Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Interviewed by a High School Student

I received a neat e-mail this morning from a high school senior who was researching careers and found this blog by searching on medical transcription. She wanted to interview me for her project. Of course I agreed. She asked good questions. I decided I'd post her questions and my answers here, just for fun.

She is in bold, I am not.

Thank you for your response.
Here are some questions that I came up with:

1.) Why did you choose this career?

I had been working in the publishing field before I had any children. Counting the commute, I was away from home 13 or more hours a day. When I had my first child, I could not stand the idea of leaving her for that long. When my maternity leave was up, my employer offered me a layoff, and I took it. A friend of mine was a medical transcriptionist and she encouraged me to retrain (the unemployment rate was pretty high then, as it is now, and there were funds available for federal job retraining programs) as an MT, as it would be a much more family-friendly career path. I did so. It would be untrue to say I chose this as a career, I more like fell into it. :o)

2.) How long have you done Medical Transcription?

I started training in 1991 and started working in 1992, so, 17 years.

3.) Why did you think that this career would suit you?

I am pretty detail-oriented and self directed. I like editing written text - frankly I like pointing out people's mistakes! I had no medical background, but plenty of interest. I was good with computers; in my past jobs, I had done quite a bit of software training. I picked up new things quickly. Mostly I did not care if it suited me particularly, as I needed a job and I needed it quickly.

4.) What education did you need to follow this career?

I would have done things differently had I known better, but what I did was take a few courses at the local junior college. I already had a BA degree with a strong emphasis in English. I took some medical courses at the junior college and then did an internship. Had I to do it over again, I would have chosen more formal training even if it took longer.

5). How fast can you type?

I'm not sure. Probably about 85 wpm. I use a lot of expansions, though, that gets my actual transcription speed more up around 150 wpm. Most medical transcriptionists rely heavily on expanders to save their hands (and their brains).

6.) How long did it take you to find employment?

At first I was not really looking for employment, per se; I looked for individual medical offices that were interested in contracting out their transcription. I found my first contract within about 3 weeks. Within 3 months, I had enough work coming in to work 30 hours a week.

My first "real job" came years later when I closed up my business and we moved across the country. I was hired at the first national MT firm where I applied, mostly because I had a personal recommendation from someone already working there. Networking on the Internet has been invaluable in my MT career. All of my jobs have come from networking.

7.) What is your job atmosphere like (home or office)?

I work from home, so my atmosphere is whatever I make it. I have a bedroom in my house converted into my office. I use an ergonomic keyboard and a laptop to transcribe. One thing I love about working from home is that my pets are always around. Right now I have one dog and two cats snoring away while I work.

8.) What do your daily duties consist of? (pros and cons)

I work 8 hours a day. I am paid by the line (that's 65 characters), but I still have to put in 8 hours. So if I can concentrate on just working during my 8 hours, I can earn more than if I allow lots of interruptions. I still have 3 kids at home, so my daily routine is usually this: The last kid leaves the house between 8:15 and 8:30 a.m. I make coffee, pay some bills or clean something till 9:00, then clock in and transcribe. I try to have 6 hours of work in before the first kid arrives home at about 3:00 p.m. The other kids usually come home around 4:00 p.m. I use the time when they are in and out and wanting to talk to me to get supper started, then usually get 30-60 more minutes of work in before supper, and the rest after supper. So you can see my day is long. It's not 8:00 to 5:00. :o)

My daily work duties are reading the emails that we get all through the day about procedures and progress on our various accounts; keeping up with any changes on how we are transcribing a particular account (as the clients are constantly changing things); transcribing/editing and proofreading reports and sending them in and downloading more work. I am only paid for actually typing, so if I can do the email reading and other clerical stuff off the clock, I earn more. Some companies require a lot of paperwork that you don't get paid for, but the company I'm with now is really good about keeping that to a minimum and letting us just work.

I guess this is a good place to mention that we are not transcribing anywhere near as much as we used to. The industry is switching over to editing reports that have already been run through a speech recognition program. I would say that 90% of my work is still actually transcribing, but I am probably in the minority with that; many, many MTs now edit a lot more than they transcribe. If the program is set up properly, an MT can produce a ton more on speech recognition than transcription.

That's not really pros and cons as you asked for. Okay, so, pros: I'm at home. I love working from home. Within the bounds of my work schedule, I am flexible. I can work when I am most mentally alert. I can work in comfortable clothes, with comforting things around me, and use strategies that I know work for me to keep me productive. Cons: I'm at home. Other people live here too, and even though 3 of them have lived with a work-at-home mom their entire lives, they still forget that when Mom is working, Mom is WORKING. When I'm in my office with the door closed, they are killing each other or doing things on the Internet they are not supposed to be or NOT doing their homework or eating junk food right before dinnertime or starting fires or whatever. Oh, I can't think about it right now! Grrrrr! Sometimes I think if I dressed up in work clothes and drove somewhere to work and came home hours later they would respect me more. But they would be broke, because I could not earn as much money doing that as I earn now.

9.) Are there any advancement opportunities for you to rise into a higher position?

Probably, if I want them. :o) Within our company, the next step up would be someone who supervises a team of MTs. I held that position in the last company I worked for. I can't say I really liked it all that much. I was not good at keeping my life and theirs separate. I let myself get too personally involved. Another advancement opportunity is to become a quality assurance/mentor who helps train other MTs and helps them with things they get stuck on. I know several MTs who have wrecked their hands and wrists with years of typing and now are QA mentors and really like it.

I owned my own MT service before we moved and I supervised a team of MTs and delivery people. I enjoyed it. It was stressful, but I enjoyed it.

10.) How great are the employment opportunities for someone seeking a job?

That's a tough question, and I absolutely don't want to discourage you, nor do I want to get your hopes up too high. :o) There are opportunities all over the place for people who can do the work. There are a lot of people out there who say they are MTs and cannot do the work. If you are trained well and go through the process to become certified or registered (CMT or RMT), if you are dedicated to what you do, you will have more work than you know what to do with. Our company recently bought an MT training school because it was having such a hard time finding good MTs and decided to grow its own. :o) Other companies have taken another path and hired workers in other countries to try to meet their staffing needs.

Getting the first job is the hardest part, and it will be much easier if you pick a training program that offers some kind of internship or externship that gives you actual experience. That's how many MTs land their first job. After you have the first job, you can pick your next one.

11.) What do you think your future will hold, because of this job?

I know it will change. I told you about ASR (automated speech recognition, which my company calls ISR, or intelligent speech recognition). That will be a big factor. The job will become more automated to be sure, but in my opinion, ASR will become just another tool of the job. I cannot imagine transcribing on a typewriter, yet that's how it was done for years. I cannot imagine transcribing without an abbreviation expander, yet I did it for years. With each change, we became able to produce more (and usually better) medical records. That will continue.

When I went into this field, I was not sure what my goals were. I was looking at this little baby who needed me and that's all I could see. I couldn't see years down the road. After a few years, I figured I would transcribe until the children were all in school, and then when they needed me less I would probably go back to the publishing field and work in an office again. But what I learned was 1) the kids never stopped needing me, and 2) I really liked MT! I was making excellent money at it. It would have taken a long time at a publishing job to work back up to what I was making every day doing medical transcription.

I could not foresee that we would move to the Upper Midwest. I sure never guessed I would end up living in a beautiful tiny town on the banks of the Mississippi River, with no industry to speak of and a pretty depressed economy. Yet here we are. And my employer doesn't care where I am so long as there's a good Internet connection there. My husband is losing his job of 11 years, the job that brought us to the Midwest, this Friday. (Friday the 13th. Great day to lose a job.) We are concerned, but not panicking, because I have a great job that is as secure as any in this economy. It has turned out to be a good choice.

So I guess to answer your question, I believe I will be doing this till I retire. :o) The shape of the job will likely change in that time. It has changed a lot in 17 years. In another 17 years, maybe I will not need a keyboard. Maybe I will be editing rather than transcribing. Maybe I will be teaching MTs. Maybe I'll be teaching computers. :o) Maybe it's something I have not yet thought of. But my skills will still be needed, somewhere. I will still be learning new stuff and putting it to work. I would not like this career if it were static. I would get bored if it were the same old, same old all the time. I learn new things nearly every day and I love that.

Thank you so much!

You're very welcome, and I'm glad you asked. I also forwarded your list of questions to my supervisor and I believe she will be answering too, so you get another perspective. (Yep! I just got a copy of her answers! She is much more articulate than I am.)

Best of luck on your project.

Kind regards,
Maria Stahl, CMT

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