How to Become a Medical Transcriptionist | Salary & Education (2023)

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The vastness of the healthcare industry encompasses several different roles apart from the healthcare professionals. Among the plethora of roles is that of a medical transcriptionist.

This is an excellent career option for anyone looking to start working in healthcare sooner. With medical transcription programs ranging from 6-12 months and flexible work opportunities, there are many benefits of being a medical transcriptionist.

What is a Medical Transcriptionist?

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

They save time for medical groups by taking these spoken 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 information about medical reports accurately, so they should have enough basic medical knowledge to know the basics of what is being dictated. 

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 pretty essential to be adaptable. 

Medical Transcriptionist Skills

The extensive knowledge and skills expected of these healthcare workers include the following:

  • Electronic medical records system
  • Use of audio playback equipment and specialized software
  • Legal documentation requirements
  • Patient confidentiality guidelines
  • Medical abbreviations and terminology
  • Pharmacology
  • Diagnostic procedures
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Critical thinking skills, communication, and teamwork

How to Become a Medical Transcriptionist?

Sometimes called medical language specialists, medical transcriptionists must be good in grammar and punctuation, and fast and accurate typing skills and excellent listening skills are also required.

The steps to become a medical transcriptionist are as follows:

1. Gain a high school diploma or GED

2. Earn a medical transcriptionist degree by enrolling for:

  • A two-year Associate's degree program in Medical Transcription
  • A certification medical transcription program in a vocational school or community college
  • Any of the online medical transcriptionist programs

3. Opt for further education and become a certified medical transcriptionist (optional but recommended)

  • Take the Registered Healthcare Documentation Specialist (RHDS) certification exam
  • Take the Certified Healthcare Documentation Specialist (CHDS) certification exam after gaining some work experience

4. Renew the medical transcriptionist certificate every three years through continuing education credits

Requirements for enrolling in a medical transcriptionist program vary, but many programs require applicants to have a GED or high school diploma. The degree completion can take between six months and two years.

Graduates can then choose to become certified medical transcriptionists. Certification is available through the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI), the advocacy and member group for medical transcriptionists. 

How Much Do Medical Transcriptionists Make?

Many employers offer medical insurance and other benefits to most medical transcriptionists. However, the salary is generally not among the highest in the medical field. This is because the qualifications for a medical transcriptionist are far less than that of a healthcare provider,

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay in 2021 for medical transcriptionists was $14.47/hour or $30,100/year. However, some receive an hourly rate for medical transcribing, most notably when working for an office or hospital.

For those working for a third-party transcription vendor, payment is more frequently based on lines or characters typed. Therefore, those who are fast and accurate typists will benefit the most. These third-party vendors have the highest number of transcriptionist jobs in the field.

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

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

What Do Medical Transcriptionists Do?

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 services organization. 

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

Some physicians will type their own notes, 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 healthcare 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 a hospital setting or physician's offices might also need to perform clerical duties like retrieving or filing documents.

A medical transcriptionist's places of employment include:

  • Hospitals (private, local, and state)
  • Physicians' offices or medical clinics
  • Administrative and support services
  • Medical and diagnostic laboratories
  • Self-employed

Can Medical Transcriptionists Work from Home?

At times, medical transcriptionists can work from anywhere, even from the comfort of their own home. They should have a place in their home where they can work independently and without interruption for long periods. 

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.”

Job Outlook for Medical Transcriptionists

Thanks to advanced speech recognition technology that translates voice to text easily, the U.S. Bureau of Labor predicts that employment will decline by 7% between 2021-2031.

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 there still is demand for straight dictation to transcribing in some organizations, such as medical specialties, government agencies, and small medical offices, most health organizations already relying heavily on technology will outsource. This means that in-house medical transcriptionists have become editors. 

“It’s important being able 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 and desires a flexible schedule. The job requires the ability to communicate effectively with medical professionals and handle evolving changes in new technology and work processes. However, it’s a career path that interested individuals can quickly enter.