD in a science subject is also desirable. You don’t need to have worked your whole way through med school to become a medical editor. But, medical editing is still a specialist field and the clients you’re likely to work with will value and respect specialist medical knowledge.
Medical Editing Courses Online
A good way to learn the ins and outs of becoming a medical editor is to take an online course through a reputable organization. Professional editors of any kind should undertake professional development with one or more of the following organizations. These offer webinars and online courses in different aspects of medical editing:
- American Medical Writers Association
- The Editorial Freelancers Association (USA)
- ACES: The Society for Editing (USA)
- The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (UK)
- The Institute of Professional Editors Limited (Australia and New Zealand)
- Editors Canada
Medical Editor Certification
While you don’t need a specific certification to work as a medical editor, your skills and professional reputation will be enhanced if you complete training with the above-mentioned organizations, especially the AMWA, which also offer certification. Alternatively, some universities offer certificates or diplomas in editing, which can be helpful, too.
There isn’t one medical editor job description, but here are some of the ways medical editors work.
Where Medical Editors Work
Medical journals and book publishers may have full-time editorial staff. If you look for a full-time medical editing role rather than a contract or freelance role, you’re more likely to work in a traditional office environment. Some of these offices connect to or associate with universities or medical research institutes.
Medical Editor Remote Jobs
You might be able to find remote medical editing jobs from home, but if working remotely is a priority for you, freelance medical editing is likely your best option.
Medical Editor Salary
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median editor salary in 2020 as $63,400 per year. Note that this is the average for all editing salaries, not just a medical editing salary. Medical editing is a specialist field of the editing profession and medical editors can often command higher-than-average salaries because of their technical knowledge.
You don’t have to be a traditional “employee” to work as a medical editor. Freelancing is a viable career choice.
How to Get Work as a Freelance Medical Editor
If you’re still studying or work for a university or medical research facility, attending conferences and meeting the people who run medical journals or presses is one way to break into medical editing. Meeting individuals who might need their work edited is another tactic. Be prepared to introduce yourself, hand out your resume, or to send it to journals or presses.
If you’re interested in working as a freelance medical editor, you could work with companies or agencies specializing in medical and scientific writing. These companies work directly with medical and scientific authors, and subcontract editing work out to freelance editors. They often pay less than you could ask if you worked directly with authors, but this saves you the trouble of marketing yourself directly to authors.
How Much Do Freelance Medical Editors Earn?
A medical editing salary for experienced freelance medical editors has the potential to be higher than that of traditional employees. This is because in-demand and highly skilled freelance medical editors can choose who they work with, what they work on, how much work to take on, and the rates they charge.
The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) compiles an editorial rates chart every couple of years. They report medical and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) editing among the better paid categories of editing. For example, the median rate per hour for medical copyediting is $46–$50 per hour, and $41–$45 per hour for proofreading. Their reported median rates for developmental editing is $61–$70 per hour.
Keep in mind that the EFA’s rates chart is based on the rates reported by real editors, and is not a guide to what editors should be paid. It’s also a median, so there’s the potential for freelancers to earn much more than the stated average.
Jump-Start Your Medical Editing Career
If a career in medical editing sounds like it would interest you, start with general editing experience—you’ll gain skills you can use as a specialist medical editor. If you’re still studying and are majoring in a science or biomedical science subject, take any opportunity you get to learn about writing, grammar, and composition.
After that, continuing professional development is up to you, and there are plenty of resources out there for you to follow your passion. Medical science and good grammar, unite!
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