About Lauren Evoy Davis: Lauren Evoy Davis is a Freelance Medical and Wellness Writer who has founded her own company, Lauren Evoy Davis, LLC. She specializes in medical writing, health and lifestyle content, and storytelling. Prior to starting her own business, Ms. Evoy Davis worked for several years in the field of oncology and medical health writing. She was an Editorial Manager for the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), where she oversaw the writing and publication of the book ASCO-SEP, 2nd Edition, managed the creation of news content and the ASCO Annual Report, and was the head writer for ASCO’s membership magazine. In addition, she worked as the Senior Website Manager for ASCO’s business website and associated boutique sites.
Ms. Evoy Davis has also freelanced for several medical and oncology organizations, including OncoTherapy Network and Cancer Therapy Advisor. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Elon University and her Master of Arts in Journalism and Public Affairs from American University.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have an overview of your professional background and how you first got involved in the field of medical communication?
[Ms. Evoy Davis] Back when I was doing my undergraduate program, I went to Elon College (now Elon University) in North Carolina, a tiny little school, I was an English major and minored in Sociology. I always wanted to be doing something around storytelling, as that was where my passion was. When I got into the workforce, this was the advent of personal computers and email. I noticed that websites had terrible copy, but when I applied for jobs, they were always looking for somebody who could do coding and not writing. This whole idea of being a copy writer for the web didn’t quite click yet with employers. I ended up working for several computer companies. I was a technical writer for a while, writing manuals and online instructional content. It is good work and pays well, but I just didn’t have a passion for it.
A few years into my career I went back to college at American University in Washington D.C. and I got a journalism degree. They had a master’s program where you could go all day Saturdays. I did an 18-month program. After that I got a job at a technical magazine, but I was starting to realize that my passion was around health, medicine, and science. I figured that out by asking myself, “What am I looking at online? What am I reading online or when I get the newspaper?”
I found the American Society of Clinical Oncology, a cancer nonprofit in Alexandria, Virginia where I lived at the time. I applied for a writer/editor job, got an interview, and they hired me. This was in 2006. Initially, I was their writer/editor for the membership magazine. They are very active and busy with about 40,000 members. I began with writing for the membership magazine and then discovered they had all sorts of other business needs. Throughout my career there, I was able to work in different capacities using my editorial, writing, and management skills in the 13 years I worked for them.
I have a passion for oncology because cancer touches most families at some point. It’s one of those things that you can relate to, and most people experience it through either a friend or a family member. Even though my communication was for a physician audience, I learned a lot of information that we used for the lay readers and for patients.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we have some examples of medical communication publications you have written? What have been some highlights and milestones of your career, and how did you achieve them?
[Ms. Evoy Davis] When I was head writer for the ASCO membership magazine, I took a maternity leave and when I came back, they needed the managing editing role to be filled after that person left the position for another company. I was then Managing Editor for the membership magazine.
At the same time, they also had a need for an update to their educational, self-evaluation book for doctors. This book was basically what oncologists who were preparing for their board exams might use to study. In a short time, I went from writer to managing editor of a magazine to project managing an educational book.
The book had about 20 chapters; each was written by an individual physician based on their cancer expertise–for example, breast cancer specialists wrote about breast cancer. We also had a team of medical editors who read the chapters to make sure they were medically correct. I also had a team of people who were doing the general editorial side. They made sure the references were correct, facts and figures were fact-checked, and we’d received the requisite permissions on figures. That project was a very big undertaking for me – going from light-hearted, “What’s happening in the membership?” to “Here’s something you need to study in order to pass your boards.” It was incredibly challenging and it was a huge hit, the biggest seller for this nonprofit. I’m glad I did it and I was terrified of getting something incorrect. It was very different from anything I had done in the past.
I took time off for family matters and was freelancing, though still working for the same nonprofit. They had contracted me to write a series of articles on ‘Luminaries in Oncology’ for their 50th anniversary. I got to interview men and women in their 80s who were at the forefront of oncology treatment. Leukemia for example: 40 years ago, 90% of the children did not make it and now it’s a 90% cure rate. It’s really exciting to talk with people who had experienced trauma losing so many young patients and now being at the other end of their career looking back and saying, “We had so much success!” Now things are moving really fast with cancer pathways and different cell therapies harnessing the power of our immune system. It was a very exciting time to see and write about the speed at which cancer care is evolving.
During the time I was freelancing, I also worked for an obstetrics and gynecology doctor in Washington, D.C. That’s when I started to expand outside of cancer care. I was a ghost writer for this doctor on his blog. I wrote about women’s healthcare across the health continuum. Issues for women in their early 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. Some information was cancer-related and some were issues we don’t usually talk about and that women need more information about. It was an educational opportunity.
[MastersinCommunications.com] You talked about what drew you to medical writing and how you grew into your current role as a freelance writer. What topics do you write about frequently in your freelance work?
[Ms. Evoy Davis] Right now I’m blogging a lot and I just launched a podcast. I’m excited to be talking about other areas in wellness. I’m a mom of young girls, I like to go to the gym now – something I never wanted to do before. I’m thinking about how to keep my bones strong. I’m thinking about how to stay healthy so I can keep up with all the activities that my family and I have to do. I also want to be able to model good health and good behavior. The expansion outside oncology gives me the opportunity to explore the topics around healthy eating and exercise, getting outside, and letting your kids get dirty.
I’m excited, there is so much going on in wellness; science-based wellness. People are espousing a lot of non-scientifically-based wellness ideas. I like things that are evidence-based because I’ve been in science and in cancer care. Maybe a specific diet is or isn’t a way to maintain good health but if it’s not backed by many scientists, and just anecdotally, that’s not something I want to promote or explore in my writing.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Throughout your professional journey, what skills and knowledge have helped you most in your career and how did you build this toolkit?
[Ms. Evoy Davis] Having been a manager, I realized I do have skills that transfer that I can offer people. One that has been a surprising challenge is that I have this public role, especially with podcasting. I was a very, very shy kid and it’s taken me years to, as my former boss would say, “Fake it ‘til you make it.”
That involved taking Toastmasters classes they offered at my job during the lunch hour and doing public speaking. It’s a lot of people’s least favorite thing and biggest fear. It has been a lot of practice, practice, practice for me to come out of that.
Being a big reader is a cornerstone. I’m not sure you can be a great writer if you’re not a big reader. I love storytelling. I started podcasting in 2018, as it was a business need. I had no practice, I just jumped right in. I was pretty bad. I listened and practiced; it was one of those things where you need to get out of your comfort zone.
That’s the crux of it – getting out of your comfort zone. In order to grow, we have to challenge ourselves. I’m at that point in my career where I wonder what’s left? What should I do? I don’t want to be a CEO; I didn’t even want to be a Director. I’m very happy being the worker bee. I enjoy managing people but I don’t enjoy managing processes. Now I’m very happy coming full circle being the content creator.
[MastersinCommunications.com] You earned your Bachelor’s in English and your Master’s in Journalism, how much of your education has influenced your career path and your skill set.
[Ms. Evoy Davis] Undergraduate was a different kind of writing; I went from short story to rhetoric. The journalism program was telling other people’s stories and then getting little gems from people and knowing, “There’s your quote.”
I enjoy eliciting, pulling information from other people, and hearing what they have to say. Interviewing doctors who are used to being interviewed all the time, they often have a little script so they made it easy. They have something important they want to say or a technology or therapy that they have been working on for so many years they have the elevator speech.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What suggestions do you have for students and professionals in the field of medical writing, regarding how to connect with mentors and foster those relationships?
[Ms. Evoy Davis] I would start with Human Resources and ask; do you have a mentoring program? How can I get involved?
I think things like Toastmasters, whether it’s in your organization for free or you have to go pay for it outside your organization, are hugely helpful. When they counted my verbal crutches for how many times I said “uh,” I was astounded. I knew they existed but until someone took notes and said, “You said ‘uh’ 12 times in a minute.” Learning that it’s okay to be silent. That was tricky.
If you’re in grad school or seeking grad school, I would also ask your professors. I’m sure that they would know folks who might not teach a course but who have valuable information they can share about their professional experiences. Or, the library. Honestly, librarians have lots of knowledge about things like that.
I also feel like in your community, you never realize that people you live next door to may know something or someone who could help you. It’s important to reach out to people you know in your civic or religious organizations. There’s probably somebody who could help you do those things.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Do you feel that there were any challenges or barriers to you entering any phase of your career, in terms of the opportunities and/or resources you could access? If so, what were they and how did you address or overcome them?
[Ms. Evoy Davis] In medical communication, because you’re often trying to get a hold of doctors, it’s usually time. The doctors I was trying to interview were treating patients or maybe doing research, going to conferences, writing papers, trying to get published, and presenting. They also have families and may have hobbies too. If they can’t get back to you and you have a deadline, that’s a challenge. Be understanding because they’re running circles around the rest of us and they’re making time to talk to you.
Learning the medical jargon is another challenge. It’s not a language you speak. Be curious, ask questions – there are no dumb questions. If someone makes you feel dumb, they may not be the best source. That was rare, as everyone I spoke to was very generous.
Another challenge was coming out of college with an English degree, but not really having any business skills. I sort of fell into technical writing. I was frustrated because that wasn’t the writing I wanted to do. I was applying to jobs and wasn’t getting anywhere.
When I found the journalism program at American University, I thought, “This seems like a sideward step. I’m already an English major. How different is journalism?” But I really hadn’t done journalism writing. I had already been working for several years. I met others at that time in their early career and I got to see what they were frustrated about and what they wanted to do to shift gears.
I would say, maybe it was just the time and place, or maybe if I had a mentor, I would have had a better sense of the direction to go next. I found that program by accident and that was a happy accident. I knew what I wanted to do but I couldn’t find it – the job title didn’t exist yet.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you like to give to other professionals in medical communication about staying apprised of developments in that area? On a related note, what communities and resources would you recommend that others leverage either while in school or while working?
[Ms. Evoy Davis] I still review the Journal of Clinical Oncology. I’m always looking at Science Daily. I’m looking at every Scientific American, and anything online that has to do with health and science. Also science and technology because now they’re married, like AI and Deep Learning. I think that it’s very important to read PubMed for particular topics.
I look at social media, and I try to stay active on Twitter. I’m not prescribing people stay active on any particular social media platform but I happen to follow a lot of doctors and medical people on there to see what they’re talking about with each other. I’m sort of a fly on the wall.
The short answer is, “Stay curious.” Everything affects everything. In medical communication, it’s interdependent on all these other factors.
I’m a member of the American Medical Writers Association. It’s important to be active in these organizations. I feel like networking is important online and in person. I’m active on LinkedIn. There are some freelance medical writing groups that people have gotten me into.
It’s important to talk to people you know, that you see every day at the library, at the grocery. Tell them, “I have this cool new opportunity, and I wonder if you know anybody who would need a writer.” Depending on how far you are in your career, especially early on, do any kind of writing. If you want to be a medical writer but you have a friend who needs a resume re-written, help them. See what best practices are for resume writing. You could help them get a job.
Use your skill set in any way. You can’t be a great writer if you’re not a big reader, and writing is as important as reading. Even if you have a blog that no one reads, write on it as often as you can just to keep in practice and keep yourself sharp. I also say the old letter writing art should never die. Write somebody a letter. Keep communicating in every which way.
Thank you, Ms. Lauren Evoy Davis, for your insight into the medical communication field and your advice for future generations of communication professionals!