Dr. Stéphanie Heyraud

Describe your education and training.
I did my undergraduate degree in biochemistry at the University of Burgundy (Dijon, France). Then I moved to Grenoble (yep, still in France) where I studied viruses during my MSc and vascular biology during my PhD. Finally, I moved to this beautiful city—i.e. Toronto—for a 4+ year postdoctoral fellowship in immunology at UHN.

What is a Medical Writer?
The title “Medical Writer” harbours lots of different jobs under its umbrella, in fields as diverse as Regulatory Affairs, Continuing Medical Education, Grant Proposal Writing, Medical Communication, Advertisement and Patient Education. I work in Patient Education, creating resources for patients and their family. I use plain language and avoid medical jargon so they can understand diseases, treatments and procedures. And since I speak French, I also manage the French version of our website.

What is a typical day like for you?
Half of the time I research and write about topics either chosen by our team or brought to us by clinicians or members of the hospital staff. It is like writing a short review: I perform searches on PubMed and other databases, I read some specialized books and I even interview patients, doctors and nurses if needed. I spend the rest of my time managing the French web site: I coordinate our translation workflow; I make sure the French translations make sense; I liaise with our translation vendors.

What is the best part of your job?
I have the feeling that I am finally doing something that matters. We help people in their everyday struggle with their disease; we answer their questions; and we make science and medicine understandable. The results are tangible and rewarding.

What do you wish you could change about your job?
Writing is an individual task. At times, it is only me and my computer all day and it can feel lonely.

Any advice for trainees interested in pursuing a career in this field?
My first and most obvious advice: make sure you like writing or you’ll hate every single minute on the job. Plus, there is no “medical writing” degree per se—only your experience will speak for itself. To gain more experience, try and write your own fellowship applications, volunteer to write your PI’s grant proposals, draft your articles and write pieces for newsletters and internal newspapers like this one. Take writing classes while you are still affiliated to your university. Gather every single paper you wrote in a portfolio to showcase your writing skills. It doesn’t hurt to develop other soft skills such as organization, interpersonal or oral communication skills. For instance, volunteer to help your institute’s organizing annual events. Also, be nice to people. You will not only grow in popularity but also increase your network. And network matters. A lot.