What Is a Medical Transcriptionist?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

A medical transcriptionist transcribes doctor’s notes into written documentation. Learn more about medical transcriptionist jobs, salaries, and training.

[Featured Image] A woman in a medical office sits at a desktop computer and types.

A medical transcriptionist is a person who listens to medical notes from health care professionals and accurately transcribes those audio recordings into written medical documents used for a variety of purposes. Medical transcriptionists usually work in health care offices or remotely from home, providing telescription services as full-time employees or freelancers.

This flexibility is just one of the perks of a career as a medical transcriptionist. As a medical transcriptionist, you also can enjoy the satisfaction of knowing you're helping other people. The work you do supports health care providers and ensures the accuracy of patient records. 

What does a medical transcriptionist do? 

A medical transcriptionist transcribes the notes health care providers record after a medical visit with a patient. They then file away or store those documents in the correct location. These documents will typically be used for reference for the health care provider, for insurance companies, the patient, and anyone else who needs access to a person’s medical history. 

A few specific tasks of a medical transcriptionist include: 

  • Checking audio for errors and reporting as necessary

 

  • Translating and understanding medical jargon, terms, and abbreviations into an easy-to-understand document

  • Editing medical documents according to the employer’s preferences and requirements 

  • Using specific equipment and tools to dictate doctor’s notes into medical documentation

  • Following confidentiality laws and guidelines  

In order to properly do their job, medical transcriptionists use specific equipment and tools. These include a PC, Microsoft Word, transcription software, a headset, and a foot pedal. 

How to become a medical transcriptionist

To become a medical transcriptionist, you may need medical transcription training and experience working in a health care facility. Your employer also may ask you to complete on-the-job training as you adapt to your new work environment and get a feel for the pace of a medical office.

Medical transcriptionist training: Education requirements  

Employers typically prefer medical transcriptionists who have completed some kind of formal education, either in the form of a certificate or degree. You’ll need your high school diploma or GED for admittance into these programs.  

If you choose to enroll in a medical transcriptionist certificate program or an associate degree program designed for medical transcriptionists. In both types of programs, you can study medical terminology, anatomy, and health documentation. However, you may find it helpful to weigh some of the key differences between these programs when choosing between them. 

  • Duration: An associate degree takes an average of two years to complete while a certificate program will take between six and eighteen months to complete, depending on if you’re enrolled full or part-time. 

  • Coursework: Associate degrees will include general education classes in addition to courses specific to medical transcriptionists, whereas a certificate course will only include courses for medical transcriptionists. Both will teach core skills like medical terminology, medical transcription, word processing software, and common medical office procedures. You’ll also be trained on the use of medical transcription devices in both a degree and certification program.

  • Cost: The average cost of a medical transcriptionist certificate program is between $2,500 and $12,000, depending on factors like location. Online programs will range between $900 and $4,000. Equipment, fees, and materials are usually not included in this cost [1]. The average cost of an associate degree from a public college is $10,950 per year, which also does not include fees and equipment [2]

  • Convenience: You can find online and hybrid options for both degree and certificate programs. Most vocational schools or community colleges offer convenient options like this, along with classes that may fit the schedule of a working professional. 

Consider certifications

You can become a registered medical transcriptionist by earning your RHDS, or Registered Healthcare Documentation Specialist, offered by the Association of Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI). You’ll need to complete an approved medical transcriptionist training or degree program to qualify for this credential. This type of certification is best for entry-level medical transcriptionists who want to specialize in a certain area of health care. 

Another certification available to medical transcriptionists is the Certified Healthcare Document Specialist, or CHDS, also available through the AHDI. This certification is intended for medical transcriptionists with professional experience and an RHDS certification. Applicants for this certification will also need to have completed an approved program. CHDS certification is also meant for certification in a particular area or specialty within the field of health care. To maintain RHDS or CHDS, you’ll need to apply for recertification every three years.

How long does it take to become a medical transcriptionist?

It takes anywhere from 6 months to two years to become a medical transcriptionist, depending on whether you enroll in a medical transcriptionist certificate program or an associate degree program. Aside from gaining your education and/or on-the-job training, it will also take some time to apply for and find a job. If you want to add certifications, expect to spend anywhere from 6 to 18 months per certification pursuing that training. 

What skills do I need to work as a medical transcriptionist? 

Some key skills you need to work as a medical transcriptionist are good listening skills, the ability to think quickly, multitask, and communicate well. A few other skills you’ll need to be successful in this profession include: 

  • Typing skills and speed: At the core of this profession is the ability to type efficiently and accurately. You will need to be able to type at a fairly high rate of speed while also listening, which requires dexterity and skill.

  • Accuracy and attention to detail: These are key skills in this profession, as a medical transcriptionist also identifies errors or inconsistencies in medical documents and reports these errors to the appropriate person for correction. 

  • Strong ethical foundation: You’re working with confidential information and sensitive medical data, so adherence to HIPAA policies and ethical confidentiality is a must.

  • Medical terminology: You will need to have a strong knowledge of common medical terms, jargon, and abbreviations to be able to dictate health care provider spoken notes into written documents. 

  • English and writing proficiency: The ability to understand the English language and properly write out notes using proper grammar, spelling, punctuation, and syntax is important. 

  • Self-motivated: Medical transcriptionists must be intrinsically motivated as they transcribe audio, which requires a lot of focus and concentration. Remote employees will need this skill even more as they work from home and may make their own hours. It’s also helpful to remember that some medical transcriptionists are paid by the word and not the hour. 

Medical transcriptionist jobs and career outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a 7 percent decline in medical transcriptionist jobs by 2031. However, these professionals are still in demand as long as doctors' offices and health care facilities need the support. Around 9,300 jobs should open up as current medical transcriptionists retire [3].

Similar health care jobs 

If you want to use your job as a medical transcriptionist as a springboard into other allied health care careers, you may want to consider these similar career choices that also assist doctors and nurses in supporting roles: 

These similar supporting positions will usually only require an additional certification program rather than having to go back to school to earn a degree, so the transition for many can be quite simple. 

Managerial positions in medical transcription

Medical transcriptionists who want to stay in their profession and advance their career may seek supervisory positions in medical transcription as well as teaching positions. A few jobs for medical transcriptionists with experience and certifications include: 

  • Quality assurance editor 

  • Medical transcription instructor 

  • Document integrity specialist 

  • Medical records transcription supervisor 

  • Manager of medical records 

Note that some of these positions may also require a bachelor’s degree or higher. If you decide to transition into one of these roles, you may need to go back to school first.

Medical administration jobs 

Use your experience as a medical transcriptionist to move into an administrative position as a support staff member at a hospital, health clinic, physicians’ office, or other health care organization. Some of these positions require additional certification or education, but you may be able to move into one of these jobs based on your skills and professional experience as a medical transcriptionist:

  • Medical receptionist 

  • Medical secretary 

  • Administrative assistant 

  • Medical office administrator 

  • Dental office manager 

  • Medical front office manager 

Next steps 

If you want to be a part of the medical community and learn new and interesting medical terminology and jargon, you may enjoy a career in medical transcription. When you gain the education and experience of a medical transcriptionist, you can work in other allied health care support positions or expand your career in health care into more supervisory positions.

To get started, enroll in an approved program and consider how a career as a medical transcriptionist would work best for you. As you prepare for your new career, expand your knowledge base through a Specialization like the Anatomy Specialization from the University of Michigan or the Medical Terminology Specialization from Rice University. Both courses and more are on Coursera. 

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Medical Terminology

Develop your skills in medical terminology. Identify word parts (prefixes, suffixes, and roots) and abbreviations commonly used in the medical field, read and understand health records, and identify terms associated with all 10 major organ systems.

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Article sources

1

Careers Wiki. “How to Become a Medical Transcriptionist in 3 Simple Steps, https://careerswiki.com/become-medical-transcriptionist/.” Accessed April 30, 2022.  

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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