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Acupuncturist turned medical writer embraces role of a lifetime

20 January 2016 Nina Tovey

Acupuncturist turned medical writer embraces role of a lifetime

Melbourne acupuncturist and Endeavour graduate Karen McCloskey is riding the crest of the wellness wave and proving it is possible to change the lives of thousands outside of clinical practice.

Karen proved what a powerful mix tenacity and talent can be when she beat all odds to secure her dream job of Health Writer with leading women’s healthcare organisation Jean Hailes for Women’s Health.

It was a role which would see her spend her days working with renowned women’s health researchers to translate complex medical data into easily digested information to help women across Australia make more informed choices about their healthcare.

“Women are becoming more empowered about their health and they are seeking credible information to help them in their lives. I wanted to be part of that revolution and that was what drew me to becoming a medical writer – it was where I knew I could make the biggest impact,” Karen said.

Karen said the role had surpassed all her expectations.

“I get to turn medical research into news every day – it’s been a rollercoaster of happiness. It is such an exciting time to be writing about women’s health – women are starting to realise they are in control and they can’t get enough of it, Karen said.

Working alongside acclaimed journalists who have reported for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, Karen writes across all online and print publications to provide evidence-based information for women seeking health support.

“We are essentially trying to educate people about how to use the internet to learn about their health. Every piece of information we put out there has been verified by experts and that’s why we get 100,000 hits a month.

Both health practitioners and consumers alike know they can trust what they find here,” Karen said.

Jean Hailes for Women’s Health has been able to make an even greater impact through a partnership with Monash University which works to ensure research is informed by community perspectives, able to be translated to inform national policy and made accessible to women, their families and healthcare providers.

Karen’s role also involves producing technical documents for medical professionals and even medical ghostwriting on behalf of eminent doctors.

“You need to be able to hold your own in this role. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to speak on the same level as clinicians who are speaking to you using medical jargon. We need to be producing acupuncturists who can talk in both Chinese Medicine terminology and doctor’s speak, and stand strong alongside Western clinicians when it comes to creating scientific papers and reports,” Karen said.

“Working as part of the health content team requires an in depth knowledge of human disease processes combined with a passion for communicating this knowledge to the community. We arm consumers with the latest knowledge about their health so they feel empowered when talking to their physician or families. I love being part of the solution and not part of the problem,” Karen said.

Karen’s tie to the wellness industry began when her father was struck with motor neurone disease when she was a young girl living in Ireland. From that point her teenage years revolved around caring.

“There was a lot of illness in my family – my brother also had a brain injury and my sister had Crohn’s Disease. I remember there was no good advice available and no one to turn to. It made me realise how empowering knowledge is and left an urge in me to try and help people,” said Karen.

During her time with Jean Hailes, Karen has developed a strong passion to spread the word about the dangers of chronic disease, especially cardiovascular disease.

“Cardiovascular disease kills more women than breast cancer, yet we don’t hear as much about it and it is most often associated with men. I want people to know there are simple things that can help – walking for 30 minutes a day can reduce your risk by half,” Karen said.

Another highlight of her role to date was promoting new research from Jean Hailes’ recent Women’s Health Survey which surveyed more than 3,000 women and revealed one of the key knowledge gaps for women related to natural therapies.

“The research highlighted both women and health professionals believed women need to know more about the safety and effectiveness of natural therapies. I’m excited to be working in this area to help fill this gap in knowledge for consumers and health practitioners,” Karen said.

Karen said her success in the role was testament to the cutting edge curriculum offered by Endeavour College’s acupuncture degree.

“We’re talking hardcore biology and chemistry – I remember nurses struggling with the course work. It’s a good thing though – I want people to know the degree pumps out scientific writers like me who know what they are doing,” said Karen.

Despite not having the PhD typically required for medical writing roles, Karen impressed the management team at Jean Hailes with her passion for the cause along with her research and communication skills.

“What I did have was an ability to write damn good copy and I was brave enough to be able to say ‘give me a go’. Once I had my health science degree, I knew I was just as good as everyone else,” Karen said.

Executive Director Jean Hailes for Women’s Health Janet Michelmore AO said Karen was a standout from the start.

“It was Karen’s passion for providing women with evidence-based information coupled with her enthusiasm for making it easy for people to understand what they need to do that made Karen a standout candidate. A background in natural therapies was a bonus,” Janet said.

A long time fan of her current employer, Karen said it was surreal to look back on the days she used the Jean Hailes for Women’s Health website for research during her studies.

“I would come back time and time again, as I knew the evidence was real and I didn’t need to double check it in a medical book. Now everything has gone full circle and I’m getting excited about educating students about what is possible,” Karen said.

When pondering what advice she has for natural health students dreaming of their future, her advice is swift and sure.

“Find out your unique selling point and own it, because there is work out there for everyone,” Karen said. Once Karen had set her mind to becoming a medical writer, she honed her writing skills through a role with Melbourne startup Sonoa Health who created the world’s first collection of evidence-based medical animations.

“I loved this role as I got to hang out with some of Melbourne’s best known animation artists and advise a team of script writers on what the most important elements were of each health condition and writing, researching and creating reports,” Karen said.

Looking ahead, Karen would like to start practising acupuncture one day a week during her day off so she can experience the best of both worlds.

“I feel incredibly lucky to be in the position I’m in – and would love to follow my passion of writing while also practising acupuncture. I’d like to become an ambassador for Chinese Medicine by becoming involved in clinical trials, getting involved with our associations and opening up a dialogue between both sides of medicine,” said Karen.

Karen’s advice for natural medicine students wanting to break into writing

“You need to have a portfolio of work, so start a blog, visit websites like ours and practise writing in that style. Approach an educational textbook supplier and ask them if they are looking for freelance writers. And keep a copy of everything you write so you can demonstrate your work to a potential employer.”

Photo credit: Arnaud Domange

Nina Tovey

About Nina Tovey

Nina Tovey is a public relations expert who has supported a wide range of clients throughout her career, including world leading brands, Government Departments and small-to-medium enterprises. Nina is the founder of public relations consultancy Yoke Communications.

View all articles by Nina Tovey

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