About Agnella Izzo Matic, Ph.D., CMPP: Agnella Izzo Matic is the founder and owner of AIM Biomedical, a medical writing consulting business that works with a variety of clients, including physicians, medical researchers, and healthcare companies and organizations to create and clarify their medical publications. She is a Certified Medical Publication Professional and also holds an American Medical Writers Association Essential Skills Certificate. Prior to starting her own business, Dr. Izzo Matic was an Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. She has published 21 peer-reviewed scientific publications and has presented at numerous conferences. Dr. Izzo Matic earned her Bachelor’s of Engineering in Biomedical Engineering from Vanderbilt University, and holds a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Northwestern University.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have an overview of your professional background and how you became involved in the field of medical communication?
[Dr. Agnella Izzo Matic, Ph.D., CMPP] My route to medical communications was not the most typical one. I have always loved science and math, so I went to college and graduate school for biomedical engineering, loved it, and continued on that path in a postdoctoral fellowship and then a tenure-track professor position. While I always loved the discovery of research, after a few years in the professor position, I realized that it wasn’t going to be a good fit for me for a long-term career. I knew that I still wanted to be close to science in whatever work I transitioned into, and I enjoyed and thought I was fairly good at scientific writing. So, I read up on medical writing and decided it sounded like a good enough fit that I took the plunge straight from the cushy ivory tower into freelance medical writing. I formed my business, AIM Biomedical, and have focused largely on scientific publications (manuscripts, conference abstracts, posters), as well as educational materials for healthcare providers.
[MastersinCommunications.com] As mentioned above, you were an Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology and an Instructor in Biomedical Engineering at Northwestern University before starting your own business. Could you elaborate on how your experience at Northwestern influenced your current trajectory as a medical writer who specializes in meticulously crafted medical documents and scientific publications?
[Dr. Agnella Izzo Matic, Ph.D., CMPP] When I was an Instructor in BME at Northwestern University, I supervised a laboratory section of a class and graded the laboratory reports that students generated. In addition to providing feedback on the technical aspects of the laboratories (i.e., did they perform the experiments correctly and obtain a plausible answer), I also evaluated the students’ grammar, clarity, and consistency of writing to help them improve their science writing skills. From performing my own experiments and publishing the results, I knew that I had to support everything I wrote with either my laboratory notebook or existing literature, something that I still use every day in my current work. It was clear that to succeed in academic science departments, one needed to be able to communicate their research clearly and convince their audience that it was 1) worth funding and 2) worth publishing and awarding.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For individuals who would like to work in medical writing, what advice do you have for them in terms of entering and excelling in the field? Are there certain prerequisites that you would urge prospective medical writers to have before applying for medical writing positions?
[Dr. Agnella Izzo Matic, Ph.D., CMPP] My background is in science, with an advanced degree. While this can be helpful to have to succeed in this field, I have worked with great medical writers/communicators who do not have a Ph.D./Pharm.D./M.D.; and I have also experienced the opposite, medical writers with an advanced degree who do a crummy job on a project. Besides the degrees and certifications, I would suggest that to succeed in medical writing/communications, a person should have an eye for detail, be fairly self-sufficient in finding information, and be able to accept feedback on their work in an appropriate and professional manner.
[MastersinCommunications.com] During your years in the field of medical writing and medical education, how have you seen these fields evolve? Where do you feel medical writing and communication will go in the coming years (especially in light of the ongoing pandemic), and what role will they play in medical care as well as public health initiatives?
[Dr. Agnella Izzo Matic, Ph.D., CMPP] This past year has been an interesting and challenging one for most people. Professionally, I have never been busier. There is such a heightened awareness by the general public about health and medicine that drives 1) the need to communicate clearly with the general population and 2) new findings to relay on a regular basis. In addition, I think the medical field and pharmaceutical/medical device companies have received renewed status globally. One major change I have seen related to my work is that the focus in scientific publications has shifted mostly to peer-reviewed manuscripts and away from submissions to conferences. I think the fields of scientific publications and medical communications will remain strong for a while, though they are certainly evolving–for example, with open access, preprints, machine learning, and patient-centered research and communications.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Who have been your primary professional mentors, and how have they supported your development? How important do you feel mentorship is to career growth?
[Dr. Agnella Izzo Matic, Ph.D., CMPP] In medical writing, I have been mostly self-directed and self-taught; I haven’t really had a mentor. However, I had a wonderful mentor in my Ph.D. advisor, with whom I am still close to this day. Contrary to some other professors in the BME department, he encouraged me to take classes in graduate school that satisfied my broad interests, and supported me when I decided to leave my tenure-track position for medical writing. Mentorship can be a great support for career growth at certain points and in certain ways. On the few occasions when I’m partnering with a new medical writer on a project, I try my best to support them and remain a resource for them. To get the most out of a mentorship, I think the mentee should try to define what they would like the mentor to assist with, come with a list of questions, and take an active role in the relationship.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What have been some of the principal challenges and barriers you have encountered during your career in medical communication, and how have you addressed them? What advice do you have for others facing similar challenges?
[Dr. Agnella Izzo Matic, Ph.D., CMPP] As a freelance medical writer, I think my main challenges have been building up to a steady flow of business, and then maintaining a reasonable (and not overwhelming) level of work. The former I tackled with a lot of networking, cold emailing, and responding to job advertisements. The latter I still navigate to this day with a mix of to-do lists and calendar, straightforward communication with my current and potential clients (don’t over promise on a deadline that’s not likely), and a healthy dose of flexibility and deep breathing.
[MastersinCommunications.com] You are currently a Certified Medical Publication Professional (CMPP) through the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals and hold an Essential Skills certificate from the American Medical Writers Association. How important are certifications in the field of medical writing, in your experience? How would you advise other professionals in medical communication to stay apprised of developments in their field and demonstrate their competence through certification?
[Dr. Agnella Izzo Matic, Ph.D., CMPP] I have pursued additional education and certifications in the field of medical writing/communications for my own professional development, and I would highly encourage anybody considering work as a medical writer to try some of the offerings through the major professional organizations in the field (American Medical Writers Association, International Society of Medical Publication Professionals, Board Editors in the Life Sciences, Society of Technical Communication, European Medical Writers Association, Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society, etc.). I don’t think these can ever hurt to pursue, and I see a fair number of job postings that mention a certification as a preference. In addition, becoming a member of any of the professional organizations and/or attending their conferences is a great way to stay apprised of new developments in the field.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What have been some of the most helpful professional resources and networks for you in your professional experience, and what communities and resources would you recommend others leverage either while in school or working in the medical communication industry?
[Dr. Agnella Izzo Matic, Ph.D., CMPP] The discussion forums and conferences maintained by the professional organizations mentioned above have been the most useful tools for me to interact with colleagues and stay up-to-date on news.
Thank you, Dr. Agnella Izzo Matic, for your insight into the field of medical communication!