Becoming a medical transcriptionist has long been considered to be a flexible way to make money from home. Who doesn’t want a job that promises you can pick your own hours and make a decent living?
But the reality is that medical transcription is a job that requires several months or years of specialized training depending on the path you take. There are also several other realities you should know about, including pay, job outlook, and what this online job is really like.
Today, I’m going to explain how to become a medical transcriptionist and what you need to know before you get started.
How to become a medical transcriptionist in 2023 (plus what the job is actually like)
What is a medical transcriptionist?
Medical transcriptionists listen to voice-recorded medical reports and convert them to text files. This involves listening to audio files, typing what you hear, and then editing what you’ve written for accuracy. The audio files might be recorded by doctors, nurses, specialists, or other types of medical practitioners.
The files are usually medical reports, but they can also be lecture notes or speaker notes. Basically, you’re transcribing any kind of audio file that a medical professional records. These notes are usually dictated via smartphone or digital recorder.
So you’re taking audio recordings of medical notes and converting them to text, and those text files are used in patients’ medical records.
But here’s what makes medical transcription a specialized field: you need a strong understanding of medical terminology to write and edit those documents. You’ll need to understand complex medical terms, procedures, and be able to put all of it in a readable form.
Because those text notes become part of a patient’s medical history, it’s extremely important that they’re accurate. Medical transcriptionists also need to comply with legal concerns and patient confidentiality.
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Education and training to become a medical transcriptionist
Medical transcriptionists have training that gives them an understanding of medical terms, their meanings, correct spellings, and pronunciation so they can accurately transcribe audio notes. Their training is more specialized than what general and legal transcriptionists go through.
There isn’t a clear industry standard for medical transcriptionists – some go through an associate’s program and others a certificate program. Both give you a foundational understanding of medical terminology, body systems, healthcare documentation, even legal issues concerning documentation. Some of these programs require fieldwork or internships that give you on-the-job training.
Your education can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $12,000 in total. Associate degree programs can be less expensive, especially if you qualify for in-state tuition, Pell grants, or other tuition assistance programs.
How long does it take to become a medical transcriptionist?
It really depends on what kind of program you go through. A certification program can take anywhere from 6 to 9 months. An associate’s degree can take around 2 years – but you’ll graduate with a more well-rounded set of skills because you’re required to fulfill some general education requirements.
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What to look for in a medical transcriptionist training program
Because of the differences in programs, there are a few things you should consider, including the type of degree, where it's offered online or on campus, and the program cost.
Here are some questions to ask yourself, and then how to approach them:
- How much time am I willing to devote to school?
- Will online learning or in-person learning work better for me?
- How much can I afford to pay to become a medical transcriptionist?
An associate’s degree will take more time – around two years – but because you get a more well-rounded education, it might be easier to pivot into another field if needed. Some of your credits might also transfer into a bachelor’s degree program, if you ever want to go back to school.
On the flipside, you can dramatically reduce the amount of time you’re in school if you go for a certificate program, which will only take about 9 months.
The questions of online or not is up to you. It’s really about what’s going to be the best situation to learn the necessary skills. Online is inherently flexible, but you’ll have to be driven to keep up with the work. On-campus classes can help you stick with the program, but they’re not as flexible.
Some schools offer hybrid programs where you do online and on-campus classes. This could be a good solution for people who want the best of both worlds.
And then there’s the cost. Like I said earlier, an associate’s degree is generally less expensive, but the downside is that it takes longer.
Do medical transcriptionists need other certifications?
You don’t technically need additional certification, but many medical transcriptionists get them to gain a competitive edge. There are two different certification options that you might consider pursuing, which each cost between $200-$300. The certification you go for depends on where you are in your career.
- Registered Healthcare Documentation Specialist (RHDS): This certification is for recent graduates, those with less than two years of experience, or those who are working in a single specialty (radiology, oncology, etc.).
- Certified Healthcare Documentation Specialists (CHDS): This is for medical transcriptionists who have more than two years of experience.
When you’re researching how to become a medical transcriptionist, you might also come across training for RMTs or CMTs (Registered Medical Transcriptionist or Certified Medical Transcriptionist). Those are the former terms for RHDS and CHDS.
Both RHDS and CHDS certifications are valid for three years, and you'll need 30 continuing education credits to re-certify.
These certifications, offered through the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI), test more of your critical thinking skills than your ability to type material. And employers like what these certifications prove because it shows that you’re up-to-date on medical terminology, best practices, and any legal issues that might come up.
How much does an at home medical transcriptionist make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a medical transcriptionist is $38,380. That averages out to about $13.80 per hour.
What is it really like to be a medical transcriptionist?
This job is known as being a flexible way to make money from home, and that’s the truth for many who work in the field. You can work from home while your kids are at school, in the evenings, or even while traveling.
Some employers require that you have a couple of years of experience before you can start working from home. And once you do start working from home, this job requires an immense amount of concentration.
You’ll definitely need a quiet place to work, because even small background noises can throw you off. Getting distracted and slowing down can affect the amount you earn if you’re being paid hourly.
There are some employers who are strict about the hours you keep, and there are some audio files that need to be transcribed immediately. At the very least, employers are going to have a contracted turnaround time.
Medical transcription can also be stressful work. Dictated notes can be full of background noises, interruptions, unfamiliar terms, and hard to understand accents. You’ll have to contend with all that while always using correct spelling for complicated words.
And the stakes can be pretty high: a misspelled word or out of place comma can completely change what’s in someone’s medical file.
Is medical transcription still in demand?
Over the past few years, the need for medical transcriptionists has started to decline because of speech recognition technology (SRT).
This software processes audio notes and turns it into text. More and more hospitals have started to use software because it cuts costs, but it’s not a foolproof solution. Sometimes there are mistakes that need to be corrected by hand.
Speech recognition software has to get much better before it completely replaces the need for medical transcribers. But you should know that hospitals and healthcare providers are always looking for ways to cut costs, and that’s what SRT does.
At the same time, there are some in the industry that believes the growing volume of healthcare services will increase the need for medical transcriptionists. Honestly, it’s hard to say exactly where this field will go in the next few years.
You need to keep all of this in mind before you spend thousands of dollars on a degree program that pays little more than minimum wage.
The final word on how to become a medical transcriptionist
The last couple of sections might have you thinking twice about becoming a medical transcriptionist. It’s not that I’m trying to put down the job, I just want you to be fully aware of what it’s like before you get started.
There are honestly so many different side hustles out there, and many pay better and offer more flexibility. Here are a few of my favorite options:
- Run Facebook ads for local businesses. You’re creating and running ad campaigns for small business owners. Ad managers make $1,000-$1,500/month per client.
- Work as a virtual assistant. Help business owners with inbox management, billing, scheduling, social media management, and more. VAs can make $500-$1,000/month per client.
- Become a proofreader. If you have a good eye for spotting spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors – some of the skills needed to become a transcriptionist – proofreading might be a good fit. Beginning proofreaders earn around $15/hour, and experienced ones can make over $40/hour.
You can find more options like this in 13 Legitimate Work From Home Jobs (Earn An Extra $1,000 Per Month in 2023!).
The point is that there are lots of different options out there if you want a flexible way to make money from home.