From lab scientist to a career in medical writing: KCL alumnus Leon’s story

Thinking about a career in medicine outside the lab? Have you thought about how your knowledge, attributes, skills and experiences, could apply to the path of a medical writer? If so… then Leon’s case study is one you don’t want to miss!

Leon smilingLeon graduated with a Master’s in Pharmacy degree from King’s College London in 2011 and qualified as a pharmacist in 2012. He practised as a locum pharmacist in 2012–2014, completed a Master’s of Research (MRes) degree in Nanomedicine at University College London in 2013, and a PhD in Nanoscience at The University of Manchester in 2018. Following a short post-doc at The University of Manchester, Leon transitioned out of academia and began his career as a medical writer on the allegro programme at Ashfield Healthcare Communications. One of the great things about medical writing is that you meet people with diverse life sciences backgrounds.


What made you decide on a new career path within medicine?

Prior to becoming a medical writer, I was an enthusiastic lab-based scientist. During my post-doc, I realised that despite being invigorating and great fun, long hours in the lab were not suited to my evolving life goals and priorities. Nonetheless, I wanted to continue my career as a scientist and apply the knowledge and skills that I had accumulated over the years, particularly in the publication and communication of science, and still be able to grow my knowledge base. Medical communications (medcomms) seemed to be the right fit and satisfied my criteria, by allowing me to continue my career as a scientist and to balance this with other non-work aspects of life that were becoming increasingly important.


What is life science communications anyway?

Life science communications is the communication of cutting-edge life science research findings in a highly professional, accessible and far-reaching manner that enables a target audience (such as: patients, carers, nurses, pharmacists and doctors), to appreciate, learn from, and adapt their approach, if appropriate. Having studied pharmacy and practised for a few years, I am passionate that patients should get up-to-date information and care that is based on the latest research. As a medical writer, I am part of this process.


How did you find out about medical communications as a career path?

I attended a few career fairs and panel talks in search of non-lab but high-calibre roles for scientists. In these settings, I stumbled across medcomms as a career path. Then, I secured a job as an associate medical writer on the allegro programme at Ashfield Healthcare Communications; this decision has turned out to be the right one for me.

Close up of glass beakers sitting on a white desk
Photo by Hans Reniers on Unsplash

What was it like starting up in this industry?

On getting my first role in medcomms, I felt that there was much to learn in terms of the structure of the industry, and the processes and regulations that underlie all aspects of the work. It became obvious to me and all those who started with me, that we needed to develop our writing and communication skills to a professional level. Thankfully, I enrolled in Ashfield Healthcare Communications’ allegro programme. This consisted of a year’s training as an associate medical writer, involving two months of class room-style teaching by industry experts, and two five-month training placements, on live projects, under the supervision of experienced writers, senior writers and scientific directors. This allowed me to experience a smooth transition from academia to industry. My experience of medcomms from the start until now is that people are friendly and supportive. Despite the high pace, dynamic and challenging nature of the work, I am able to maintain a good work-life balance.


What do the words ‘career journey’ mean to you?

For me, “career journey” means the route you take in your professional life that is shaped by your passions, interests, and enjoyments. Like any journey, it evolves and changes, and may involve multiple paths. Other than continuing to build my knowledge in medicine and medical research, my career in medical writing has allowed me to dedicate time to passions outside of work. It has allowed me enough time to explore spirituality, spend time with loved ones, keep fit and travel, while at the same time learn new skills and progress and excel in a fulfilling career.


Do you have any tips for students interested in working in life science communications?

Applying for your first position in medcomms can be quite tough. There can be a lot of competition and you may be required to undertake pre-interview and interview assessments but be persistent and you will eventually get an opportunity, as this is a rapidly growing and expanding industry.

Try to broaden your experience of medcomms, for example by getting involved in science outreach, e.g. as a STEM ambassador, or by writing in science blogs for your university. Sign up to medcomms societies like “MedComms Networking” to receive all the recent updates. Make sure your CV is high quality, with no typos and formatted well. And finally, don’t be afraid to connect with medical writers on LinkedIn. I know that the programme directors for allegro and many of the allegro alumni are happy to connect with people who are interested in the industry.