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Meet Dr. JoAnna Pendergrass of JPen Communications in Sandy Springs

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. JoAnna Pendergrass.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Dr, JoAnna. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
From the time I was about 6 years old, my dream was to become a veterinarian–becoming a writer hadn’t crossed my mind at that point. I was laser-focused on that dream and got accepted into the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. When I began veterinary school, I, like many of my classmates, was interested in small animal private practice. However, during my year of clinical rotations as a fourth-year student, I decided that entering into private practice was no longer what I wanted to do. The question I asked myself was, what is it that I want to do with my veterinary degree?

After graduating from veterinary school, I began a 2-year postdoctoral research fellowship at Emory University’s Yerkes Primate Research Center. Not long into that fellowship, I realized that laboratory research was also not the career route I wanted to take. Shortly thereafter, during a career symposium on Emory’s campus, I listened to a presentation by Emma Nichols, PhD, on science writing. That career option immediately sparked my interest, given my love of both science and writing. For the remainder of the fellowship, as I worked on a research project with the lab’s Principal Investigator and fellow postdoc, I steadily gained various writing and editing experiences.

After the fellowship, I worked at medical communication agencies in the Atlanta area for several years. The type of medical writing projects that I worked on at the agencies, though, felt like a ‘square peg in a round hole’ situation. The Southeastern US is not exactly a hub for medical writing, so I was once again faced with the ‘What do I do?’ question.

After leaving the med comm agency world, I worked as an independent contractor writing veterinary articles for wikiHow. I loved writing these articles because they tapped into my passion for writing about veterinary medicine for the general public; this passion stemmed from veterinary school, when I learned the importance of clearly communicating complex medical topics to pet owners. In August 2016, I took the leap into business ownership, establishing JPen Communications as a medical communications company.

Since starting my business, I have taken on a variety of writing projects, including news articles on veterinary research, patient brochures for a spine & neurosurgery medical practice, and test question development for a veterinary technician practice exam. I love having the freedom to not only choose which projects to take on, but also explore and hone the type of writing that I’m really passionate about.

Has it been a smooth road?
Getting my business started was not a smooth road, primarily from a mental perspective. The very concept of working for myself was unsettling–I figured that I would need at least 5 to 10 years of medical writing experience before feeling confident enough to strike out on my own. Moreover, I wasn’t sold on the idea of having my own business in the first place!

When I left my last job at a med comm agency, I’d been a medical writer for only about 2.5 years and didn’t have a solid idea of what to do next. As my anxieties mounted, my husband and family were super-supportive and assured me that it wouldn’t be long before another job opportunity came around. They were right–that was the wikiHow opportunity.

After a few months of independent contracting, I was advised to make things official and create a business (enter another tailspin of anxiety). I spoke with a colleague of mine in the Atlanta area who runs a successful medical writing business. She referred me to her business coach, Stephen MacDonald, PhD, MBA. From my very first meeting with him, Stephen has been instrumental in helping me transition from a ‘deer in the headlights’ mentality to an ‘I’ve totally got this’ mentality. His clear step-by-step approach allayed my fears about being a business owner.

After getting over my fear of starting a business, other fears and anxieties starting popping up: How will I handle the feast/famine cycle of freelancing? How on earth do I design a website? How am I going to market my services? How am I going to learn all that I need to learn about business ownership? What I’ve realized in my first year of business is the importance of acknowledging those fears (rather than pushing them under the rug) and coming up with a plan to work through them.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with JPen Communications – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
JPen Communications is a medical communications company. Medical writing is a broad field, encompassing many forms of writing that center around communicating scientific and medical topics to a wide range of audiences (pharmaceutical companies, academic researchers, healthcare professionals, the general public, etc.).

My company offers medical writing services that focus on patient education (educational brochures, online educational content) and health journalism (feature articles, news reports on veterinary and human medicine). Other services include editing and test question development. Because veterinary and human medicine share many similarities, I am able to write in both areas equally well.

I believe that having a DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) degree sets me apart from other medical writers. Being a veterinarian and medical writer is a unique combination that affords me the opportunity to expand my writing opportunities and client base.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I moved to Atlanta in 2010 and was excited to live in a city with so much to offer. I like that, on any given day or weekend, there are so many events taking place that there is no shortage of fun and interesting things to do.

I also like that there are so many local restaurants in Atlanta. Since living here, my husband and I have enjoyed learning about and visiting local restaurants. We have yet to be disappointed during our dining out experiences!

Living in Atlanta has been my first big-city experience. Growing up in a fairly small town outside of Annapolis, Maryland, I had no idea how to answer the question ‘So what part of Atlanta do you live in?’ after first moving down here. I soon learned that, for better or for worse, what section of Atlanta you live in says something about you.

I definitely do not like the traffic. The fact that it can take almost 2 hours to get from Sandy Springs to downtown during rush hour boggles my mind. I’m a strong supporter of public transit and would love to see MARTA become more accessible north of the city.

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