Enter the Real World of Medical Transcription
Bonnie Bakal, CMT
Several years ago, when medical transcription moved into the spotlight as “a hot profession,” vocational and junior colleges, private and business schools, and career institutes jumped on the bandwagon, establishing career paths for those who aspired to be medical transcriptionists (MTs). Unfortunately, those in charge of program development too often knew little, if anything, about the complex nature of medical transcription. And too often those charged with the responsibility of teaching medical transcription were not MTs. Graduates of many of the early programs found it impossible to find employment.
Eventually advisory boards were created to support the schools’ efforts and to provide important insight into what was missing from curricula. The addition of qualified MT instructors gave some assurance that students received the encouragement required to conquer the language of medicine, the technology and the difficult dictators. Students were introduced to the real world of medical transcription and understood that expecting too much too soon would most certainly lead to frustration. Practical knowledge about the profession contributed to their ability to work independently and with a level of expertise that had not existed previously.
Because medical transcription lends itself well as a profession in which one can work from a home environment, students often enter an educational program with the lofty expectation that upon completion of a brief course, they need only purchase a computer, a transcribing unit and a dictionary to be ready to satisfy the demands of real live clients. They are dismayed to learn that they must have the ability to sit quietly and remain focused for long periods of time. They find it difficult to turn family and friends away during hours of production.
Pressure for a New MT
Being paid on production is almost always a new concept for a former corporate employee, or to someone accustomed to receiving a salary. The pressure of being paid for what is produced often takes its toll on a newcomer who does not fully understand the investment of time that is required to be an MT. Level I MTs must be assertive enough to ask questions without giving in to a feeling of inadequacy, and if production is the primary driver of their income, they must understand that their income may suffer while they attain a level of proficiency. And they must be prepared to accept the constructive criticism that they will surely get.
More than ever before, today’s MT educational programs include medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, human disease processes, pharmacology, English, reference use, and laboratory time to transcribe. The need for a lifetime commitment to continuing education is often stressed. The recent additions of computer skills, advances in technology, and labor-saving production enhancers have fortified many programs. The American Association for Medical Transcription’s (AAMT) updated model curriculum still includes a strong recommendation for 240 hours of on-the-job experience–an externship.
Externships (or internships) are not an unusual requirement of most health care professions. Unfortunately, placing a medical transcription student in a real work environment can be a challenging task. Medical transcription businesses and departments are often too busy to accept an individual who will require one-to-one supervision for 240 hours. With MT businesses and health care institutions already stretched to the limit by existing demands and inadequate staff, the opportunity for providing externships is limited. Yet, it has been proven time and again that anything less leaves the prospective MT unsure and unprepared. Becoming fluent in any language requires close affiliation with those who are already fluent, and perfecting the medical language is no different.
To assist newcomers to attain medical language fluency, my transcription business has developed a mentoring program that is staffed by one full-time MT instructor. Students who have completed an MT program are tested to determine their skill levels. They are required to begin work in-house, where they learn formats and terminology specific to their accounts, and they learn to optimize the use of references, including the online use of search engines. They become comfortable with their computer hardware and software. Confidentiality issues and the individual needs of clients are taught. Their fund of knowledge is expanded in terminology, English, medical equipment, signs and symptoms, procedures, etc.
We then explore what working at home means and whether they have the ability and self-discipline to work on their own. There is no particular time allotted to this project because one size doesn’t fit all.
When the newcomer moves into the home environment, their one-on-one interaction with qualified staff continues. Within 24 hours of completion of their work, it is brought to the office, carefully reviewed and questions are answered. Generally these individuals are assigned to one client until they are comfortable with format and terminology. Only then are they introduced to the next originator.
The commitment to develop this kind of program requires the investment of human and monetary resources. So why do it? The demand for documentation has steadily increased over time. If individuals with the talent to enter the transcription profession are not appropriately educated and mentored beyond the classroom, the shortage of qualified MTs will also increase. It is worth the time and challenge to make certain that the health care team includes knowledgeable MTs. *
Bonnie Bakal is president-elect of AAMT and has been a transcription service owner for 26 years in Houston, TX. She is also on the advisory board at several junior colleges offering MT programs.