Free Online Courses to Enhance Your Medical Writing Career

by Leigh Matthews on March 16, 2013

free online courses to enhance your medical writing careerWhen you work for yourself and are continually pitching, proposing, bidding and, finally, writing, it can seem that there’s never enough time to dedicate to ongoing professional development. Working as a medical writer, it is easy to become complacent. You’re always reading the latest studies on heart attack prevention through diet, or how Lyme disease is at the centre of another legal controversy but are you just shallow-diving into all these areas and then core-dumping that information when it doesn’t prove immediately useful? I know I’m guilty of this, which is why I’m making time to really delve into some topics to increase the depth as well as the variety of my knowledge.

Learning as Marketing?

Maybe, like me, you’re a writer who loves to learn and then loves to pass on that newfound information to others. What happens, then, when your workload stops you from really learning anything new for more than ten minutes before it passes through your brain to make space for the next thing? Just as you allocate time for marketing activity and networking to promote your freelance writing career (if you don’t, you should!) it is important to set aside time to study and time to consolidate that learning experience.

Education, Empowerment and Freelance Writing Success

If you need more motivation than simple self-improvement, take into account the idea that clients may present themselves to you as a result of your attendance of a class. Maybe you mention your excitement over your course on Twitter or Facebook and someone gets in touch to find out more. Perhaps you take up a volunteer position with a local organisation to use your new skills and, from there, you meet a whole network of people you would never otherwise have connected with. At the very least, learning something new is empowering and can dramatically increase your confidence when sending out proposals to potential clients or responding to a call for pitches. If you don’t believe your knowledge is up-to-date and relevant then why should your clients believe in you?

free online courses for freelance writers

Free Online Classes from Reputable Institutions

Not all courses have to be taken in person and, in fact, some of the best available are online through services like Coursera, who I adore. Last year I took a class on ‘Modern Poetry’ through Coursera, largely for my own pleasure but also to reassure myself that I still retained something of what I learnt in my first degree (English/Philosophy). This gave me a much-needed boost as it’s sometimes hard to find confidence in your abilities and knowledge when the daily workload relies on quick research and similar writing styles that are, dare I say it, non-literary. When writing for the web it is important to know your reader and work at their level of knowledge. In practice, this means that I rarely use much of my vocabulary and feel it stagnating, atrophying, becoming moribund.

Online Courses for Health Writers

Interacting with literature students elbow deep in post-modern poetics may not be your thing but you’re sure to find something on Coursera that tickles your freelancer’s fancy. Other courses I’ve taken include ‘Writing in the Sciences’ and ‘Aboriginal Worldviews,’ and I’ve signed up for a course on ‘The Science of Gastronomy’ along with ‘Nutrition, Health and Lifestyle: Issues and Insights’ and even a course on dogs’ reproductive health because I did some work recently for a client in the field of veterinary health and want to be prepared should more work be forthcoming! The schools that are signed up to teach these courses are well-respected educational establishments, including Johns Hopkins, Stanford and even my local school, the University of British Columbia.

Medical Learning Modules for CPD

Aside from Coursera, I also spend time studying the modules available through Medscape.Students, which may be available to those of you who are or were students of medicine recently. The British Medical Journal also has an abundance of learning resources that are fantastic (and free if you sign in with an academic institution or have an Athens or Shibboleth account). You don’t need to fully attend these online courses and complete all assignments on time to get the benefits from them. If you want to, then, that’s great but I find that some weeks I can get ahead on a couple of modules and other weeks I’ve missed assigment deadlines so I don’t do the courses for certification, just for the learning experience as it fits in with my changing schedule.

Other Free Online Learning Opportunities

Last year I signed up to the Khan Academy and, briefly, became rather obsessed with working out algebra problems. There’s something intensely satisfying about getting a great big tick for an unambiguously right answer when you’ve spent the day deciding between the words ‘change’ and ‘revolution’ for some marketing copy. The Khan Academy is a fun distraction from work that allows you to learn a whole raft of things in a really easily-tracked and fun way. It’s designed largely for kids but I’m pretty sure your quadratic equations and use of the past-perfect tense needs brushing up a little so check it out. is another online course provider, this time a lot less academic but, arguably, more varied and fun! The kinds of courses you’ll find here are more focused on marketing, software development and new media rather than classical poetry or cultural studies. As you can log in with Facebook there’s the chance for some stealth marketing as the app. can post your course updates to your wall for everyone to see how studious you’re being.

Ideas to Socialise the Isolated Freelancer!

If you’re sick of being at home in front of your computer every day and are craving some human contact then check out your local community centres and schools for classes and you might be surprised to see the array if courses available. Vancouver also has a burgeoning Trade School movement where you barter for classes with things like coffee beans and books. I’m even considering teaching a course later this year if I can drum up the confidence!

As a freelancer it can be hard to break out of the daily cycle of pitch-work-pitch-work and, unlike those employed by a company, no one is going to ship you off to a course and carry out Continuing Professional Development checks. That is, no one except you. Enhance your medical writing career with free online courses so you stay relevant, feel more confident and approach your written commissions with renewed vigour.

Did I miss any fabulous online learning resources for medical writers? Let me know in the comments section below and don’t forget to follow theInkWell on Facebook for more tips for enhancing your writing career.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Natalie Willcox December 14, 2013 at 2:49 pm

To Leigh Matthews,

Since undertaking a Nutrition course for pleasure, I have discovered pure enjoyment in doing the research and assignments more so than the actual subject. Is there such a skill in someone who likes putting information into their own words. I think maybe words that are written I find easier to relate as the English language is sometimes confusing to speak. Is it possible to recommend introduction courses in research and writing that is online and affordable?

Natalie Willcox


Moumi Das April 9, 2015 at 11:58 pm

Coursera courses are the best


Sivaramakrishnan Vembalore December 8, 2016 at 8:40 pm

Send details of medical writing course and certification


Sivaramakrishnan Vembalore December 8, 2016 at 8:42 pm

I am a retired doctor from India living in Sydney.I need guidance for medical writing
Dr VRS Krishnan


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