Medical Transcriptionists


Education and Training Requirements

High School

English and grammar classes are important in preparing you to become a medical transcriptionist. Focus on becoming a better speller. If you understand the meanings of word prefixes and suffixes (many of which come from Greek and Latin), it will be easier for you to learn medical terminology, since many terms are formed by adding a prefix and/or a suffix to a word or root. If your high school offers Greek or Latin classes, take one; otherwise, try to take Greek or Latin when you continue your studies after high school.

Biology and health classes will give you a solid introduction to the human body and how it functions, preparing you to take more advanced classes in anatomy and physiology after you graduate. Be sure to learn how to type by taking a class or teaching yourself. Practice typing regularly to build up your speed and accuracy. Word-processing and computer classes are also useful.

Postsecondary Training

Some junior, community, and business colleges and vocational schools have medical transcription programs. You can also learn the business of medical transcription by taking a correspondence course. To be accepted into a medical transcription program, you might need to have a minimum typing speed. The Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI) recommends that medical transcriptionists complete a two-year program offering an associate's degree, but this is not necessary for you to find a job.

You should take courses in English grammar and punctuation as well as medical terminology, anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology. Some of the more specific classes you might take include Medicolegal Concepts and Ethics, Human Disease and Pathophysiology, Medical Transcription Technology, Health Care Records Management, Medical Grammar and Editing, and Privacy, Ethics, and Other Medicolegal Issues. Certain programs offer on-the-job training, which will help when you are looking for full-time employment.

The AHDI has a mentoring program for students who are studying medical transcription. Students can make important contacts in the field and learn much from experienced professionals.

Other Education or Training

Medical transcriptionists must continue to learn and keep up medical business practices throughout their careers. They take classes and attend events offered by professional associations such as the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity, which offers webinars, conference workshops, and other continuing education opportunities. Contact the association to learn more about current classes.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

The Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI) offers voluntary certification to medical transcriptionists. Recent graduates of medical transcription education programs who have fewer than two years’ experience in acute care can earn the registered healthcare documentation specialist (RHDS) designation. RHDSs with a minimum of two years’ experience in acute-care transcription or multispecialty equivalent can earn the certified healthcare documentation specialist (CHDS) designation. Taking and passing an examination is required to earn each certification credential. 

While medical transcriptionists do not need to be certified to find a job, it is highly recommended as a sign of achievement and professionalism. Certified medical transcriptionists will probably more readily find employment and earn higher salaries.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Students should obtain as much experience in the field as possible by participating in summer internships, co-ops, and part-time jobs at a medical transcription firm or another organization that employs medical transcriptionists.

A love of language and grammar is an important quality, and accuracy and attention to detail are absolute musts for a medical transcriptionist. It is essential that you correctly type up information as spoken by the doctor on the recording. You must be able to sift through background sounds on the recording and accurately record what the doctor says. Doctors dictate at the same time they are with a patient or later from their office or maybe even as they go about their daily routine, perhaps while eating, driving in traffic, or walking along a busy street. In each of these cases, the recording will likely include background noises or conversations that at times drown out or make unclear what the doctor is saying.

Many doctors grew up outside of the United States and do not speak English as their first language, so they may not have a thorough understanding of English or they may speak with an accent. You must have a good ear to be able to decipher what these doctors are saying.

In addition to having accurate typing skills, you will also need to type quickly if you want to earn higher wages and get more clients. A solid understanding of word-processing software will help you to be more productive. An example of this is the use of macros, or keystroke combinations that are used for repetitive actions, such as typing the same long, hard-to-spell word or phrase time and again. If you suffer from repetitive strain injuries, then this would not be a suitable profession.

Flexibility is also important because you must be able to adapt to the different skills and needs of various health care professionals.

Medical transcriptionists should be able to concentrate and be prepared to sit in one place for long periods at a time, either typing or reading. For this reason, it is important that you take regular breaks. An ability to work independently will help you whether you are self-employed or have an office position, since you do most of your work sitting at a computer.

Medical transcriptionists are required to keep patient records confidential, just as doctors are, so integrity and discretion are important.