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Reflection #2: My Stumble Into Medical Writing – The America Connection

by Helen Fosam

I’ll start by saying a BIG THANK YOU to the members of my ‘village’ who collectively guided, supported, taught, and opened doors for me. Thank you for the undergraduate, postgraduate, and postdoc opportunities. Thank you for the faculty position I held and for the opportunity as an R&D advisor. And thank you for the successes I’ve enjoyed and continue to enjoy as a medical writer. It is as a medical writer that I began to give back to the ‘village.’

But I did not set out to be a medical writer. Please allow me to use this and the subsequent reflection to share how I stumbled upon medical writing, then freelance medical writing, and what I learned along the way. This goes back several years – actually, more like two decades. Then, I had not heard of medical writing. I did not know that being a medical writer was even a job, and less so that a whole career could be carved out of it! At that time, I was living in the UK with my family. I was exactly where I wanted to be at that point in my career and personal life. I had a great job as an R&D advisor, three beautiful children, and an amazingly supportive husband – I’ll tell you about him in another reflection. I had made plans that spanned a whole decade. Then it all changed.

One day, my husband announced that his new company had invited him to visit their headquarters in the United States to ‘meet the team.’ That he will be gone for a week. No problem, I said. I was ecstatic for him. After he returned, he announced that the company wanted him to return to the States. I guess they were impressed with what they saw. I thought the second trip would be for another week. Alas no. The weeks stretched. We communicated often by phone. And then he made the announcement. We should all relocate to the United States, he said. It’s a great opportunity, he said. My immediate reaction was a resounding NO! That would completely derail the decade-long plan I had carefully crafted. NO, I repeated. And I kept saying NO for one whole year. Perhaps stubborn fits somewhere in here. That year, I pretended to be ‘mama can do it all. Alone.’ Three small children – then five years, three years, and a year old; a full-time job and a house to manage. My husband would fly from America to England. For the weekend. To see the children and me. Fortunately, the children were too young to understand the concept of time and probably did not know that daddy was away for more than a week. But I did not have any desire to live in America. The language was the only thing I had in common with the Americans. They even drove on the wrong side of the road (and I accidentally drove on the wrong side when I first went there, but I’ll spare you the details)! I had to come to my senses, and to my senses, I did. I packed up and left the familiar behind to open a new chapter.

As I searched for jobs in my new surroundings, the opportunities that kept popping up that fitted my credentials were ‘Medical Writer.’ I must have overlooked several because I simply did not know what a medical writer did. I am familiar with ‘Medical’ and ‘Writer’ separately, but not together. I interviewed with a company, got the job, and I want to say the rest is history. I worked with the company for several years but left when an opportunity arose to work from home. What? Really? Stay at home and be paid? Those were the days when opportunities for remote working were like gold dust. Days when joining a conference call from home required you to be in business attire. Days when, while on a call, a dog barking or a baby needing their pacifier would leave you in a cold sweat. You lose focus and concentration while trying to keep the noise down. But the Covid-19 pandemic has changed all that. Although the pandemic unleashed untold devastation and misery, it has forced us to reflect and focus on the important things in life. Today, it’s perfectly fine to join a virtual business meeting in casual attire, any attire for that matter, including your sweats, complete with no makeup and uncombed hair! A baby can join or even contribute to a meeting right from the lap of his or her CEO’s mother or father. And as for the dog barking or a cat walking across your computer keyboard while a meeting is in session, endeared ‘awww’ is the reaction you’re likely to hear.

Anyway, back to when I changed my job. The new company gave me all the hardware and software I needed. Zero commutes. And I did not have to show my face or talk to anyone unless I had to. At that time, our children were still very young, the youngest a preschooler. I could meet their needs around my work schedule. My new job also fitted my personality perfectly – shy, bordering on introverted; I had no problem working in complete solitude. This was like manna from heaven. I had my cake, and I enjoyed gobbling it all up! Until I lost my job and stumbled into freelance medical writing.

Helen Fosam is the founder of the Missing Link to Improved Health Outcomes (MiLHO) Initiative. The initiative focuses on creating online continuing medical education courses for healthcare professionals in Africa. We are currently beta-testing our pilot course on type 2 diabetes. Click here to subscribe and to access the free diabetes course.

A medical writer focusing on continuing medical education, Helen has roots in pre-clinical research, in academia as a faculty member, and in the healthcare sector as an R&D adviser. She holds a Ph.D. in Physiology from Sheffield University, UK, MSc in Biochemistry from Sussex University, UK, and BSc in Biochemistry from Kent University, UK.

The MiLHO Initiative emerged from a combination of a personal medical emergency, the role CME played in that emergency, and the realization that healthcare professionals’ access to and participation in CME is critical to evidence-based patient care and their optimal health outcomes. The mission of the MiLHO Initiative is to support healthcare professionals in Africa to access relevant and affordable CME in their local settings. Join us. Together, we can make a difference. Click here to subscribe, and then forward the link to your contacts.