Become a Medical Transcriptionist

Medical transcription is an allied health career that involves transcribing, reviewing and compiling medical documents based on dictations made by doctors, nurses and others. It doesn’t take long to get into this career. With two years or less of school you can begin working as a medical transcriptionist.

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Once you have worked in medical transcription, you may be interested in other career paths in the healthcare industry. The training for medical transcription includes foundational medical and healthcare knowledge, setting you up for a number of interesting and rewarding careers.

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What Do Medical Transcriptionists Do?

A medical transcriptionist, or healthcare documentation specialist, listens to dictations made by physicians and other healthcare professionals. They use those dictations to create physical and electronic documents. Listening and transcribing are the main duties, but more goes into this career than many realize. Medical transcriptionists:

  • Listen to and transcribe recordings and dictations
  • Interpret the medical jargon, abbreviations and terminology used in these dictations
  • Create documents for patient records, history and diagnosis, laboratory documents, operation reports, referral letters, discharge summaries and others
  • Review, edit and make corrections to these documents to ensure the communication from the medical professionals is accurate and correct
  • Find any errors in dictations or documents that could compromise patient safety
  • Enter documents into electronic health record systems
  • Learn and follow laws and confidentiality guidelines regarding working with patient information
  • Follow up with physicians and others who made recordings and submit documents and reports to them for approval

Transcriptionists use special software or equipment to be able to quickly listen and record dictations. They must know how to use these tools to complete and submit documents and reports in a timely manner. Some also use speech recognition software but still need to read through and edit and change transcriptions as needed.

Medical transcriptionists work for healthcare support services companies, hospitals, urgent care facilities, physician offices, and medical and diagnostic labs. They may work in a large office outside of the medical setting, in a medical office or lab, or remotely. Most work full-time, but there is room for flexibility. Some transcriptionists work as freelancers, contracting out their services. They are able to choose their hours and work times.

Outlook and Salaries for Medical Transcription

Unfortunately, right now medical transcription career growth is in the negative direction. The number of jobs in this field is declining by three percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This decline can be explained by the growing use of speech recognition software and the export of jobs overseas.

Salaries, according to the BLS, vary for transcriptionists, but the median across the industry was $33,380 in May 2019. Medical and diagnostic laboratory transcriptions earn the most, with a median annual salary of $41,660. The top earners make more than $51,000 per year.

Is Medical Transcription Still a Viable Career?

The fact that this career is shrinking can be a little troubling, but there are still reasons to consider becoming a medical transcriptionist. Jobs are still available as the healthcare industry experiences strong growth and workers age and retire. Even with speech recognition software, qualified exerts are needed to review and correct documents. This is essential for patient safety and the smooth operation of medical facilities.

Although careers are in decline, the skills you learn in becoming a medical transcriptionist are valuable in other jobs. Starting out in this career, you may be able to advance within your company or transition to a related healthcare career.

The Path to Becoming a Medical Transcriptionist

Most employers of transcriptionists, which include healthcare service companies, hospitals, physician offices and laboratories, require some type of training and education. While transcribing seems straightforward and simple, it does require specialized knowledge and skills.

Depending on the employer, you may need an associate degree or a certificate or diploma in medical transcription. Some type of training after high school is strongly recommended. An associate degree will take two years to complete and will prepare you to work as a medical transcriptionist. It takes longer and is more costly than other options, but a degree has benefits too. You will learn more and earn credits that may transfer to another degree program or help you advance your career in the future.

The other option is to complete a certificate or diploma program in medical transcription. These are usually found online and take less than a year to complete. Regardless of the type or duration, a good program should include courses in medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, medical office procedures, pharmacology and of course medical transcription with actual practice transcribing dictations.

You may also want to consider earning certification. With a program completed and less than two years of work experience, you can take the exam to become a Registered Healthcare Documentation Specialist (RHDS) through the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI). With two or more years of work experience in acute care or multiple medical specialties, plus the RHDS credential, you can become a Certified Documentation Specialists through the AHDI.

Building a New Career after Medical Transcription

There is some uncertainty in careers for trained medical transcriptionists because of new technologies and outsourcing. However, this is a great foundation for a career in other areas of healthcare. With an education and training in medical transcription, followed by a few years of work experience, you may be ready to advance your career and try something new.

  • Quality assurance editor. Transcriptionists with experience may be promoted to the role of quality assurance. This means you are responsible for reviewing documents prepared by other transcriptionists to ensure accuracy. This is essential for accurate communications between medical professionals and for patient safety.
  • Supervising medical transcriptionists. Another potential promotion is to the role of a supervisor. These are more experienced transcriptionists who direct the work of others. They lead teams, assign work, do editing and keep things running smoothly.
  • Electronic health record/information technology specialist. A related career to which you can apply your medical transcription education and experience involves working with and managing the technologies used in healthcare settings. Most medical facilities now use electronic health record (EHR) systems, instead of the old system of filing paper documents. Workers are needed to transition paper records to electronic records, to manage and maintain EHR systems and other technologies. Positions in this field may include application system analyst, department technical analyst, EHR manager, patient portal liaison and EHR trainer.
  • Document integrity specialist. Integrity auditors, educators, coordinators, managers and supervisors are responsible for maintaining quality and integrity in interactions between patients and the healthcare system. They create documents, edit and transcribe, communicate with physicians and other medical professionals, and manage quality.
  • Heath information management. Health information management, or HIM, careers include EHR chart analysis, clinical documentation improvement, and coding. Position titles include coder, HIM technician, HIM analyst, HIM data analyst or HIM supervisor or manager.
  • Administrative careers. With a background in medical terminology and knowledge, a medical transcriptionist is in a great position to move into medical administration. These support staff work in hospitals, physician offices and other medical facilities. They do billing and scheduling, answer the phones and communicate with patients, manage and maintain office records, get patients checked in and out of the office, verify insurance and use the EHR system. Job titles include medical administrative assistant, medical secretary, medical receptionist and patient services representative.
  • Medical transcription instructor. With a few years of experience working in the field, you may qualify to become an instructor. Community, technical and career colleges, as well as online schools, need experienced professionals to teach and train new medical professionals.
  • Self-employed medical transcriptionist. Medical transcription is well-suited to an entrepreneurial career. You can work as a self-employed transcriptionist, contracting your services to hospitals and healthcare companies. You may also consider starting a small business, offering your services or eventually hiring other transcriptionists to work for you. Many transcriptionists already work remotely.
  • Other allied health careers. Allied health careers comprise a wide range of roles that support the work of nurses and doctors. A certificate or degree in medical transcription is a good foundation for switching to one of these. If you earned an associate degree, you may even find that some of the credits transfer to a new program. Some options to consider include medical assistant (medassisting.org), dental assistant (dentalassistantedu.org), laboratory technologist, dental hygienist (dentalassistantedu.org/dh/), medical biller and coder, nursing assistant, home health aide, nuclear medicine technologist, surgical technologist (surgicaltechedu.org) or pharmacy technician (pharmacistschools.org).

There are many career paths available if you choose to train and learn to become a medical transcriptionist. Although this particular position is in decline, trained professionals are still needed throughout the healthcare industry. And, with the foundation of general medical knowledge that you get while training and working as a medical transcriptionist, you may just find that this career is only the beginning. Use it to take any number of paths into other enjoyable, lucrative and rewarding careers in healthcare.