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All About Healthcare Communications

What is healthcare communications?
As the name suggestions, healthcare communications professionals are specialists in delivering health related messages, in many different ways, to a wide range of people.

Healthcare communications professionals use a multitude of channels to communicate information. These might include: events, media (social and mainstream), medical publications or digital (apps, websites, bots, AI).  A healthcare communications professional might specialise in one specific aspect of these (e.g. events) or might be involved across multiple disciplines.
What organisations undertake healthcare communications?
There are many types of organisations that need to communicate health and medical science messages.  These include:

Pharmaceutical industry:  Companies that research and develop the medicines used to prevent illness, treat and cure disease or improve the lives of those who are unwell.

Medical device companies: These organisations make the medical equipment that tests, supports, treats or helps deliver medicines to those with health-related needs.

Medical charities: Charities that support people living with specific health challenges.  Often these organisations raise money for their activity which can include funding medical research to find better treatments or ways to help those facing these health challenges.
These organisations often need additional support in undertaking their healthcare communications and there is a whole industry of healthcare communications specialist agencies that are contracted to undertake this work for them.
Types of healthcare communications
These tend to fall into these general areas:

Scientific communicationsThe communication of medical science often to healthcare professionals or other scientists.

Brand / promotional communicationsInformation about, or promotion of, medicines or medical devices.  Often these are directed at healthcare professionals (e.g. doctors, nurses, pharmacists) but can also be targeted to the public or those with specific health problems.

Patient communications:  Communications to patients may be about a specific medicine or medical device, such as how to use them, or they may be more about raising awareness of a specific health condition, such as how to spot the signs, what options are available to help.

Corporate communicationsCompanies working in the healthcare sector are often large employers, have shareholders and want to show the public they are socially responsible.  Communications play an important role in sharing information with all these audiences.
Two key job roles in healthcare communications
Project management
Typical project management role names:  Account Handler (agency), Communications Executive / Manager (within pharmaceutical or medical device company), Project Manager
This role involves the day-to-day oversight and management of all communications activity.

Medical / Scientific writing
Typical project management role names: Medical writer
The role involves producing the actual copy for use in communications activity.  This can be anything from very scientific writing, for example producing an original manuscript for submission to a medical journal, to writing a press release or copy for a patient website.
What skills / type of person are we looking for in healthcare communications?
Obviously, the skills required will vary depending on the specific role and often if you are starting out in a career employers will be looking to see if they think you have the potential rather than expecting you to show all the skills and attributes at the start. Employers will support you with on-the-job learning and specific courses to help you learn or hone the skills required. But in general, those who are successful in a healthcare communications career have the following:

Ability to communicate well
Not surprisingly, being able to communicate well is an important skill to have, whether it be in a one-to-one conversation, interview or presentation.  When starting your career, just being comfortable interacting in all these situations is what an employer will be looking for.  As healthcare communications  professionals progress in their career, through training and experience they will be constantly developing these skills.

Being organised is important as healthcare communications can be a fast moving and sometimes busy environment in which to work.  The ability to manage your time well when there are different demands is also a good skill to demonstrate.

Attention to detail
Especially in healthcare, attention to detail is an important attribute.  This may be in terms of accuracy in written communications, good note taking and listening skills or coordinating the details of an event or activity.

Work well with others (Teamwork)
Healthcare communications professionals are always working with others. Being able to interact well with others and work within teams is essential. Again, these skills will be further developed throughout your career, but you need to be somebody who enjoys working with others, listens and respects others view and opinions, if you want to be successful.

Positive, ‘can do’ attitude
Within healthcare communications there are many everyday challenges that need good thinking and problem solving.  It is a varied, rewarding and enjoyable sector to work in, but there are always times when things perhaps don’t go to plan.  Having a positive and ‘can do’ attitude is therefore key.
Do I need a healthcare / science qualification?
You certainly need to be able to understand the scientific aspects of healthcare communications and often some form of scientific qualification will help. However, there are many people working within healthcare communications without a degree and without a scientific background.  Some roles, such as medical writers, certainly need a strong medical or scientific understanding and it is not uncommon to find medical writers with science degrees, medical degrees or PhDs.

However, there are also other roles such as events management where the level of scientific understanding is much less important.  If you have a medical background or scientific qualification then you will be well placed for a healthcare communications role. However, if you do not, but are somebody who can still understand health and science then there are still many options for you in healthcare communications.