By Ricardo Correa, MD, Es.D.
In this newsletter, I will tell you about my experience as a young physician engaged in medical editing, which involves working as an editorial board member on a medical journal. I hope that you will consider exploring this topic once you learn from my experiences thus far. As a new physician, this has been a fun and intellectually challenging opportunity for me.
Six years ago, I was invited by Latin America Medical Index (LATINDEX) to participate in a course titled “How to be an Editor.” At first, I was reluctant to participate because I was busy working as a recently graduated clinician, and I was also doing a research fellowship in public health at Gorgas Memorial Institute (a Panamanian national public health institute). My mentor told me, however, that if I wanted to improve my country’s scientific publications, I should get involved in the editorial process. This recommendation led me to participate in an editing course, which spanned several months.
The course ended up being a life-changing event. I have a new perspective on the entire scientific process. Prior to the course, when a journal rejected one of my articles, I usually criticized the editors. I thought that because I was not an established scientist, they did not read my work. Now I realize that an editorial board is made up of people who work because they have passion for science and want to contribute to it.
It was at this point I decided to become a medical editor. I can personally tell you that this pathway has been very difficult. At the beginning, nobody was paying attention to me, probably because I was a young physician with some training but not a lot of real publications. However, I kept at it.
My first experience was with the Spanish journal, Archivos de Medicina. This journal gave me the opportunity to start applying what I had learned in the initial course I took. I started as a junior editor, which was frustrating because I felt I was doing basically secretarial work. Then after a couple of months, I was promoted to full editor and the real work started. I worked at least three hours per night. Given my other responsibilities, there were some points that, had it not been for my love of publications, I would have quit due to exhaustion. From my tenure with Archivos de Medicina, rather than quit, I decided to get more involved.
I had a meeting with senior editors of Panamanian journals and presented a project to make their journals more effective. That was one of the most frightening moments of my life. Can you imagine being in front of your professors and telling them what they need to do? At the end of that meeting, they agreed with my recommendations. As a result, we founded the Panamanian Association of Medical Editors (PAME), an organization that to this day has helped save seven journals in the region.
As a result of PAME, I was invited to work on a project to create the Central American Association of Medical Editors (CAME). Finally in 2009, the CAME project became a reality and we had our first meeting in Honduras. Thanks to CAME, regional journals have the opportunity to become indexed in prominent biomedical literature databases, such as Medline and Embase.
Following these experiences, a couple of my mentors liked my enthusiasm and offered me training positions on their editorial boards. I had my first non-Spanish editorial positions with The Journal of Infectious Disease in Developing Countries and International Archives of Medicine. From these experiences, I learned the methodology of approaching different papers, how to evaluate double publication, how to use certain editorial computer programs, and how to analyze and integrate the peer reviewers’ commentaries and recommendations.
I am now using my editing experience to tackle a personal goal: making science available to everyone. In 2011, I trained on the Open Journal System (OJS). OJS is a journal management and publishing system developed by the Public Knowledge Project in an effort to expand and improve access to research. Using this training, some of my residency friends and I decided to create the first open access resident journal in the United States. The main objective is to stimulate publication among our peers. This dream is becoming a reality, as the journal will be launched at the beginning of next year (2014).
Every day I am learning more about the fascinating area of medical editing. I can tell all of you that even though this journey has had its difficult and busy periods, I don’t regret it. Being a junior medical editor has allowed me behind the scenes in scientific publication and clarified why some articles get published and others do not.
The role and make-up of medical editors is changing. In the past, most editors were scientists with many publications. Nowadays, in addition to publications, you need training in the editorial process. I remember that the Editor in Chief of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) once told me that if he knew he would become the senior editor of JAMA, he would have started his training when he was a resident, 30 years ago. These are true words of wisdom.
If you have an interest in a medical editing career, don’t be afraid to start. The path may seem difficult, but you will learn a lot while making an important contribution to the scientific world.
For those who have interest in this area, I would like to establish an interest group to develop new projects. My contact information is below.
Clinical Fellow, Endocrinology NICHD/NIH
Associate Editor of International Archives of Medicine
Junior Editor of International Journal of Case Report and Imaging
Internet Medical Publishing, Editorial Board.
Editor’s Note: In 2010, Dr. Correa published a book in Spanish titled Casos Clinicos: Semiologia y Publicacion, a guide for medical students on publishing clinical articles.