Walking the Tightrope: How Medical Writers Balance Deadlines and Family Life

- June 6, 2019

It is the stuff that commercials (and dreams) are made of; work from home and earn 6 figures.

Make your own schedule; work when you want! But is it really that simple? Is it realistic? Today, we’ll talk about medical writers’ working conditions and the issues that they face.

How do they maintain a good work-life balance?

Is their job stressful?

How do they keep their customers?


  1. They struggle with very tight deadlines.
  2. They feel like they don’t manage to reach a good work-life balance.
  3. They navigate between feast and famine cycles of assignments.

Here’s what three medical writers had to share

Lisa. M. working in a mid-size Clinical Research Organization:

Deadlines are stressful and I may overcommit.

Johanna Galyen, RN BSN, Freelance Medical Writer at Glowing Still:

WORKING CONDITIONS – my working conditions are what I make of them.

My family affectionately calls my office the dungeon because I’m tucked away in the basement of our home. I work when I want and around my schedule. I’m a mother of 4 children and I homeschool them as well, so I work between history and science lessons some days.

There are late nights and early mornings of work when I’m on deadline, but I prefer rearranging my schedule to meet my deadlines than having to clock-in so many hours at the hospital like I used to do.

FREELANCE CHALLENGES – Finding good clients is really hard.

I have to work for each one and it has taken me months and months to cultivate these relationships. It can be a feast of work or famine of nothing, and if you are a freelancer, you have to be ok with the fact you may not always have work. Additionally, I have to always be finding new relationships and growing them.

WORK-LIFE BALANCE – This is tough, especially when money is tight and I know I have to work to make money.

But I know my children and husband will suffer if I spend 8 hours a day hidden in my office and then get all upset when there aren’t any groceries in the refrigerator or clean laundry. I’m STILL a work-at-home mom and chores have to be done. So I have to plan and schedule out my time and be very flexible. Mostly, there comes a point that I just have to walk away from the work and know that I will pick it up later. There’s no point destroying my health.

Jill A. Freelance medical writer since 1995

Working in the US as a freelancer, my biggest problem is HEALTH INSURANCE.

I would love to retire (I’m 62), but I can’t because it costs so much. I need to work to get health insurance. How nuts is that!


I don’t feel like I have balance like that right now. As a solo practitioner, I usually have 3-4 steady clients. But those clients are not as reliable as they were in the past.

Examples: I write a newsletter about new drugs for one of them. The US government shutdown meant that no new drugs got approved between December 21, 2018 and late January 2019.

On February 20th, I got my first assignment from that client. So I had a 6-week hiatus from a steady 10-15 hours/week job due to something completely out of my control. Another client just announced a 50% cut in my budget because of financial problems. They apparently have not transitioned quickly enough from a print-based book to an online/app presence.

Here are 4 simple rules to follow to avoid such pitfalls:

Rule #1 – Don’t be ready to do anything for your clients

If working after 6 pm or weekends is not good for you (it’s actually bad for most of us!), let your clients know that they can only reach you within a specific schedule.

It can be difficult to initially set boundaries for clients, as we all want to appear available and willing to work, but good boundaries can actually make the relationship stronger. You both know what is required, and what you can offer.

You both know what is required, and what you can offer.

REMEMBER: If they have requirements as clients, you are also allowed to have requirements as service providers!

Rule #2 – Block time slots in your schedule for exercising

Your health is just as important as the health of your readers. So make sure you have set times to get away from work.

Fiona Wallace also mentioned it in her article on CRAs CRA Burnout: How Big A Problem Is It, Really?: “This tricks your stress response into down-regulation. CRAs have a sedentary lifestyle due to office work and traveling. Reduced exercise does not lower stress hormones, so the body can remain in a fight-or-flight status.”

Get up and stretch, run a mile, go out to lunch with a friend or whatever makes you happy! And never accept work in these slots!

Rule #3 – Set up an automatic response when you’re too busy

Automatic responses are not just for vacations or international travel. They are also helpful for times that you are busy with work.

Chatty (and needy) clients can interrupt you and slow you down with details that can wait. Let your clients know that you are not currently available for urgent projects or memos but that you’ll be fully available from next Thursday for example.

Rule #4 Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

We’ve all had that one client that pays really well, and it is easy to forget to be actively looking for new clients.

However, what if your preferred customer, which sends you 80% of your projects at a good rate, goes bankrupt? You’ll lose most of your income, and set you back for weeks! To avoid this painful scenario, always keep looking for other customers and don’t forget to nurture relationships with your existing clients. Big or little, they deserve your attention.

Do you know someone who might find this article interesting? Don’t hesitate to forward it to them! Let me know in the comments your thoughts about this important issue, and let’s learn together!

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Post reviewed by Johanna Galyen from Glowing Still

Written by admin