Gaining RESPECT for Medical Transcriptionists
By Patricia A. Ireland, CMT
The phone is ringing. It’s your mother, who wants to go shopping. Your children are begging for attention–Jimmy needs some juice, and Carol wants a cookie. Waggs, the family dog, needs to go for a walk. There is a deliveryman at the door. The laundry must be a mile high, and the sink is stacked with dishes. Your world is spinning out of control, yet you are trying to work.
Gaining respect as a medical transcriptionist (MT), whether you work from home or in a hospital or office setting, has been an age-old problem. Webster’s Dictionary defines respect as, “esteem, deference, willingness to show consideration or appreciation.” For me it is an intangible quality. I can tell when I’m getting it and when I am not, but I can’t put a finger on it exactly. They say you can’t demand respect; you must earn it.
Having worked in offices and hospitals as a multispecialty MT for 30 years, I have found that most people don’t know what medical transcription is or who does it. They just know that they want accurate medical records, and they want them fast. How they get there and/or by whom is secondary.
I asked several of my friends–MTs working both from home and in office settings from Tampa to Seattle–if they think MTs are respected as professionals. They all have a story to tell.
* Linda (service owner): Yes, we have respect. Doctors, in particular, are more aware today of who we are and what we accomplish. When they find good work, they know a professional MT did it.
* Shirley (hospital): I have a positive feeling about MTs being respected. Most doctors are nice and helpful. It is the rare one who will treat us with disrespect.
* Carol (office): We get no respect because no one knows what we do. How many times have you heard someone say, “I could do that!”? I think our supervisors, co-workers, family members, etc., should try transcription–for just 10 minutes! Then we’d get respect.
* Ann (office): Our work as MTs is devalued because historically it has been a woman’s job. We are thought of as “only typists.” If more men were MTs, we’d get respect plus a living wage!
* Norma (home-based): We get no respect, but it is our own fault. Too many MTs are willing to work for peanuts, and we all suffer. We should hold out for a living wage; then we’d get respect.
* Carmen (hospital): We don’t get respect because training has been sacrificed to production. We should not be afraid to speak out for more and better training and quality assurance. “Just say no” to poor wages. I know a hospital where the MTs are paid on production; whenever they start making too much money, the definition of their line is changed! Who could feel respected in an atmosphere like that?
* Suzanne (home-based): There is little respect for our profession, but having the American Association for Medical Transcription (AAMT) and its local chapters is furthering our respect by educating the public and the doctors on what we do and how we can help them. Respect starts with the MTs themselves–acting, dressing and working professionally, respecting themselves and allowing others to follow suit.
* Julie (clinic): I’ve had it both ways–being treated with respect, being given positive feedback by managers, and having doctors who proofread all their work and kindly ask the MT who transcribed it to make corrections when necessary. Now, however, I work in a large clinic where management gives only negative feedback, the doctors are picky and whiney, there’s no acknowledgement of us as professionals, and management wants to cut everyone’s salary back to entry level! All the employees are discouraged and looking for other jobs.
* Jill (former service owner): I got little respect when I was working from home. I was the only Mom on the block. My neighbors would always want to drop their kids off and/or give me their keys if a repair or delivery person was expected because “you’re going to be home anyway.” Telemarketers with one-time offers, friends and family who wanted company while shopping, and my own mother who wanted me to run errands for her. How can I explain that I have a job? I am working. I don’t want to be disturbed.
Wow! Don’t ask the question unless you are prepared for the answer, right?
So, how do we get quality back in the equation? How do we get respect as medical language specialists? Having more MTs in positions of authority might help, but you cannot maintain your transcription skills as a manager. We are practitioners of our craft, and we have to stay in practice. Actually, the personality profile of a transcriptionist includes being focused, preferring to work alone, and not being very interested in dealing with business, employee problems, the payroll, meetings, etc.
For MTs who work from their homes, however, here are some suggestions to help others understand that you are working professionals who deserve respect.
1. “Go to work” by getting dressed, fixing your hair and makeup, going into a specifically designated work area, and closing the door.
2. Set definite hours and boundaries for yourself and your friends and family.
3. Don’t answer the telephone. Use voice mail while you are working.
4. Use a drop box in a convenient place outside your house for others to drop off work.
5. Use a similar plan inside the house for family members to place notes of their needs and/or whereabouts.
6. Lock your front door and don’t answer it while working.
7. Time is money, so keep yourself focused on work. Organize your work area. Have your reference books, letterhead, lists of doctors and other supplies conveniently placed.
8. Set aside one day a month for ordering supplies and doing other administrative type duties.
9. Have a business card or flier made up that includes your working hours. Pass it out as a reminder that you are a working professional and are unavailable during those hours. (This could also be used as a marketing tool, of course.)
10. Join your professional local, state and national association. It’s a good place to learn and network, and all the business expenses are tax deductible.
One thing that could easily be done to show respect for MTs is to use the word “transcriptionist” instead of “transcriber,” which is a machine. I guess it is true–we must respect ourselves before anyone else will.
Patricia A. Ireland is a certified medical transcriptionist working at The San Antonio Tumor and Blood Clinic.