How I Did It: Going from Medical Doctor to Medical Writer

By Debra D. Bass


Haifa Kassis, MD
President & Principal Medical Writer, Crisp Writing, LLC, Boston, Mass.
Age: 38
Education background: Bachelor of Arts in Medical Sciences and Doctor of Medicine at Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, cum laude, 2003 and 2007; Medical Writing Certificate, UC San Diego Extension, 2018

After years of medical school, working as a physician, and completing two postdoctoral fellowships in neuroscience research, Dr. Haifa Kassis found that her true passion was medical writing, not a traditional practice. This UC San Diego Extension certificate graduate is now the editor-at-large for the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) Journal and runs her own business developing high-quality medical education materials and scientific publications. Dr. Kassis also serves as the president-elect of the AMWA-New England chapter. She married two unique and highly sought after skills – she has the medical training to understand complex research in areas like neurology, psychiatry, and oncology, as well as a gift for language that allows her to synthesize that information and generate thoughtful articles, reports, and presentations.

What was your initial career plan before college?
Before college, I planned to attend medical school and become a physician. However, I also knew that working as a full-time clinician would not be the best fit for me. I always planned to explore nonclinical career paths for physicians.

What made you pursue the Medical Writing Certificate?
In 2017, I joined the American Medical Writer Association (AMWA) and attended a local chapter event. I had already published many peer-reviewed scientific articles and knew that I enjoy writing about medicine and science, but I was not aware of the vast career opportunities medical writing could provide. After I completed the AMWA Essential Skills Certificate, I searched for a university-level medical writing program to complement my training. I pursued the UC San Diego Extension Medical Writing Certificate to achieve four main goals: 1) identify and close any gaps in my education; 2) sharpen my writing and editing skills; 3) gain real-life experience and develop writing samples; 4) learn about the profession and career opportunities from experienced medical writers.

What did you like about the program at UC San Diego Extension?
I liked that the UCSD Medical Writing program is specifically designed for someone like me: a physician or scientist who wants to transition into medical writing and would like to specialize in writing for professional audiences. The courses were rigorous and far above my expectations.

How will this change your future?
The program gave me the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in developing documents as it would be expected of a medical writer. After completing the program, I felt confident to start my freelance medical writing business, specializing in medical education materials and scientific publications. The program played a significant role in the success of my transition into the field of medical writing and provided me with invaluable knowledge, skills, and resources that I constantly use in my work.

What are your thoughts on lifelong learning?
The medical writing profession is constantly evolving, and it is absolutely necessary to keep up with recent developments to remain successful. I don’t think you can be a good medical writer if you don’t enjoy and seek lifelong learning.

Have you/will you take other classes with UC San Diego Extension?
Not yet, but as time goes by, I expect that I will take more courses to hone specific skills or advance my knowledge.  

Any advice for others looking to pursue this certificate about the benefits or considerations?
Pursuing this certificate program was well worth the investment for me as I was looking to transition into medical writing and hone my skills. The program gave me a true taste of what it would be like to work as a medical writer. However, it also requires a great amount of self-directed learning.


Posted: 6/19/2019 12:25:13 PM with 3 comments
Filed under: medical-writer, medical-writing, online, writing

Good story and, thanks to both the Q&A format, a fast read. Not sure if you've heard it and the latest hot topic throughout this sector is calculating and publishing results from CME services. A deep dive with such an experienced AMWA medical writers who is very competent about such a specialty field and other specialist health writing that which is the culminating project of the CME Capstone project.
12/8/2020 12:15:05 AM

UC San Diego Extension
Hi Donald: Our CME Capstone does address topics such as CME outcomes measurement. The culminating program CME Capstone project is a deep dive with an expert AMWA medical writer who is very knowledgeable about this specialty area and other advanced Medical Writing topic areas. Thanks for the thoughtful question!
1/7/2020 10:36:48 AM

Donald Harting
Nice story and a quick read, thanks to the Q&A format. Not sure if you've heard, but measuring and reporting outcomes from CME programs is the current hot topic in this field. The lack of a standard terminology is holding the field back and people are beginning to take steps to address this issue. Does UC San Diego's capstone course (FPM-40627) touch on this topic?
12/30/2019 12:43:52 PM

What's your story?

Share your accomplishments, advice, and goals for a chance to be featured.