About Nidhi Parekh, B.Sc.: Nidhi Parekh is the Founder and head writer of The Shared Microscope, a writing consultancy that is dedicated to educating the public about important medical and health issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic. During her time at the helm of The Shared Microscope, Ms. Parekh has worked on a variety of content projects concerning digital health technologies, biotechnology, women’s health, obesity and diabetes, and rare diseases. Additionally, she has taught numerous workshops and lectured on the topic of science communication at several universities internationally, including the University of Rochester, the University of Minnesota, and McMaster University.
Prior to starting her own business, Ms. Parekh worked at the law firm BLM LLP, where she worked on legal cases concerning occupational diseases. She received her Bachelor of Science in Biomedicine from the University of East Anglia in Norwich.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have an overview of your professional background and how you became involved in the field of science and medical communication? Could you elaborate on your academic training in Biomedicine, Biology, and Law, and how you combined these fields in your past work at BLM LLP, your work with clients such as Kaplan Nursing and Johnson & Johnson, and in your current role as Founder and Lead Researcher and Writer for The Shared Microscope?
[Nidhi Parekh, B.Sc.] My entry into the field of science and medical communication is slightly convoluted–as is the case for many people in the field. All my life, I wanted to be a doctor and to this day, would love to study medicine. However, for various reasons I won’t get into here, I chose to study Biomedicine at the University of East Anglia, Norwich (UK), instead. While I was there, I had a newfound interest in the field of law, with the idea that I will work on cases within the pharmaceutical industry. At that point in my life, I was interested in Intellectual Property law and saw myself working for/against drug companies.
After I completed my degree in Biomedicine, I applied to various internships and eventually landed a 3-month internship with UroPharma Limited – a company making urinary catheters. Here, I was exposed to the area of law, medicine, and regulatory affairs. I was also involved in writing standard operating procedures, conducting research, and writing literature reviews and articles that would circulate within the company internally. Looking back, this was perhaps my real introduction to the area of science writing. I loved the internship and changed career paths–studied law–to build a career in the field.
I realized (a little too late), that my ideal law clients were located in the United States, while I was in the United Kingdom. Eventually, though, I found my little niche within the field of law and worked as an occupational disease paralegal at BLM LLP for 2+ years. Here, I combined my interest in the field of biomedicine and law and worked on the biggest occupational disease cases in the UK. The legal field together with my prior science knowledge honed my communication skills. I learned to talk the talk and walk the walk–but my mind often wandered to studying medicine. Even more so, because most of my job included reading through medical records and picking out relevant bits and bobs of medical history for our cases.
While at the law firm, my manager asked me to write some articles for our internal communications. One of the articles was about the effects of vaping on the body, and how this may potentially affect legal cases going forward. I also authored similar articles on the effects of obesity on the body. Overall, this better prepared me for a career in science writing, but again, I didn’t think much of it. Currently, one of my biggest clients is an immigration law firm based in Los Angeles, California, for whom I write various documents to translate the technical and scientific research that scientists undertake. This is just to say, I don’t believe any of my experiences are “wasteful”–in fact, quite the opposite–my unique skills can be in high demand in the United States and globally.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we have more information about The Shared Microscope, including the story of its inception and the COVID-19 resource center and newsletter you built as part of this online publication? Could you elaborate on the other types of writing projects you have worked on as the Founder of this company?
[Nidhi Parekh, B.Sc.] My work at the law firm (BLM) exposed me to medical health records for a number of claimants. Given my analytical skills, I found a lot of rather disturbing trends within these medical records: people with a limited understanding of blood sugar levels, people who started smoking at the age of 6, people struggling to understand why they weren’t being prescribed antibiotics for the common flu, and more. Overall, I realized and stumbled upon the issue of health literacy.
While I was working at BLM, I also had my own run-in with hospital appointments–a breast cancer scare! Having a strong background in science and medicine, I realized that for (mainly) cultural reasons I was still hesitant about visiting the doctor to get the lumps on my breast checked. The problem of health literacy was convoluted, and staring me right in the face.
After my scare, I decided to start blogging about some health issues and explaining seemingly basic science in layman’s terms–what is a gene? What is health literacy? What is a cell? What is “sugar” for a diabetic? Of course, when I started, I didn’t think much of it as a career. I just followed a passion wholly unaware that it could become a full-time, thriving business. A couple of months into inconsistently blogging about science and health, I saw a flurry of reports covering COVID-19–is it just the flu?
I decided to jump on the bandwagon super early and started writing consistently about the pandemic in February 2020. In fact, I had written up in-depth articles about how the top COVID-19 vaccines work before mainstream media had had a chance to cover it. My articles reached a readership of about 30,000 people during the height of the pandemic. This was all super new to me, and honestly, I LOVED IT! Because of the overwhelmingly positive response to my articles, I decided to write a weekly newsletter on the COVID-19 vaccines, because personally, it was so hard for me to keep up with all the updates coming out every week! I ended up making a resource to help other people keep up with the developments too!
By January, I knew I loved doing what I was doing throughout the pandemic, and decided it was time to quit my job. I moved swiftly: quit my job, incorporated my company (with The Shared Microscope being my trading name), and took the work I was doing more seriously (as opposed to just blogging about stuff inconsistently). I immediately started reaching out to companies I would’ve liked to work with. What started as a blog quickly turned into a full-fledged small business.
As for how I get clients? I do a variety of things and have some ideas in the works. Here’s what has worked for me so far–creating content that brings people to my website, using platforms like Upwork (although I don’t recommend working solely on there), reaching out to past employers, applying to part-time/freelance jobs via job sites like Indeed and LinkedIn, and finally, networking. Lots and lots of networking! In fact, I’ve been building a network of science and health communicators via #SciCommChat, a free, weekly chat that takes place every Wednesday at 6 pm GMT. Give the chat a follow on Twitter @SciComm.Club. Feel free to join us next week or the week after (here’s a link to everything you need to know to join in on #SciCommChat).
[MastersinCommunications.com] What communication principles do you believe underpin all science and medical communication, whether they are about COVID-19, diabetes, asthma, obesity, or other community health issues? How can communication professionals create educational content that is at once easy to understand (yet without sacrificing important medical nuances) and actionable?
[Nidhi Parekh, B.Sc.] Some principles that I think underpin all science and medical communications include storytelling, bilateral communication i.e., a conversation instead of a monologue or someone preaching information to a patient, active listening to identify and tackle problem areas, scientific accuracy (which includes letting people know if you are unaware about particular aspects of science and health), understanding who your audience is, and meeting your audience where they are.
As an example, I frequently talk about my own breast cancer scare to remind other people to get to know their bodies periodically – so they can “catch” any changes that may be medically relevant to them. Talking to people about my story, especially as a person of colour who is often (in my opinion) underrepresented in breast cancer stories, empowers other people like me to prioritize their health and visit their doctors.
My story helps break through health topics that may be considered taboo or inappropriate because, in my culture, we never talk about our breasts to people we don’t know very well or even to close family. I allow my audience to ask me questions about my cancer scare – how long did it take me to go see the doctor? 6 months? Why so late? Did it feel awkward? What did they say and do?
I frequently talk through the process, explaining how I understand why people are so hush-hush about health concerns but how we must push through and not feel shame for something that was entirely not our fault. I’ve had a handful of people reach out to me and thank me for giving a voice to my own story because it encouraged them to go seek medical help too. A story, in the right setting, to the right people, makes all the difference! Telling my story and welcoming personal questions has helped my communications go a long way.
Although medical anecdotes are a strong communication tool, they can also do a lot of harm–they may build false narratives that undermine science and health. We have seen a lot of examples of this before the coronavirus pandemic, and continue to face this challenge as we move through the pandemic. To minimize distrust of medical systems and misinformation, several social media channels have stepped up their game to tackle misinformation among the pandemic. I think we need to see more of this for issues surrounding weight loss, for example.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Your past professional work has merged scientific research and legal analysis. May we have more information about your experiences bridging the gap between these two fields, and how your experiences doing so informed the writing you have done for The Shared Microscope?
[Nidhi Parekh, B.Sc.] My work in the fields of science and law have been incredibly effective at honing my communication skills. Fortunately, my degree in biomedicine helped my practice in occupational disease law–it helped me quickly identify trends in medical records, medical information that may be relevant to a case, and more.
Through my company, I am consistently writing documents for immigration law firms, particularly in the United States. These documents are vital for immigration applications for people moving countries on the basis of expertise in a subject–for me, I mainly work on life science, health, and medicine cases (with a sprinkle of cool Samsung-type technology)–and thoroughly enjoy it!
People in law and policy, especially those working for the government, have to truly understand the science behind some diseases/conditions to develop effective policies that may help people. With the COVID-19 pandemic, I expect a lot of change in the area–more scientists are looking to fill seats in the government, and similarly, governments are realizing the importance of scientists!
[MastersinCommunications.com] For individuals who would like to work in science and medical communication/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?
[Nidhi Parekh, B.Sc.] Honest to God, and the most cliché answer in the world, but practice practice practice! If you think you have an inkling that you enjoy writing, or even drawing/illustrating, make the most of it now–especially if you have time. You don’t have to go get a job in the field that interests you–you can carve your own way in! Just be consistent and open to learning more about the field. Another way of learning, and often a forgotten way, is to learn from others. Whose content are you loving? Why? How can you learn to write like them? Analyze their stuff and work backward from there.
If you are a beginner and would like to practice your writing (and learn to do what I do), consider starting a blog. You don’t have to buy your domain name right away – I didn’t! Share your words with people–on Twitter, on Reddit (if you prefer to remain fully anonymous), your social media platforms, and anywhere else people “hang out.” Prefer illustrating to communicate instead? No issues! Build an Instagram or Pinterest account on which you can share your art. You can also create a website and create your portfolio there as you become more and more comfortable with the idea of creating scientific art/illustrations.
Honestly, all you need to do is get your foot in the door–whether you do that by getting a job, or starting your own thing–it doesn’t matter as long as you put yourself out there! If you’d like to be a life science/health content writer, learn the basics of content marketing (things like writing catchy headlines, making posts personal, search engine optimization, research, etc.)
These skills are important regardless of whether you have a degree in the area–you just need to build evidence to prove yourself! There are plenty of people out there who are not questioning themselves but putting their pen to paper, and are doing a really good job at communicating science/health content! Don’t let fear of striking out keep you from playing the game!
[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?
[Nidhi Parekh, B.Sc.] I have been fortunate to come from a family where everyone runs their own business. In fact, for the longest time, I was the oddball that wanted to work a job (until I realized business is really in my blood and soul, and it is what I enjoy). I think my family–my mum, dad, and my brother–really helped with support/development from a business perspective. Of course, they don’t always understand what I’m doing for my clients but they are a reliable sounding board for content and strategy ideas!
Outside of my family, I usually think of people in terms of inspirations, not mentors. I’m very often inspired by people around me. This includes people in my field that undertake the sort of work I do, doctors and researchers, science journalists like Ed Yong and Katherine Wu, and also my clients, without whom I would not have a thriving business. I’ve also worked hard to build a strong community around me–which always provides support where support is needed!
For people that have not had the same upbringing, having a business mindset may seem difficult. The secret? Think about why you made a purchase. After all, you’re a customer somewhere! Why did you leave that particular website? What made you tick? I’d recommend following some business accounts (and accounts of people that inspire you) on your social media channels. Often, I read other people’s work and wish I could write like them–and that’s okay–reading is a way to learn and practice your skill too!
I would also recommend watching shows like Shark Tank and Dragons’ Den–these will teach you more things about business than you realize. If you prefer reading, there are plenty of business books out there also. Start with one–any one! And you will learn something new! The most underrated place to learn about writing/marketing? Twitter! Follow marketing Twitter – that’s my advice!
[MastersinCommunications.com] What have been some of the principal challenges 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?
[Nidhi Parekh, B.Sc.] One of the biggest challenges I face right now with my business is managing my time to do justice to the business. What do I mean by that? As a business owner, you wear many hats: marketer for your own business, content creator, accountant, director, etc. There is a lot that needs to be done and only 24 hours in the day. I also find myself working all the time – something I am working on slowly!
So far, I have addressed these issues by delegating the work–for example, I hired an accountant to sort out my finances and my taxes so I don’t have to worry about it throughout the year. I’ve also recently delegated the upkeep/revamp of my website to a website developer – realizing that sometimes delegating the work can free up enough time in the day for you to work on paid client work! I also treat myself like a client–blocking off Wednesdays to work on my own website/social media content so as to build some work for the long term.
If you have a lot of work on your plate, whether paid or unpaid, consider delegating your work to outside help. This will free up enough time in your day to focus on things you like to do and things that will hopefully help pay the bills!
[MastersinCommunications.com] During your time in the field of science and medical writing/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 and policy development?
[Nidhi Parekh, B.Sc.] In light of the ongoing pandemic, the field of science and medical writing (and science communication) has really changed. More people are interested in the field and are practicing their skills daily. What is also promising for people interested in the field, and often not talked about, is that it is beginning to pay. People are going from doing this as an unpaid passion to actually making (decent) money from it. Our skills are undoubtedly in demand and people worldwide are recognizing them. More drug companies are starting to invest in systems that help communicate the science from the laboratory/doctor’s clinic to audiences outside of the scientific field, including patients, children, the elderly, etc. This is promising and will hopefully count towards improving the health literacy of everyone globally.
As for a future change in the field–I hope we see sound medical information being shared on social media. And honestly, I think this change is coming. With the pandemic, we have seen governments tackle misinformation with warning signs and signposting to the CDC/WHO websites for correct information. I think we will see a similar crackdown for issues such as cancer, weight loss, skincare, vaccination, and more. I definitely think we need to talk about and educate everyone on these topics so as to prevent misinformation from playing on insecurities/fears that people may have surrounding these topics and many others.
Thank you, Nidhi Parekh, for your excellent insight into the medical communication industry, and for your great advice about getting started in the field!