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Merel Elsinga

Editing Medical-Legal Reports: An Interview with Jahleen Turnbull-Sousa

Jahleen Turnbull-Sousa poses in an office chair beside a writing desk with a stack of style guides in her lap. (© Theresa Camastra, Black Dog Studios)
Jahleen Turnbull-Sousa poses in an office chair beside a writing desk with a stack of style guides in her lap. (© Theresa Camastra, Black Dog Studios)
Photo credit: Theresa Camastra, Black Dog Studios

Jahleen Turnbull-Sousa is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in editing medical-legal assessment reports. These reports comprise opinions of medical experts that are used in a legal claim context. At the Editors Canada conference on June 13, 2021, Jahleen presented “Editing Medical-Legal Reports: A Big Little Niche.” Recently, editor Merel Elsinga interviewed Jahleen to learn a bit more about her work. (This interview has been lightly edited.)

Merel Elsinga: Can you tell us again why editors are so important for medical-legal reports?

Jahleen Turnbull-Sousa: The reports will undergo scrutiny in an adversarial setting, and a poorly written report could discredit or embarrass the expert. Also, many civil cases are settled based on the written evidence of the medical expert(s).

ME: You started working in your niche 10 years ago as an in-house editorial consultant at a neuropsychology firm. In 2017, you transitioned to working freelance. How did that transition happen?

JTS: I realized that I liked the writing and editing part of my job most. I then googled editing, and came up. That was the first time I realized that editing could be a career and that all sorts of training existed for editors. From there I enrolled in the Simon Fraser University editing program and I went to the Editors Canada conference in Ottawa. At the conference, in a speed mentoring session, Beth Macfie encouraged me to make medical-legal editing my niche, so I did! My first freelance medical-legal and healthcare jobs came mostly from networking with former colleagues, but also from posting on social media. Now I also get referrals.

ME: We learned from your presentation that medical-legal reports often have a 48-hour turnaround. Does that mean your other work needs to have more timeline flexibility to be able to fit in these jobs?

JTS: About 50 per cent of my editing and writing work is medical-legal. So yes, I have to stay on top of time management. Returning clients know how much time report editing takes, so they usually allow enough time for me to edit their work. It can get challenging with new clients who are busy themselves and don’t yet realize how long it takes to fact-check and edit a report. When they come to me at the very last minute, that sometimes is too late to be able to do a proper editing job. In that case, I have to turn down the work.

ME: How many hours per day would you be able to work on a report?

JTS: Ideally no more than four to five hours. After that I would slip in an hour working on another type of project, like editing a home and garden article or catching up on business administration. But sometimes it ends up being a nine-hour day to get a lengthy report done in time.

ME: Is there anything else you would like to share with your fellow Editors Canada members?

JTS: If you are interested in working in this niche, there is work out there for you. You just have to search for it and get out there.


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