Sunday, March 5, 2006

Doctor's orders: Get paid well and enjoy flexible hours as medical transcriptionist


Are you a good listener? Do you type fast? Are you interested in the field of medicine? Do you enjoy the English language? If you answered "yes" to these questions, you are an excellent candidate for a career as a medical transcriptionist (MT).

You also need to like sitting, because you will spend your days at a desk listening to doctors' and other medical specialists' dictations and then typing them into reports. If there is a term you don't understand, it's up to you to research it and make sure you use and explain it correctly in your report.

One big difference between MTs and court reporters is that MTs are often expected to edit dictations whereas court reporters record everything verbatim.

A desire to produce high-quality reports makes the job challenging and fun, says Frances Bissell, who has been in the field 11 years. "If you're a word person like I am, producing these documents and making them look nice and make sense is really rewarding," she says.

One of the biggest benefits of working as an MT is the flexibility the job can offer. For Joann Gann, it has meant the difference between working and not. Gann works full-time from home for Sutter Gould Health Organization, but the specific 40 hours she puts in are of her own choosing. That's important, because Gann takes care of her two grandchildren who arrive at her home at 5 a.m. each weekday morning. She gives them breakfast, takes them to school, and then goes back to her home office and starts her work, taking a break when it's time to pick them up. "The flexibility of it makes this job worth it," she says.

Another important benefit of the job is good compensation, says Bissell, who also works for Sutter Gould, but in the company's Modesto office. "People don't realize, but it's a pretty lucrative field," she says.

The average pay for MTs in California in 2004 was $36,580, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Depending on the employer, there are numerous opportunities for bonus pay and overtime work.

"It is really good pay," says Bissell, who puts in a lot of overtime and knows many MTs who make more than $50,000 a year. "The only downside is I work too much. But it has allowed me to go on a lot of vacations," she says. Her employer, Sutter Gould, is always in need of qualified MTs.

Of the approximate 40 transcriptionists in her office, about half of them work from home, according to Bissell. In the past, transcriptionists needed special equipment to do the work. Today, all that's needed is a computer, a phone line with a modem, a foot pedal to start, stop, rewind, fast-forward, and pause the recordings, and a comfortable chair. "You have to be able to sit all day. Basically, it's a sit-down job. There isn't too much interaction with other people," Bissell says.

For transcriptionists who work from home, a separate workspace is essential. Due to medical privacy laws, no one other than the MT is allowed to see or hear what is being dictated.

While a medical transcription degree isn't required, a number of schools, including Modesto Junior College, offer classes in the field. The classes are a good, inexpensive way to find out if the field is right for you, Bissell says. Both her daughter and two of her sisters enrolled in the MJC program. For them, it turned out not to be the right fit. "The classes told them what they needed to know," she says. "It wasn't too much of an investment to find out."

Bissell is a member of the American Association of Medical Transcriptionists (AAMT), a support organization based in Modesto for the medical transcription field. Members receive subscriptions to two industry journals and access to a helpline and members-only area of the association's Web site ( "It's a great way to learn about what's new in the field," Bissell says. AAMT also administers a certification exam for MTs, which is not required, but yields a Certified Medical Transcriptionist (CMT) designation for those MTs who pass it.

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