Writing for Doctor Clients: How to Communicate with Extremely Smart People

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As a medical writer, I frequently work with doctors, dentists, chiropractors, and other healthcare professionals. Like most jobs, the best-paying gigs come from the most successful clients. My best customers are cancer care specialists, neurosurgeons, geneticists, and scientists. While I enjoy my professional relationships with the super-intelligent clients, I do not always feel comfortable talking with geniuses and I can tell they sometimes get frustrated communicating with me.

In fact, sometimes I dread conference calls with the smart people I write for.

It is not that they are unkind – smart people are often very gentle and empathetic – but sometimes intelligent conversations make my head spin. I comfort myself by imagining that the experience is just as excruciating for them, having to talk to some pipsqueak writer with a gnat-sized brain.

How Can Smart People Be So Dumb?

Smart people are often perfectionists. A smart person can be demanding on himself and on the people around him. Most work exceptionally hard to achieve lofty goals and many intelligent individuals expect everyone around them to work equally as hard. This is especially true in business, where smart people have high expectations for the people they hire.

Extremely intelligent people sometimes have trouble communicating with others. Some might be accustomed to gathering information, not disseminating it, so they may not be sure how to convey their thoughts clearly. Many have also spent much of their lives surrounded only by other brilliant minds, so they are not used to simplifying genius thoughts for those not quite on their levels.

In the end, it does not really matter if a smart person communicates well – it is the writer’s job to reach inside the client’s head and pull out the information he needs. Communicating with smart people is easy once you know how.

How to Communicate with Smart People

Never try to impress a smart person with fancy words – you will eventually use a word incorrectly. Instead, use words you understand. In other words, keep it simple, stupid.

Research your subject well, especially in advance of any conference calls with clients. Freelance medical writers know a lot about medicine but most perform extra research to understand what the client wants. If you should find yourself over your head on a subject, research it on children’s educational websites. Sites like KidsHealth.org, Rader’s Chem4Kids and Physics4Kids can help you wrap your brain around very complex scientific principles quickly.

Double-check the spelling and meaning of words, even words you think you know. For example, a doctor knows the difference between nauseated and nauseous: A nauseated person feels queasy. To be nauseous means you make other people sick.

Avoid making errors in spelling and grammar – smart people notice mistakes. Get into the habit of using a word processor to write important communications, especially emails, to correct spelling and grammar errors quickly.

Do the very best you can to avoid making the doctor look stupid. Avoid writing statements like “the patient has no fever or chills but her husband said she was hot in bed last night,” or that a rectal exam should reveal normal-sized tonsils. If you are uncertain, ask questions until you fully understand the subject – smart people appreciate clarification.

Writing for doctors and other types of smarty pants does not have to be a terrible experience. Just take your time, listen closely, ask questions, and remember that a genius is just like you on the inside… only much smarter.

Lynn H is a medical writer who thoroughly enjoys communicating with doctors, surgeons and other healthcare professionals.


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