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The Challenges of Medical Narration


By Stephanie Ciccarelli

May 11, 2010

Comments (10)

Medical Mumbo workshop image, Julie Williams

Have you ever considered narrating for the medical community?

Julie Williams has a workshop coming up in June of this year where she'll be teaching you more about how you can read technical scripts with the ease of a storyteller.

Learn more about the interesting field of voice over narration now.

Challenges Faced in Medical Narration

By Julie Williams

Medical Narration is its own animal. It's a VO genre that presents unique challenges, but also offers great rewards.

One of the greatest rewards in Medical Narration is repeat business. Once a client finds a talent who can confidently, and competently rise to the challenge, he usually comes back time and time again. It's not easy for clients to find someone who can do medical narration well. In fact, I've noticed that even many seasoned voice actors and actresses--not to mention some prominent coaches who have decades of experience--do not do a very good job with medical narration!


Perhaps because they focus too much on pronouncing difficult terminology correctly--as if that were the big challenge of medical narration. It's not. Sure, pronunciation can literally be a mouthful, but that's easy to remedy. Find out how to say the words and practice saying them until they roll off your tongue like a fluent language.

The real challenge in medical narration is telling the story. And for good reason.

In many medical narrations the terminology is so difficult, and the subject so foreign, that even the narrator can't see the story! How can you tell a story you don't know? Yet if the words are spoken in such a manner that the story is not told, the narrator loses the credibility in the eyes of the most important listener, the audience for whom the script was written. Whether it be doctors learning about a disease, students exploring biological processes, or patients being instructed on how to use a medical device, presumably, the audience will understand what is being said--even if the narrator doesn't! And to that audience the narrator is supposed to be the expert. He or she is the one teaching the information!

So, how can you know the story?

There are a number of techniques we practice in my Medical Mumbo workshop (where we use the most difficult medical copy you've ever seen in your life!) But for starters, don't let the words get in the way. Don't get so wrapped up in the medical mumbo that you can't see past it to the underlying message--the story.



About Julie Williams

Julie WilliamsJulie Williams is a voice-over actress and coaches with thousands of credits. Publisher of The VoiceOver Insider, a free monthly online magazine for the voiceover industry (sign up at www.voice-overs.com) Julie is also author of How To Make Money in Voice-Overs Even if You Don't Live in NY or LA, Proven Voice-Over Techniques, and Medical Mumbo Advanced Narration Workshop.

A limited number of students will be able to attend Julie's Medical Mumbo Advanced Narration LIVE workshop in Los Angeles, Sunday 6/6/10 at VoiceTrax West. There she'll offer intense coaching and produce a limited number of medical narration demos for attendees. You can download details and a registration form at http://voice-overs.com/MM.pdf

Related Topics: acting, how to, industry, Julie Williams, Los Angeles, medical narration, SAG, voice overs, voice talent, workshop


    I spent 34 years as a medical sales rep. I began my acting career in 2006, I have a huge medical vocabulary. How do I find & audition for medical narration vo's??

    Bill Rapp

    Posted by:
    • Bill Rapp
    • May 12, 2010 11:17 AM

      Great timing... Medical narration has become my new niche. Just wrapping up a 5 hour gig later today on stem cell research, eye lasers and birth defects. The vocab can def. be challenging but spelling key words phonetically in the scripts makes a huge difference.


      Dave Cook

      Posted by:

        Medical narration sounds wonderful. I love reading out loud and working in the medical field. I'm so glad I found out about this!

        Posted by:
        • Jade Lauron
        • September 2, 2010 10:33 PM

          Interesting that you should bring up this topic, because just the other day I was telling a youngster who was asking me about the VO business what they should be thinking about.

          I told them that, if they have an area of expertise, they should start where they are and expand; i.e. if you have - as Mr. Rapp mentioned in his comment - a category you have knowledge in, bring that to the table.

          You can see where I am going with this idea.

          Bottom line, even VO is becoming like medicine insofar as there are areas that a talent may have general knowledge in ( a "GP") and areas where they have a thorough and more specific knowledge of the subject matter (a "Specialist").

          Build on the strength you have, and things start falling into place like the tumblers on a lock!

          But remember, practice, practice, practice. (Even a Doctor calls it "Practicing" medicine.

          Posted by:
          • Charles Kahlenberg
          • June 5, 2011 7:07 PM

            Webster has a medical dictionary online that I use quite often to look up words. It will even pronounce it for you.

            Medical is tough and so is some other types of scientific research.

            Bryan Jester

            Posted by:
            • Bryan Jester
            • June 5, 2011 8:18 PM

              Was a medical transcriber for years and know m
              edical terminology well (the key is dissecting the words and knowing what the parts mean), and now I am a theater actor. This would be right up my alley. How do I get into VO's???

              Posted by:
              • Kat Grossman
              • June 5, 2011 8:21 PM

                The challenge can be how to make complicated copy sound simple and suave?! The easier the words roll off the tongue, the more mellifluous the sound is to the listener's ears!

                Posted by:

                  As a Biotechnologist by degree and voice actor by profession - with many hours of medical script narration and years of VO work now, I'm not entirely convinced that medical script narration is something that just needs a "storyteller"

                  Realistically, the vocabulary needed requires a very solid understanding of English and often French or German language roots.. and a medical or technical background is usually the starting point for most medical narrators.

                  Take patience, stamina, research and stubborn determination... plus a lot of editing... and you have a good medical read... Being a good story telling voice actor with a passion AND UNDERSTANDING of the subject and you have the right result.

                  The time when medical VO fails miserably is when the voice actor simply doesn't understand the content of the script...

                  If you're narrating heart surgery and don't know what a ventricle is, then the read won't work...

                  In summary.. Voice Actors perform best when they can empathize and get into a role or character... If you can't get into character as a scientist, why go there?

                  Just my 10c for midnight Sydney time...
                  Andy C
                  That Aussie VO Guy..

                  Posted by:

                    Hi there,

                    I have done two medical voice-overs and one of them was in Malay, the other language I do VOs in.I remember the challenge was not only did I have to learn the pronunciations but also learn the Malay-specific pronunciations (although I did have to mention to the producer that the translator hadn't translated the key disease that the narration was about and had to do an alternate take on the lead paragraph.

                    In both cases they were very pleased with my reads - it must have been the large amount of medical books I used to read as a child! My mother is a nurse and had these dusty books full of medical conditions and drug references which I would read out of curiosity.

                    I never knew that it would have helped me years later when looking at long medical terms and never really balked.

                    All the best and have a great weekend


                    Posted by:

                      Killer info! I had been trying to land a med. narration gig for years until getting my first job jus recently. I have to say, this article is spot on. I have the term pronunciation down, but there was something missing from my talent. Delivery was it. I made some tweaks based on some suggestions and coaching and it truly paid off. Spot on!

                      Posted by:

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