Allied Health
January 2, 2024

How to Become a Medical Transcriptionist: A Practical Guide

Explore the journey to becoming a medical transcriptionist, including the necessary education, credentials, and potential for professional growth.
How to Become a Medical Transcriptionist: A Practical Guide

Are you someone with an eye for detail?  Do you have an interest in medicine or healthcare?  What about working behind the scenes in an office setting? If you answered yes, you may enjoy a career as a medical transcriptionist.  These professionals are integral to the creation and accuracy of medical documentation. 

This guide will explore becoming a medical transcriptionist, including educational requirements, certifications, and salary expectations.

What is a Medical Transcriptionist?

A medical transcriptionist transfers audio or dictated notes from a doctor or other healthcare provider into written medical records.

They save time for medical groups by taking verbal notes and putting them into a digital format that can be saved and shared. Medical transcriptionists, also known as medical transcribers or healthcare documentation specialists, must be familiar with medical terminology and treatments.

Their primary job requirement is to transcribe and review medical report information accurately. There is no room for error; transcriptionists must excel as editors and proofreaders. 

The job is well-suited for someone who can work independently, is a good listener, and is a fast typist. With changes in the industry over the past several decades, it’s also important for medical transcriptionists to understand how to use electronic health records (EHRs) and voice recognition software. 

Medical Transcriptionist Skills

The knowledge and skills expected in this profession include the following:

  • Ability to interpret verbal dictation of medical professionals
  • Experience with EHRs and other technological software
  • Familiarity with medical abbreviations and terminology
  • Mastery of grammar, spelling, and sentence structure
  • Typing proficiency to ensure accuracy
  • Ensure the completeness and clarity of medical records 

How to Become a Medical Transcriptionist

Becoming a medical transcriptionist with a high school diploma or GED is possible, though certification and post-college study will increase your odds of employment.

The steps to become a certified medical transcriptionist are as follows:

Step 1. Gain a high school diploma or GED.

Most medical transcription programs require a high school degree or equivalent.

Step 2. Enroll in a medical transcription course

There are multiple ways to prepare for a career in health documentation, such as:

  • A two-year associate's degree program in medical transcription or health documentation
  • A certification in healthcare documentation through a vocational school or community college
  • Online medical transcriptionist training

Online medical transcriptionist programs can often take six to 12 months. Students will learn medical terminology, anatomy, pharmacology, and diagnostic procedures.  The curriculum also covers dictation techniques, deciphering errors, identifying missing information, formatting reports, and submitting for physician approval.  Coursework also emphasizes professional standards, as well as HIPAA laws and regulations.

Step 3. Pass the Registered Healthcare Documentation Specialist (RHDS) certification exam

The Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI) offers certifications for medical transcriptionists. The Registered Healthcare Documentation Specialist (RHDS) certification exam is for recent graduates of medical transcription education programs.

Step 4. Renew certification every three years 

After earning an RHDS certification, the certification is valid for three years. Medical transcriptionists can renew their certification by earning 20 continuing education credits. Recertification costs $60 for AHDI members and $90 for non-members.

Step 5: Further specialization (optional)

In addition to the RHDS certification, the AHDI offers advanced certification opportunities to those who wish to demonstrate competency.

Certified Healthcare Documentation Specialist (CHDS)

Who it's for: Registered Healthcare Documentation Specialists (RHDSs) with a minimum of 2 years experience in acute care transcription or multi-specialty equivalent or Certified Medical Transcriptionists (CMTs) who want to earn the CHDS credential.

Certified Healthcare Documentation Professional
Who it’s for: Professionals who play an active role in healthcare documentation, including practitioners who document in health records, auditors/analysts, allied healthcare workers, and medical scribes.

How Much Do Medical Transcriptionists Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for medical transcriptionists is $16.70 per hour or $34,730 per year.  Pay may be hourly or based on the volume of work transcribed. 

While some medical transcriptionists work in medical offices or hospital settings, many work for third-party administrative vendors or outsourced transcription services. In these settings, medical transcriptionists may work from home. 

Transcriptionists who receive outsourced work could be transcribing information from anywhere in the country, so they might not be familiar with the names of staff, terminology, and referenced locations and have trouble understanding accents. As a result, those transcribed documents are often quality-checked by transcriptionists locally. 

View our medical transcriptionist salary guide for medical transcriptionist salaries and a state-by-state income comparison.

A Day in the Life of a Medical Transcriptionist

Kim Seitzinger with Community Health Network in Indianapolis has been in the field for 30 years. As a transcription manager, she directs a staff of four medical transcriptionists for the health service organization. 

Seitzinger said her staff spends between four and six hours each day listening to transcriptions and quality-checking the files provided by transcription vendors. Medical transcriptionist jobs require sitting for extended periods and staying focused. 

Some physicians will type notes themselves, but a medical transcriptionist takes over when they use recorded dictation. The doctor’s dictation is translated by artificial intelligence into a text document. Some transcriptionists also review the medical documents translated by speech recognition software.

A medical transcriber will listen to the audio file, compare it to the text document, and edit it as necessary. All findings, medical procedures, reports, medical histories, discharge summaries, and diagnoses made by doctors, nurse practitioners, and other health care professionals must be stored in the patient's electronic medical record.

If third-party transcription services complete that step, then Seitzinger’s staff of transcriptionists will quality check the final text to catch any errors, often for names and places. 

Those working in hospitals or physician's offices might also need to perform clerical duties like retrieving or filing documents.

Seitzinger added that another benefit of the job is the ability to help others. “We aren’t directly working with patients, but we’re still caregivers. We still have an impact on the quality of services that the patient is provided,” she said. “We’re the unseen people for patient safety.”

Is Medical Transcription a Fading Field?

Thanks to advanced speech recognition technology that translates voice to text easily, the U.S. Bureau of Labor predicts that the employment of medical transcriptionists is expected to decline by 4% from 2022 to 2032.

Seitzinger agrees that the job has changed significantly with technology but feels it's still relevant. “We have to keep in mind that our jobs become repurposed in some form,” she said.

For many, the role has adapted from straight transcribing to focus more on editing and quality-checking the information that artificial intelligence translates to text. The job has evolved over the past century from sitting at a typewriter using a pedal to pause a taped recording to sitting at a computer and using digital means to translate the recording.

Because technology will continue to evolve, Seitzinger recommends that anyone wanting to become a medical transcriptionist be prepared to continue to adjust and adapt.

While demand remains for on-site transcription in some organizations, such as medical specialties, government agencies, and small medical offices, most health organizations already rely heavily on technology and outsourcing. This means that in-house medical transcriptionists have essentially become editors. 

“It’s important to adapt because things do change,” said Seitzinger.

Should You Become a Medical Transcriptionist?

A medical transcriber role might be a good fit for someone who can work independently, has a strong comprehension of English, and is detail-oriented. The job requires communicating effectively with medical professionals and handling evolving changes in new technology and work processes. 


How long does it take to become a medical transcriptionist?

It takes six months to two years to become a medical transcriptionist, depending on whether you enroll in a certificate or associate degree program.

Can medical transcriptionists work from home?

Medical transcriptionists can sometimes work from anywhere, even in their own home. Many transcription jobs are outsourced and can be performed anywhere with a computer and software. 

Where can I find online medical transcriptionist programs?

The AHDI has a list of approved online programs to prepare you to become a certified medical transcriptionist.

Where are medical transcriptionists employed?

According to the BLS, the following are the most popular places of employment for transcriptionists.

  • Hospitals (private, local, and state) - 12%
  • Physicians' offices or medical clinics - 34%
  • Administrative and support services - 37%
  • Technical consulting services - 2%

Medical transcriptionists who work from home may be self-employed as freelancers.

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Program outcomes may vary depending on each institution's specific curriculum and employment opportunities are not guranteed.