Medical Editing – an Alternative Career

ONLINE POST in ENGLISH, commissioned | AMP Student 2016;15

Many medical students don’t realize that studying medicine can prepare them for career paths that go beyond clinical medicine. I discovered studentBMJ early in my medical school years, at a time when the journal was recruiting an international team of medical student advisers. That allowed me to start working regularly with the editors at the time, to write and to review articles, and even attend editorial meetings in London.

A 2 month paid internship at the BMJ Editorial offices called the Clegg Scholarship ensued, and against all my expectations, I ended up as the first non-British editor of the studentBMJ the week after I graduated from the University of Lisbon. Looking back now, this all seems to have happened naturally, but it all developed out of a deep and longstanding interest in the way scientific information is communicated and understood. I often wondered how come certain concepts could be so well explained in certain medical textbooks but sometimes so poorly conveyed in lectures. Sometimes, it would be the other way around. I partly became increasingly engaged with studentBMJ during medical school due to the clarity of its articles and the unexplainable “pulling power” it had and still has to draw the reader in like if it was the most exciting novel.

Working as editor of the studentBMJ was my online post 8.2first job, but nevertheless I was not motivated enough at the time to remain the UK and decided to come back to Portugal and start the conventional postgraduate training ladder. I ended up training as a GP / family physician, partly I think because of the influence working at the BMJ, which is aimed at a general readers rather than specialists, had on me, but also because of working with editors at the BMJ who were also practicing GP’s and seemed to be so passionate about the profession.

Despite working full time as a GP in Portugal, and continuing to keep my hand in medical journalism through freelance work for The BMJ and other journals, I would often think back of the unforgettable time I spent at the BMJ and which changed my vision of medicine and the world. Despite the possibility of stable and secure employment as a GP in Portugal, I still decided to embrace uncertainty and adventure by relocating to the UK once again to join the BMJ’s formal training program for medical editors (the editorial registrar fellowship) and see where that would take me. I was quite fortunate because I didn’t realize the year I became editorial registrar would be the last year where the position would be open to doctors from outside the UK. After completing the fellowship, I have remained until now working for The BMJ’s research team alongside an extremely gifted and inspiring team of  clinical editors from all over the world.

The UK is probably one of only a handful of countries around the world where it is possible to make a career out of medical editing, given that it has formal training programs in medical editing and vast resources, but I usually tell younger colleagues that it should ideally be seen as a complement rather than a replacement of a career in clinical medicine, and I made it a point to return to clinical practice the fellowship. After all, remaining in active clinical practice helps improves the critical appraisal process of papers and understanding whether, for example, a study is relevant or not to help improve the decision making of clinicians. On the other hand, the work in medical editing keeps us extremely up to date and at the cutting-edge of knowledge and that in turn is very important to help us remain sharp clinicians.

A career in medical editing can be fun, stimulating, and sometimes has a creative element to it which often lacks in clinical medicine. I sometimes wonder that it would have been so much easier for me in many ways to have pursued a more linear, proper clinical career. But I feel I have gained knowledge and skills that are potentially transferable and otherwise would be hard to acquire, whilst still getting to continue to see patients even if in a more limited way. Moreover, we only live once, isn’t it?


Further information:

Kamran Abbasi: Twenty five years of The BMJ’s editorial registrar scheme (accessed 11th May 2016)

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