BELS certification: what's the deal?
December 7, 2006 10:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested in becoming certified by the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences. Their Web site is rather cryptic: apparently they only send you the particulars of what the exam entails once you have applied to take it. Has anyone taken this exam or known someone who has? What's it like? Moreover, do you have a sense of how professionally useful the certification is at all?

I'm editing journals at an academic press right now, but I hear there's a big (lucrative) world out there, especially in medical editing. I've got a BA but no graduate work. Would, say, a master's degree (and in what field?) be more useful in getting hired than any kind of certification?
posted by zadermatermorts to Work & Money (3 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure how helpful this will be, as I have never heard of the BELS certification, but both of my company's medical writers have Master's degrees in Biomedical Writing, and no official certifications. I'm quite sure that given the choice between someone with an M.S. in medical writing and no cert, and someone with a cert but no M.S., we would hire the M.S.
posted by slenderloris at 11:24 AM on December 7, 2006

I used to work for a science and tech publisher, am now doing freelance medical writing and editing, and have looked into BELS certification myself. It's rather a pain, in that it is a long exam, and you must travel to wherever they are having the damn thing to take it. On the plus side, they often hold exams at meetings of the Council of Science Editors, which is worth the membership, especially if you can get your employer to swing it. You might be able to get them to finance your membership, conference and travel fees, and exam costs because the BELS is a great certification to be able to tell clients that you possess. As a side benefit, CSE also has a decent manuscript editing course, and is good for networking and finding jobs.

I never did get the BELS, but a coworker who did now makes a fairly comfortable living as a freelancer, and she said that the qualification really did help her. She also said that it's a fairly challenging test, and she's probably the most skilled medical copyeditor I know, so don't take it without a lot of careful preparation and study. You might also consider joining the American Medical Writers Association, which also provides different levels of certification and a fairly decent members-only job bank.

The MS in medical writing is ideal, but represents a significant outlay of time and expense, so it might be better to take the BELS exam and some of the certifying courses to see if this field is right for you. Once your feet are wet, your BELS or other certifiers will help you win a spot in a good MS program and probably thrive better there.

Please feel free to contact me through my profile email if there's anything else about medical writing or editing that you are curious about, and I'll do my best to help. Best of luck.
posted by melissa may at 4:40 PM on December 7, 2006

I am a medical writer for a major healthcare organization by way of a BA in religious studies. (????? :) ) If you are pursuing a career in scientific medical writing or editing, I would say go for the BELS certification. If you will be consumer-focused, try the American Medical Writers Association programs. But if your employer will swing it, do both!
posted by FergieBelle at 5:57 PM on December 7, 2006

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