Why & How Nurse Writers Should Specialize
My situation is different from other freelance nurse writers, in that I was a writer first, then a nurse, and now I’m back to writing. I didn’t get a nursing degree in order to write; that’s just the way life worked out.
When I came back to freelancing on a full-time basis in 2009, I was a generalist. That is to say I wrote about anything and everything in all types of media. A few of my niche topics were antiques, collecting and history. I wrote articles, and I also produced corporate marketing materials for an array of clients.
I resisted specializing in health or healthcare writing because I was afraid of losing out on opportunities. This is a common fear among new freelance writers. If you say you specialize in consumer health articles with subject matter expertise in oncology, aren’t you possibly losing out on the chance to write, say, web copy for a pediatric hospital (which you’re more than capable of doing)? I mean, the pediatric hospital won’t even approach you with the opportunity if you say you’re an onc writer, right?
Specializing makes you more valuable as a writer
Being a cautious person, I gradually transitioned over to writing exclusively about health and wellness. After I committed 100% to my specialty, I discovered my thinking had been wrong-headed from the start. As a health and wellness specialist, I command more respect and, hence, am more valuable to my clients. I’m a subject matter expert in several clinical specialties, including dementia. As a subject matter expert, I bring in-depth knowledge to the table — knowledge my clients can instantly tap to their benefit. That’s worth something.
And it’s not an intangible benefit, either. Clients who want my specialized knowledge are willing to pay for it. That’s the number one reason you should specialize as a nurse-writer.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my friend Kelly James-Enger’s book Ready, Aim Specialize! here. I highly recommend this book because it offers an in-depth approach on how to specialize.
Kelly focuses on specializing by type of writing, and that is the first topic I’m going to cover, too.
Specialize based on type of writing
I’ve already talked about how you can work as a freelance journalist or a freelance corporate/content writer. Of those two general types of writing, corporate writing lends itself better to specialization.
Within the scope of corporate writing, you could decide to specialize in many, many types of writing:
- White papers
- Case studies
- Web content
- PR materials (press releases, etc.)
- Ghostwriter for books
- Editing for executives
Those are broad categories within the umbrella of ‘corporate writing.’ Now let’s narrow that down even further to what you could call ‘corporate healthcare writing.’ You might specialize in:
- Patient education
- Provider education
- Provider relations materials
- Patient communications (newsletters, wellness information)
- Web copy
Again, this list represents only a few types of healthcare writing you might consider specializing in.
Specialize based on disease, condition or clinical expertise
As a nurse-writer, you have the knowledge and/or background to carve out a nice niche in any of zillions of topic areas. Here are a few that come to mind:
- Women’s health
- Cosmetic surgery
- Public health
- Healthcare policy
- Mother-baby wellness
- Men’s health
- Mental health
The list goes on and on. If you have special expertise in a particular nursing discipline, I urge you to consider specializing in it. If you’ve worked in inpatient psych for 20 years, you’re far ahead of the competition when it comes to how you compare to other writers in the mental health space. Make sense?
How to determine your area(s) of specialization
You don’t need to limit yourself to one area of specialty, though if you start claiming to specialize in 10 topics then it kind of defeats the purpose of ‘specializing.’ So how can you narrow that list down?
To help you focus on a specialty, I suggest you take into account a few factors:
- Where do your interests lie?
- What type of writing is your voice best suited to?
- What’s hot in the market right now?
- What’s going to be hot in the market in the future?
Looking a little closer at point number two, I want to add some people have a friendly writerly voice or tone that naturally lends itself to, for example, patient communication. Other writers have a more formal voice that may be better suited to specialties like grantwriting or provider relations. If you try to match your voice to a particular type of writing, you may find more success (and less editing!).
I think the most important aspect of specializing lies in your personal interests. Don’t write about pediatric oncology if you find the subject matter difficult. Don’t decide to specialize in writing white papers if the process turns you off.
As a freelance nurse-writer, you have maximum freedom to truly pursue your deepest passions. To paraphrase Confucius: “Write what you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” I find that to be true, and I hope you do too.
Please don’t forget to post your questions in the comment section. I’ll be answering them in one big post later this month. And don’t forget to subscribe to this blog by using the form at right. Each new post will be delivered to your inbox as it’s published. What could be easier?
Wishing you well!
Image via Chris Potter