My life as a medical transcriptionist

I’ve spent most of my adult life working as a medical transcriptionist.

This wasn’t something I planned as I was growing up.  In fact, when I went to college, I majored in flute performance.  This explains how I ended up as a medical transcriptionist!

See my article entitled “Should I major in music?

Lack of career planning

I didn’t plan very well for my future when I decided to major in music.  I didn’t want to teach, I just wanted to play the flute.

In addition, I didn’t realize, and no one told me, that it’s nearly impossible to make a living as a professional flutist.

I didn’t even think about making a living!

Short-sighted?  Yes, definitely.

I was able to teach music lessons, though, and that produced income, but not really enough.  So I fell back on my ability to type and started looking for jobs.

I found one at an insurance company that wanted to train me to do transcription.  I agreed, happy to have a job.

After my son was born in 1984, I couldn’t bear the idea of going back to a job and leaving my little baby boy with someone else all day long.  I racked my brain for ideas on what I could do to make money from home, contacted the insurance company I had worked for and asked them if I could work for them at home.  I think they were open to this because the company was relocating their offices and it was convenient to have me come in, pick up their cassette tapes, go home and transcribe them, and bring back the finished documents.

I did that for about a year until that work dried up.  At that point I decided to take a class in medical terminology at a local community college.  Voila!  I was a medical transcriptionist!

Now I’m a medical transcriptionist

To get clients, I mailed out flyers to all the doctors and clinics in town.  I must have mailed about 300 flyers and got three calls, but that was enough.  I was in business.  At home.

I’ve worked in medical transcription ever since then, except for a short two-year period where I was employed as an online customer service rep.

After I’d been in business for myself for a few years, I secured a local hospital as a client.  They allowed me to set up my computer so that I could call into their system, access the voice files, transcribe them, then print out the work at the hospital from my home.  Since then I’ve done all my work remotely, from home.

There was one exception where I had an on-site job for about five weeks.  I took this job because it offered hourly pay instead of a production-based rate.  The job didn’t work out, though.  I didn’t like commuting.  I guess I was spoiled by working from home. 

Until that time I had been working for myself as a freelancer.  Then we moved away for three years and I started working as an employee for medical transcription services.  I’ve worked for several of them over the years.  

Pros and cons

There are many things that frustrate me about this work.  First and foremost is the horrible way that the doctors speak–foreign accents, eating while dictating, dictating in noisy environments to name but a few.  Audio difficulties are also a big problem.

Overall, it has always seemed to me that the dictators and the facilities they work in couldn’t care less about how bad the quality of the dictation is.  It’s always the fault of the transcriptionist.  The doctors call up the system, babble away, slam down the phone and they’re done.  This doesn’t make any sense to me.  If the quality of the dictation was better, it would be transcribed faster and the facility would receive their finished reports back faster.  I don’t think this concept ever enters their minds, though.

However, medical transcription has been good for me.  It allowed me to stay at home, therefore, keeping my children in their home, and still make a full-time income.  This was in the days before the internet was readily available to everyone.  The internet was in its infancy when I first got started as a medical transcriptionist, so I didn’t have the option to build a mommy blog then.  I would have if I could have!

In addition, the pay for this work has slowly declined over the years since I started in this field.  I’m not sure why, but I think it could be due to more services entering the market.  Services secure clients and then hire transcriptionists to work for them.  This is really sad because medical transcription is difficult work and transcriptionists deserve to earn more than fast food workers.  Nothing against them, but this is sensitive work requiring specialized skills.  It’s not brain surgery, but it’s not easy, either.

Changes in the industry

I’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry over the last three decades.  We no longer use tapes, of course.  Everything is digital.  And now I rarely transcribe anymore, I edit documents that have been produced through voice recognition.

I find the transition from straight typing to editing voice recognition very beneficial.  It was a long time coming and I waited for it with bated breath.  The first time a voice recognized report popped up for me, I wondered why I was getting a report that had already been transcribed.  Then I realized, voice recognition has arrived!  Cue the Hallelujah Chorus!

On the down side, the pay for editing is about a third of what it is for transcribing, but there is a lot less strain on the body, including fingers, hands and arms.  Instead of the constant pounding on the keys, there is more movement of the mouse and a small amount of actual typing.  We’re still sitting in our chairs for hours at a time, but the difference is definitely noticeable.  Editing goes a lot faster than transcribing, too, so you produce more lines when editing than when transcribing.

Before voice recognition editing was widely available, there was speculation that it would put transcriptionists out of business.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Editors are still very much needed to fix the raw reports that come out.  Editors correct punctuation, grammar and other “misspeaks” to produce a clean report.

How to become a medical transcriptionist

I really don’t recommend medical transcription as a work-at-home job.  It’s difficult because of the reasons outlined previously and it doesn’t pay that well.  If the internet and blogging had been available back then, I definitely wouldn’t have gone into medical transcription.  However, that’s me and my opinion, and there are some people who actually like medical transcription!

If you decide that this is the right career path for you, though, here are a few tips to get started.

First and foremost, don’t take an expensive online course that costs thousands of dollars and takes more than a month or so to complete.  Some course state that it takes at least nine months to learn everything you need to do this work.  Plus, I’ve seen course costs from a low of $569 to over $2,000.

My “education” for becoming a medical transcriptionist included my typing ability, two years on-the-job training as a transcriptionist at an insurance company and an eight-week course in medical terminology at a local community college that cost less than $100.  That was completely adequate training to do medical transcription.  It seems laughable considering all the study and money I put into my music training, but that’s life.

Beware of inflated salary claims.  You’ll find claims of medical transcriptionists earning $36,000 per year.  That’s very difficult these days.  These claims are typically made by companies trying to convince you to sign up for their course.  At 3 cents per line, how many lines do you need to edit to earn $36,000?  I’ll wait while you get new batteries for your calculator.

There are online courses and courses offered at local colleges that you can go to in person.  While an online course is more convenient, at least with a brick-and-mortar institution, you have someone to talk to in person.

By the way, if you are a military spouse, medical transcription can be a viable career for you because you can take your job with you when you have to move.  If you’re a military veteran, most courses are covered under the GI Bill.

Getting an actual job after completing a course can be a challenge.  Many jobs don’t want “newbies.”

Alternative

If you still want to do transcription at home, I don’t blame you.  It’s immediate income versus waiting for commissions from affiliate marketing, creating digital products or courses and waiting for them to sell, etc.

There are transcription companies online, not medical transcription, but just straight transcription, that will hire people who sign up and pass their simple test.  No experience required.  Once you’ve done that, you’re in!  Imagine that!  You can work when you want to and as much as you want to.  You won’t get rich doing this work, but you can earn income quickly.  Most of them pay weekly via Paypal.  A few of these companies are:

You can find others online.  Now you do have to follow their guidelines as far as formatting, but they will supply you with this information, typically in a PDF file.  I haven’t worked for any of these companies myself, but there are lots of reviews online that you can check out.  It’s worth a shot.  There is no long, expensive training required, so you really don’t have anything to lose except a little of your time if you decide it’s not for you.