The most important part of your career as a medical transcriptionist (MT) is deciding where to get your training and education.
Your training and education determines how competitive you will be in the job market.
There are a lot of programs out there so it can be hard to choose.
Our goal is to provide a general overview of the major education paths open to medical transcriptionists and what steps to take to pursue those paths.
Steps to Becoming a Medical Transcriptionist
Here is a quick step by step guide on how to become a medical transcriptionist:
Step 1. Complete your degree
First, you need to complete either a certificate or associate’s program in medical transcription. These programs can be completed in anywhere between 6-24 months.
Step 2: Get certified (optional)
If you want to be competitive in the job market you should choose to pursue certification. Certification shows that you meet certain national standards for education and practice.
Step 3: Maintain certification
If you choose to get certified you must periodically renew your certification every 3 years. RMTs must take a recertification exam and CMTs must complete at least 30 hours of continuing education credits.
Medical Transcriptionist Education Requirements
In addition to a high school diploma, medical transcriptionists must graduate from a 1-2 year certificate or associate’s program. Medical transcriptionists take courses focusing on communications and medicine so they can better understand the content of the documents the transcribe.
Medical transcriptionists are generally not required to have a license to practice but they can get certified. Certification is voluntary but highly recommended. Medical transcriptionist certifications are granted by the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI).
The Approval Committee for Certificate Programs offers voluntary accreditation status to medical transcriptionist programs, though this is not necessary and you do not need to graduate from an accredited program to get your certification or get a job in the field. Employers tend to favor applicants who have graduated from an accredited program. Accreditation signals that an institution meets certain national standards for education and training as laid down by the AHDI
Training Information & Types of Medical Transcriptionist Degrees
Most medical transcriptionists possess either a certificate or an associate’s degree.
Both kinds of programs are offered at community, vocational, and technical colleges as well as traditional 4-year universities. Certificate programs usually take around 6-12 months to complete and are fast-paced and highly focused on developing technical skills. Associate’s programs normally take around 2 years to complete and offer a broader and more well-rounded education.
A certificate program may be a good idea for someone who already has a degree in another major but wants a “fast-track” way to jump into the transcriptionist profession. Associate’s programs are usually the best option for those who do not have any previous college education.
What You’ll Study
Medical transcriptionists turn audio recordings from health professionals into text documents. As such, the majority of their study is focused on practicing transcription techniques, learning medical language, and working with transcription technologies.
Medical transcriptionists take computer technology and information technology-oriented courses such as information management, transcription, proofreading, editing, and database management. Medical transcriptionists also learn anatomy/physiology and basic medical terminology relevant to their duties.
Most programs focus primarily on in-class instruction and some programs may include on the job training and internships. Medical transcription has become a highly technical field with the development of computing technology so much time will be spent learning how to work with digital transcription tools and aides. Medical transcriptionists will also likely take courses in hospital and healthcare management and medical law/ethics.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Medical Transcriptionist?
It depends on the program. Most certificate programs take 6-12 months to complete. Factoring a few months to earn certification and find a job, you can start working as a medical transcriptionist in as little as 8-12 months.
Associate’s degrees normally take 18-24 months to complete. If you pursue an associate’s degree you can start working as a medical transcriptionist in about 2 years. Some associate’s degree programs include on-the-job training so if you attend such a program you will get work experience during the program.
How Much Does it Cost to Become a Medical Transcriptionist?
The average medical transcriptionist certificate program cost in 2018 was $2,500 to $12,000. In-state residents usually face lower tuition costs than out of state residents. Students will also have to buy transcription equipment and pay any application fee for certification.
Accredited medical transcription programs are eligible for federal funding and the American Health Information Management Association offers scholarships annually to qualified candidates.
There is also the option of an online degree.
Online medical transcriptionist programs cost anywhere between $900-$4,000.These costs may or may not include transcription equipment and textbooks.
Option 1: Medical Transcriptionist Certificate
The “basic” option of study for medical transcriptionists is to attend a certificate/diploma program. Certificate programs are mostly offered at community and technical colleges. Most certificate programs take a year to complete and require anywhere b 18-24 credit hours of study.
Certificate programs cover the basic technical skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the profession such as proofreading, editing, using transcription equipment, and medical terminology.
Certificate programs may also include courses in biology and anatomy/physiology and teach students about computer technologies related to the field.
There are several online certificate programs, some that can be completed in as little as 90 days. The quality of these online programs varies so make sure to do thorough research on their curriculum and requirements.
One downside is that certificate programs usually do not include on the job training or internships. Also, not all certificate programs are not accredited, which may be important if you choose to pursue optional certification in the future.
Employers also tend to favor candidates who have graduated from accredited programs.
Medical transcriptionist certificate programs have very little admission requirements. Most certificate programs only require applicants to have a high school diploma/GED.
Some may require you to complete prerequisite courses in communications and composition. You may also be required to pass a drug screening and criminal background check upon acceptance into the program.
A hypothetical certificate program course load might look like:
- Dialect and Transcription
- Medical Terminology
- Computer Applications
By the end of a certificate program, you will be qualified for an entry-level position in the field.
Option 2: Medical Transcriptionist Associate’s Degree
The average medical transcriptionist associate’s degree takes about 2 years to complete.
Associate’s programs cover the same ground as certificate programs but to a greater degree of depth and sophistication.
Associate’s programs often incorporate core college requirements like English, Psychology, and Math.
These programs prepare students to work in documentation for hospitals, physicians’ offices, insurance companies, and telecommunicators and teach them how to create physical reports, patient histories, and other forms.
Courses cover keyboarding, grammar, dictation skills, medical terminology, preparing documents, voice recognition software, medical ethics, and healthcare law/administration. Associate’s programs may or may not offer job training in the form of internships. They often involve courses in computer information technologies and database science.
By the time you complete your associate’s program, you will be qualified to apply for certification and compete for entry-level positions in the field.
Most associate’s degrees require applicants to have at least a high school diploma/GED.
Some programs may require you to send in standardized test scores (SAT or ACT) and letters of recommendation from teachers or employers.
You may be required to take placement exams upon acceptance into the program.
A hypothetical course load for a medical transcriptionist might look like:
- Medical Office Procedures
- Health Care Law
- Digital Transcription
Students may also take courses in medical law, medical ethics, and healthcare administration.
Online Medical Transcriptionist Programs
There are many online medical transcription certificate and associate’s programs. These courses can be taken fully online and offer flexible scheduling.
Online programs are a great option for non-traditional students of remote learners. In fact, the internet has made it possible to work as a medical transcriptionist completely online
One word about online programs: Online programs are very convenient and cost-effective, but they vary widely in quality. Many online programs are not accredited so make sure you vet the program’s credentials.
How to Get Your Medical Transcriptionist License
Medical transcriptionists are not licensed and there are no legal requirements to work as one.
That being said, organizations like AHDI offer voluntary certification for medical transcriptionists. Students that earn their certification earn the title Certified Medical Transcriptionist (CMT). AHDI offers two levels of certification: Registered Medical Transcriptionist (RMT) certification is normally reserved for those with two or fewer years of experience or those who are specialized in a particular area. The CMT designation is for more experienced professionals who work in diverse fields.
Certification is not required to work, though employers highly favor candidates that have their certification. Some employers will only hire transcriptionists with their certification.
Both RMT and CMT certifications are valid for three years. RMT holders must pass the exam or take a short recertification course to maintain their certification.
CMT holders must complete at least 30 hours of continuing education credits and pass a recertification test to renew their certification. If you wait too long to renew your certification, you may have to go through the entire process from scratch.
Medical Transcriptionist Job Outlook & Growth
According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual median salary for medical transcriptionists in 2018 was $34,770 ($16.72/hour).
The highest 10% of earners made over $51,780 and the lowest 10% of earners made less than $21,840.
Medical transcriptionists employed in medical and diagnostic laboratories saw the highest median salaries at $41,490. Those employed in administration or support services saw the lowest average salaries at $27,670.
The medical transcriptionist field is expected to decline by 3% from 2018-2028. Advances in transcription technology have caused a large part of the decline. However, an aging baby boomer population is expected to cause and increased demand for medical transcriptionists.
Associations, Groups & Resources for Medical Transcriptionists
- OneLook – Database of medical terminology
- Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI)
What is a Medical Transcriptionist?
Before we start answering the question “how to become a medical transcriptionist?” Let’s first see what a medical transcriptionist is.
A medical transcriptionists’ work is to listen the recordings of physicians and other medical professionals and transcribe them into written reports. The equipment they use is a headset to hear the recordings a computer with a document writing software like word and a foot pedal that they push in order to stop the recording.
The daily duties of a medical transcriptionist are:
- Deciding which information you will include or exclude in reports
- Identifying mistakes and check with doctors to create an accurate report
- Data entry
- Producing medical reports, patient-care information, correspondence, medical research records, statistics, and administrative material.
- Making sense between homonyms, and find mistakes in medical terms.
- Returning dictated reports in electronic form for physicians’ review, corrections, and signature.
- Making dictation using headsets and transcribing machines
In order to become a good medical transcriptionist you need to have an in depth knowledge of medical terminology and be able to recognize the differences between the different terms.
You will also need to pay attention to detail as a lot of the times it won’t be really clear what the doctor is saying and you will have to be really focused in order to make sense.
Writing skills finally is another critical skill you need to poses as a medical transcriptionist as a big part of your job will be typing into reports what you hear in the recordings.
The vast majority of medical transcriptionists work at physicians’ offices and other healthcare facilities. They mostly work full time on business hours but this can vary depending on the work hours of the medical facility they work at.
Optional: High School Courses for Medical Transcriptionists
It is essential to take as much as English classes as you can while in high school as a big part of your work will be writing reports based on recordings so you need to know spelling and grammar really well.
It is recommended to take science courses like biology and chemistry in high school as later when you attend a training program you will have courses like anatomy and physiology. Taking science classes when in high school will help you to get prepared for these courses.
Technology and computer classes
As you will be working mostly with computer systems it is a good idea to take some technology and computer classes when in high school to get accustomed working with computer systems.