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What is a medical transcriptionist?

A medical transcriptionist transfers audio or dictated notes from a doctor or medical professional into a written document. 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, must be familiar with medical terminology and treatments. Their primary job requirement is to accurately transcribe and review information, 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 fast typist. With changes in the industry over the past several decades, it’s also pretty important to be adaptable. 

How to become a medical transcriptionist?

Requirements for enrolling in a medical transcriptionist program vary, but many programs require applicants to have a GED or high school diploma. The job isn’t simply a matter of typing notes; medical transcriptionists must understand medical terminology, pharmaceutical terminology, anatomy and medical law. Fast and accurate typing skills, excellent listening skills and a solid knowledge of grammar are also required. The degree requirements can be different at each school and can take between six months and two years. At the end the student might receive an associate degree, certificate or diploma. Online courses are an option at some schools. 

Graduates can then choose to become certified as a medical transcriptionist. While it’s not necessary, it’s recommended and sometimes required for some employers. Certification is available through the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI), the advocacy and member group for medical transcriptionists. 

There are two levels of certification: registered healthcare documentation specialist (RHDS) or certified healthcare documentation specialist (CHDS). Those who have been certified as a RHDS and have two years of practical experience may be eligible to become a CHDS. Certification for both needs to be renewed every three years through continuing education credits. 

A uniquely paid position

Many employers will offer medical insurance and other benefits to medical transcriptionists. The salary however is generally not one of the highest in the medical field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay in 2020 for medical transcriptionists was $16.96 or $35,270 per year. Some may 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. Those who are fast and accurate typists will benefit the most. 

These third-party vendors employ the highest number of transcriptionists in the field. Their transcriptionists could be transcribing information from anywhere in the country, so the transcriptionist might not be familiar with the names of staff, terminology, referenced locations or might have trouble understanding accents. As a result, those transcribed documents are then often quality checked by someone based locally. 

For more information o medical transcriptionist salaries, including a state-by-state income comparison, view our medical transcriptionist salary guide here.

What is the day-to-day experience?

Kim Seitzinger with Community Health Network in Indianapolis has been in the field for 30 years. In her role 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. The job requires sitting for a long period of time and being able to stay focused. 

Some physicians will type their own notes, but when they use voice dictation a medical transcriptionist takes over. The doctor’s dictation is translated by artificial intelligence into a text document. A medical transcriptionist will listen to the audio file comparing it to the text document and will edit as necessary. If that step was completed by a third-party vendor, then Seitzinger’s staff of transcriptionists will quality check the final text to catch any errors, often for names and places. 

Flexible work is a benefit

Medical transcriptionists sometimes have the ability to work from anywhere, even 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 of time. 

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.”

The future of medical transcribing

Now thanks to advanced technology that more easily translates voice to text, the U.S. Bureau of Labor predicts that the job will decline by two percent in the next ten years. Seitzinger agrees that the job has changed significantly with technology but feels the job is still relevant. “We have to keep in mind that our jobs become repurposed in some form,” she said. For many that means 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 and small office settings, 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. 

Bottom line

For someone who can work independently and desires a flexible schedule, then a role as a medical transcriber might be a good fit. The job requires the ability to handle evolving changes in both new technology and work processes, but it’s a career path that can be entered within a short amount of time.