Teaching Doctors How to Write
April 30, 2014
Maria Ko³towska-Häggström, medical director at Proper Medical Writing, a Warsaw-based provider of training and advice to authors of medical and scientific papers, talks to the Voice.
In addition to giving people tips on “proper medical writing,” you are also a pediatrician and an independent consultant affiliated with the Department of Women’s and Children’s Health at Uppsala University, Sweden. From this vantage point, what’s your opinion about the condition of Polish medicine in terms of scientific research?
Its condition has improved markedly over the past decade or so. More Polish scientists are going abroad to take part in international congresses these days. I have noticed that collaboration between Polish scientists and research centers in other countries has intensified. Polish pharmaceutical companies are conducting more clinical trials and there are more training courses in this field. All that contributes to a better insight into how clinical trials should be conducted.
However, I often see instances of people being unfamiliar with international regulations, guidelines and the latest standards for medical research. In many cases, the guidelines are not followed because they are not known, which translates into limited publishing of research findings in good journals, although many of the articles are interesting and excellent in terms of their substance. This shows there is still much room for improvement for Polish science to become better established on the international arena. I believe there is no objective reason for articles by Polish scientists to be published less often in reputable medical journals than those written by Scandinavians or other authors.
Is every graduate of medical studies in Poland capable of producing a solid scientific publication?
Definitely not. As far as I know, medical programs of study do not include teaching students how to write scientific articles. The fact that writing a scientific work is not required to qualify as a doctor means that most graduates of medical universities have no idea about the methodology according to which publications should be prepared.
Some medical universities have started to offer courses in this area at Ph.D. level, but these are rare instances for the time being. It should be stressed that such courses are always part of Ph.D. studies in Western European countries. They include not only preparing work for publication but also the methodology for presenting scientific research findings in general and preparing lectures and conference posters.
What is needed, apart from an excellent command of English, to prepare medical texts and edit scientific work for publication in foreign journals?
Scientific language differs significantly from everyday and spoken language. It is much more condensed, precise and matter-of-fact. As a result, an excellent command of English is, of course, useful, but not indispensable. More important is a solid knowledge of scientific English. Knowing how to prepare articles for publication is very important, as is the need to keep track of the constantly changing rules and requirements that scientific articles are expected to meet. It is also necessary to know how to find out what the requirements of individual journals are and how to prepare articles in line with these requirements, to understand medicine and the rules and regulations governing clinical trials, and to have a grasp of statistics.
Where did the idea to provide training in medical writing come from? Are such services popular in other countries? What is the market and demand for such services in Poland?
The idea came above all from my own experience. I did my doctorate at Uppsala University and my daughter took hers at the National Institute for Medical Research in London. We both had obligatory classes in presenting scientific research findings, including writing articles. My son, who did his doctorate at the Medical University of Warsaw, did not have such classes. I thought to myself that this was a concrete skill that can and should be taught to young scientists. I knew that people can be taught the methodology of writing articles and that it’s not really difficult. Training courses in presenting and publishing scientific research findings are very popular internationally. There are many institutions, firms and societies that are involved in this kind of work. There is a strong and steadily growing demand for such services in Poland. But it is enormously important for such courses to be of a high standard. There is a risk of dishonest practices in this area—involving poor quality courses prepared in a careless and negligent manner. We are talking here about equipping Polish scientists with the same skills that their German, Dutch or French colleagues take for granted.