American Medical Writers Association

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The American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) is a professional association for medical communicators, with more than 5,600 members in the United States, Canada, and 26 other countries.[1] AMWA is governed by a board of directors composed of a 14-member executive committee and representatives from its 19 US and Canadian chapters. The association was founded in 1940 by physicians interested in improving the quality of medical writing and editing. The current president is Douglas Haneline, PhD.

AMWA includes a variety of medical communicators, including administrators, advertisers, authors' editors, college and university professors, journal editors, pharmaceutical writers (and those involved in pharmaceutical publication planning), public relations specialists, publishers, reporters, researchers, statisticians, and translators. Many members are freelance writers and editors. Membership in AMWA is open to anyone interested in any aspect of medical communication.

AMWA's headquarters are located in Rockville, Maryland, United States.


On the evening of September 25, 1940, in the Mississippi River town of Rock Island, Illinois, Drs. Harold Swanberg, George B. Lake, N. C. Barwasser, Norman Zolla, Florence Johnson, and James Dunn organized the Mississippi Valley Medical Editors’ Association (MVMEA).[2]

The MVMEA was absorbed by the new AMWA, which was formed at Springfield, Ill., September 29, 1948, during the meeting of the Mississippi Valley Medical Society in that city. At this time The Mississippi Valley Medical Journal was made the official publication of AMWA.[3] During the 1948 meeting, Morris Fishbein, M.D., then editor of The Journal of the American Medical Association, gave a two-hour course on medical writing at the meeting.[3] Dr. Fishbein was president of AMWA, 1958–1959.

Up until 1951, the constitution of AMWA was written so that only physicians could be members. The constitution adopted for 1951–1956 allowed, besides physicians, "medical librarians and health educators," and, importantly, "personnel of hospitals, foundations, technical companies and allied organizations, educational institutions, publishing and who are concerned with medical writing or publishing ..."[4]

In 1976 the first president was elected who did not have a doctoral degree (Gerald McKee); in 1977 the first woman president, Virginia T. Eicholtz, was elected.[5]

Code of ethics[edit]

The AMWA Code of Ethics sets forth the principles that "take into account the important role of medical communicators in writing, editing, and developing materials in various media and the potential of the products of their efforts to inform, educate, and influence audiences."[6] The original Code of Ethics was published by Eric W. Martin, PhD, in 1973. The third revision was published in June 2008.

Education program and certificates[edit]

AMWA offers an extensive continuing education program for professionals in the medical and allied scientific communication fields. More than 90 educational sessions are offered during AMWA's annual conference, including curriculum workshops that can be applied toward AMWA's certificate programs. Earning an AMWA certificate is considered part of a career path in the field. The certificate workshops were established in 1979. Currently, AMWA offers three certificate programs: core, advanced, and the newest certificate program, science fundamentals.[7]

The AMWA Core Certificate is earned in one or more of five specialty areas: Editing/Writing, Educators, Freelance, Pharmaceutical, and Public Relations/Advertising/Marketing.

AMWA's Advanced Certificate requires the completion of eight advanced workshops.

To earn the Science Fundamentals Certificate, a participant must complete four general science workshops and four additional workshops from specialty areas such as body systems or diseases.


The AMWA Journal is the official publication of AMWA. A quarterly publication, it "aims to be an authoritative, comprehensive source of information about the knowledge, skills, and opportunities in the field of medical communication worldwide."[8]

AMWA publishes its Freelance Directory, a listing of AMWA members who make services available on a freelance basis and have paid to be listed.[9]

AMWA also publishes, in two volumes, desktop references for biomedical communicators. Titled Essays for Biomedical Communicators, the collections are designed to complement the information and skills gained from AMWA core and advanced courses.

Self-study workshops are also available and include a workbook with examples and exercises, as well as a CD-ROM featuring an interactive PDF of the workbook.


AMWA has two award categories: competitive and honorary. Competitive awards are the Eric W. Martin award (presented in honor of Eric W. Martin, PhD, 1971 AMWA president and author of AMWA's Code of Ethics); the AMWA Medical Book award; the Annual Conference Student Scholarship; the Best Published Research Award; and the Student Research Award. Honorary awards are the John P. McGovern Award (presented to a member or nonmember of AMWA to honor a preeminent contribution to any of the various modes of medical communication); the Walter C. Alvarez Award (presented to a member or nonmember of AMWA to honor excellence in communicating health care developments and concepts to the public); the Harold Swanberg Distinguished Service Award (presented to any active member of AMWA who has made distinguished contributions to medical communication or rendered unusual and distinguished services to the medical profession); the President's Award (given by the AMWA president to a member of AMWA for distinctive contributions to the association at the chapter or national level); the Golden Apple Award (awarded to workshop leaders who have demonstrated excellence in teaching in the AMWA education program); and Fellowships.

Annual conference, networking and job opportunities[edit]

As the world's largest professional association of medical communicators, AMWA offers unique educational and networking opportunities for students, those new to the profession, and long-time members. Jobs Online is an online service for announcing employment or freelance opportunities to medical communicators interested in finding new employers or clients.[10]

AMWA holds its conference each year. The 2012 conference was held October 4–6 in Sacramento, California. The 2013 conference will be held November 7–9 in Colombus, Ohio. AMWA's annual conference is open to medical communicators, regardless of membership.

Controversy surrounding use of medical writers[edit]

Controversy has surrounded the field of medical writing because of guest authorship and the use of medical ghostwriters, particularly when pharmaceutical companies fund the research.[11] Critics charge that the use of biomedical communicators encourages commercial bias. Advocates claim that professional biomedical communicators provide a valuable service that improves the quality and timeliness of publication of research. The debate centers around how to define authorship.

In 2003, AMWA published a position statement on the contributions of medical writers to scientific publications in the AMWA Journal. This article also explained the work of the AMWA 2002 Task Force on the Contributions of Medical Writers to Scientific Publications as it prepared, adopted, and presented the position statement.[12]

In 2005, the World Association of Medical Editors tightened its policy on ghost writing of medical research papers after a US journal highlighted allegedly illegitimate ghostwriting practices.[13]

The New York Times reported on a study released by editors of The Journal of the American Medical Association that found a significant number of articles in top medical journals published in 2008 were written by ghostwriters.[14] Cindy Hamilton (AMWA president at the time) replied to this article in a letter to the editor by stating, in part:[15]

Ghostwriting is unethical and must be distinguished from collaboration between researchers (authors) and professional medical writers, whose contributions and financing are disclosed.

Authors determine content, and writers ensure that it is communicated effectively and promptly. This partnership advances science by facilitating timely publication of research findings, ultimately benefiting the public.

Reuters has reported that some medical journal editors are resorting to computer forensics to help reveal ghost writers on manuscripts.[16]

Despite conflicting viewpoints on ghostwriting and guest authorship in medical communications, common ground can be found. This viewpoint was neatly summed up in the September 2009 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings:[17]

Despite the intense debate and accusations about ghostwriting and guest authoring, there is consistent agreement among many organizations on 2 issues: (1) Medical writing is a valuable, accepted function that can assist in the timely, well-organized, clear communication of scientific studies. (2) Medical writing or editorial assistance that does not merit named authorship should be acknowledged, along with the source of funding support for such work.


AMWA is organized into 19 chapters covering all of the United States and Canada. Chapters organize local meetings and conferences in their region.

  • New England Chapter [18]
  • Empire State-Metropolitan New York Chapter
  • Delaware Valley Chapter[19]
  • Mid-Atlantic Chapter[20]
  • Carolinas Chapter[21]
  • Southeast Chapter[22]
  • Florida Chapter[23]
  • Michigan Chapter
  • Ohio Valley Chapter[24]
  • Greater Chicago Area Chapter[25]
  • North Central Chapter[26]
  • Indiana Chapter[27]
  • Southwest Chapter[28]
  • Mid-America Chapter[29]
  • Pacific Southwest Chapter[30]
  • Northern California Chapter[31]
  • Rocky Mountain Chapter[32]
  • Northwest Chapter[33]
  • Canada Chapter[34]


Membership is open to anyone interested in medical communications. Student memberships are available.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "AMWA Facts". American Medical Writers Association. 2009. Archived from the original on November 6, 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  2. ^ Fishbein, Morris; Snively, WD (July 1965). "Forewords to Swanberg's AMWA History" (PDF). American Medical Writers Association. Retrieved 2016-01-30. 
  3. ^ a b Swanberg, Harold (May 2001). "AMWA History, 1924–1948" (PDF). American Medical Writers Association. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  4. ^ "Purposes, Objectives, Membership Requirements" (PDF). AMWA Constitutions (1948–1965). American Medical Writers Association. June 2001. p. 2. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  5. ^ "Through the Years ... A Historical Perspective 1940–1990" (PDF). AMWA 50th Anniversary. American Medical Writers Association. October 2008. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  6. ^ Martin, Eric W (June 2008). "AMWA Code of Ethics". American Medical Writers Association. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  7. ^ "Education Program and Certificates". American Medical Writers Association. 2009. Archived from the original on November 6, 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  8. ^ "AMWA Journal". American Medical Writers Association. 2009. Archived from the original on November 6, 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  9. ^ "Freelance Directory : About the Directory". American Medical Writers Association. 2009. Archived from the original on November 3, 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  10. ^ "About Jobs Online". American Medical Writers Association. 2009. Archived from the original on November 3, 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  11. ^ Boseley, Sarah (February 7, 2002). "Scandal of scientists who take money for papers ghostwritten by drug companies". Manchester: Guardian News and Media. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  12. ^ Hamilton, Cindy W; Royer, Mary G (2003). "Position Statement on the Contributions of Medical Writers to Scientific Publications" (PDF). AMWA Journal. American Medical Writers Association. 18 (1). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 2, 2006. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  13. ^ Eaton, Lynn (2005). "Medical editors issue guidance on ghost writing". British Medical Journal. London. 330 (7498): 988. PMC 557180Freely accessible. PMID 15860824. doi:10.1136/bmj.330.7498.988-a. 
  14. ^ Wilson, Duff; Singer, Natasha (September 10, 2009). "Ghostwriting Is Called Rife in Medical Journals". Business. New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  15. ^ Hamilton, Cindy W (September 20, 2009). "Medical Ghostwriting". Opinion. New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  16. ^ Borrell, Brendan (September 11, 2009). "Using forensics to reveal medical ghostwriting". Reuters Health. New York: Thomson Reuters. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  17. ^ Hirsch, Laurence J (September 2009). "Conflicts of Interest, Authorship, and Disclosures in Industry-Related Scientific Publications: The Tort Bar and Editorial Oversight of Medical Journals". Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. 84 (9): 811–821. ISSN 1942-5546. PMC 2735431Freely accessible. PMID 19720779. doi:10.4065/84.9.811. Retrieved 2009-10-08. [permanent dead link]
  18. ^ "Welcome to AMWA-NE". 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  19. ^ "Delaware Valley Chapter". 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  20. ^ "AMWA Mid-Atlantic". 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  21. ^ "Carolinas Chapter". 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  22. ^ "Southeast Chapter". 2009. Archived from the original on October 11, 2008. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  23. ^ "Florida Chapter". 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  24. ^ "AMWA Ohio Valley Chapter". 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  25. ^ "Greater Chicago Area Chapter of the American Medical Writers Association". 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  26. ^ "North Central Chapter". 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  27. ^ "Indiana Chapter". 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  28. ^ "AMWA Southwest". 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  29. ^ "AMWA Mid-America Chapter". 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  30. ^ "Welcome to AMWA Pacific Southwest Chapter". 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  31. ^ "American Medical Writers Association of Northern California". 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  32. ^ "Rocky Mountain Chapter of the American Medical Writers Association". 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  33. ^ "American Medical Writers Association Northwest Chapter". 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  34. ^ "AMWA Canada". 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 

External links[edit]