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Medical Transcription - A Brief Overview

If you've been thinking about working at home as an MT, here is some basic info you need to know.

by Cynthia Ann Lewis

What is involved in Medical Transcription?

Medical transcription, as you may know, is transcribing audio cassette or digital dictation by physicians into hard copy or computer files for printing. In other words, physicians recount the patient's medical history, clinical findings and health care services on a tape recorder or digital recording system, which in turn is interpreted by the medical transcriptionist and generated into a written record regarding the patient.

Medical terminology is a mix of Latin and Greek word parts (roots, prefixes and suffixes), using English and a smattering of foreign terms. A working knowledge of biology, human anatomy and physiology is necessary to understand the dictation. Grammar, spelling and punctuation are necessary to create a document that is correct, professional-looking, and interpretable by others (lawyers, health care professionals, etc.).

Is there a market for medical transcriptionists?

Most definitely, there is a market for skilled medical transcriptionists.

  • The U.S. Department of Labor has predicted the number of medical transcriptionists needed will increase by 158,000 by the year 2005 -- a 68.3% increase over the number of MTs currently in the field.
  • Medical transcription was also named "One of the Top Ten Businesses in 1995" by Entrepreneur Magazine.


Just having a computer at home and knowing how to type is definitely not enough to become a working, successful medical transcriptionist.

Technical training is a necessity for the novice medical transcriptionist, usually in the form of a vocational/technical college program, correspondence course or an apprenticeship. Experience in the field of transcription is invaluable to broaden your abilities and become familiar with the different medical specialties. Working for a transcription service, physician's office, clinic or hospital is a good way to start building your career. Although this program will prepare you to work from home, it is preferable to work alongside experienced transcriptionists in the beginning. Medical transcription is rarely something you can start and "earn $30,000" in the first year from home. It does take time and practice.

When you research learning opportunities, just be sure that your course will offer all of the following:

  • Medical Terminology
  • Acronyms, eponyms, abbreviations
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Laboratory tests and values
  • Medical procedures and equipment
  • Drugs
  • Transcription formatting
  • Ethics of medical transcription
  • Research methods and resources
  • Brush-up typing (if you need it)
  • Brush-up English grammar
  • Marketing
  • MT "business" skills
  • Instructor availability, either in person or by phone
  • ... and LOTS of actual transcription practice (including dictation by Foreign-accented providers).

Each course that you investigate will be structured somewhat differently and will offer different values -- one will suit you better than the others. One course may include a computer, another may include a transcriber, another may offer an apprenticeship program at the conclusion of the course, another may offer some sort of accreditation. Some courses offer employment opportunities or job-placement services. Some courses provide reference materials, others require that you purchase them in addition to the course. Ask about the details of each course and find the one that gives you what you want -- and then investigate it thoroughly.

Be aware that, although some courses offer a "certificate of completion" and/or claim "accreditation" -- none offer certification in the American Association For Medical Transcription, the "CMT" that some medical transcriptionists are proud to add to their names. This certification is offered ONLY through AAMT and requires two tests. The general advice is that transcriptionists with less than three years' actual experience should wait for certification. (You are not required to obtain this certification in order to work. Many institutions will pay a slightly higher wage to certified MT's, but many other employers/clients are not aware of either AAMT or the CMT status.)

Working On Site VS. Working at Home

With your sharpened skills, the next decision is, should you work on-site or become an independent? This is best answered by a self-evaluation test. Calculate your transcription productivity. How many lines can you transcribe in an hour or day? Calculate that by the price rate in your area. Would you make enough as a self-employed transcriptionist to pay for overhead and have a profit? If you are an average to low producer, employee status is probably best. The job offers a steady income and benefits, but there are ceiling wages and an uncontrollable work environment. If you are an above average or high producer, consider self-employment. Becoming an independent medical transcriptionist offers awesome benefits for some people. It affords the opportunity to increase your income, control your work environment, learn more and varied business skills, and grow. It requires self-discipline, organization, continuing education and reinvestment in your equipment and yourself. A successful transition into independent transcription can also build self-esteem and the skills and motivation to tackle larger projects.

There are many different working environments available to a trained, experienced MT, including hospitals, clinics, individual and group medical, chiropractic, radiology, physical therapy practices, national transcription services that hire or contract home-based MT's, local transcription services who may also hire or contract MT's, and owner-operator MT's (who may also subcontract work out).

While this appears to be an excellent field for those transitioning from another career to working at home, you need to be aware that there can be a "catch-22" in this profession. Because of the difficulty of the work, experience is so valued that it is sometimes difficult for "newbies" to get a job or clients without experience (and of course, how do you get experience without a job or clients)?

For more info, click on MT - A Few Words of Caution to EPs.

Cynthia Ann Lewis owns a medical transcription service in California, having made the transition from a corporate management position to home business owner in 1994. She is also a freelance writer and daily contributor on the Medical Transcription Forum on AOL, as well as the mom of grown-up twin sons. She can be reached via email.

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