Online Degrees in Medical Transcription

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Medical transcription is a dream job for many -- offering flexible hours and the opportunity to work from home. Both the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI) report that many transcriptionists either telecommute or work from home as independent contractors.

Medical transcriptionists take dictated information and organize it into written reports. Physicians and other health care professionals rely on transcriptionists to create medical reports, correspondence and other office documents. Information may be transmitted via analog or digital recording equipment, although the use of the Internet and voice recognition software is increasingly popular. Transcriptionists must be properly trained to understand medical terminology and industry jargon.

As the leading industry group for transcriptionists, the AHDI recommends the field for individuals who have a strong grasp of English grammar, excellent keyboarding skills and keen listening skills. In addition, those with good concentration as well as hand-eye coordination are more likely to excel as medical transcriptionists.

Online health care degree programs in medical transcription can commonly be found at community colleges, vocational schools and online universities. Some two-year programs may result in an associate degree, but graduates of shorter programs receive a certificate of completion.

Potential students should look for programs that meet minimum industry standards. The AHDI recommends that online degrees in medical transcription include coursework covering anatomy, pharmacology and laboratory medicine, medical language and transcription technology, among other subjects.

In addition, the AHDI created a model curriculum for medical transcription programs that recommends a minimum of 30 dictated hours of actual physician dictation plus an additional 10 dictated hours completed through an externship or other on-the-job experience. The association estimates that online degrees in medical transcription that follow its model curriculum should take 9 to 18 months to complete and cost an average of $3,000.

To get more information, browse through our network of schools and find a program most appropriate for you.

The BLS estimates that 36 percent of medical transcriptionists worked in hospitals in 2008. Another 23 percent worked in physician offices. Other transcriptionists may work directly in different health care settings or they may work independently at home.

Upon graduation, students receiving on-campus and online degrees in medical transcription can choose to become certified. The AHDI offers two credentialing programs to individuals who complete a transcription course -- Registered Medical Transcriptionist (RMT) and Certified Medical Transcriptionist (CMT).

While certification is voluntary, it may improve employment opportunities. For example, individuals credentialed as RMTs are eligible to participate in the Medical Transcription Industry Association (MTIA) Registered Apprenticeship program. Recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor, this program arranges for apprentices to work with transcription companies for a two-year commitment.

Alaska is the highest paying state for medical transcriptionists, according to the BLS. Individuals there earned a mean annual wage of $44,130 in 2010. Nationwide, medical transcriptionists earned $33,530 that same year.

Medical transcription at a glance:

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says employment for medical transcriptionists should grow 11 percent from 2008-2018.
  • More than 25 educational institutions offer medical transcription degree programs approved by the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity.
  • The Medical Transcription Industry Association reports that the current workforce is rapidly aging, and there is a shortage of qualified transcriptionists.

Medical transcriptionists create written reports based on health professionals' dictations. Since doctors have tight schedules, they often rely on specialists who can transcribe their recordings accurately and efficiently. Associate degree programs in medical transcription can help train students on the health terminology and computer software skills required to transcribe health documents.

Graduates of associate degree programs should feel comfortable performing the everyday duties of a medical transcriptionist. An associate degree program also provides individuals with the opportunity to build additional skills by taking supplementary classes in areas such as communications or social sciences, which could be valuable when pursuing a career in medical transcription.

What Does an Associate Degree Program in Medical Transcription Entail?

An associate degree can be completed in two years, assuming a student takes a full course load. Coursework for an associate degree is typically divided into core and major classes. While core classes strengthen foundational knowledge in subjects like English and math, major classes focus on topics that are specifically relevant to the career. Courses can include:

  • Medical Terminology: Students study the vocabulary used in the health care industry. This course provides understanding of prefixes, suffixes, word roots and plural terms. For example, coursework will teach that word endings such as "-phobia" define a type of fear or that adding an "-e" to the end of a term like "vertebra" makes the word plural. Students also learn word analysis, spelling and pronunciation.
  • Medical Records Transcription: Studies involve practicing transcribing from dictation. Coursework covers keyboarding techniques and proper hand positioning, training students to be efficient and accurate while typing medical records. Students also strengthen researching, editing and proofreading skills. In addition, students learn how to format various documents using industry software and resources.
  • The Human Body: Coursework covers the basics of human anatomy and gives a biological introduction to medicine. The course discusses various systems, including respiratory, digestive, reproductive, musculoskeletal, blood and cardiovascular. Students also learn about chemistry, pharmacology and lab procedures.
  • Laws and Ethics: Coursework provides an introduction to the principles and implementation of laws and ethics within the health care industry. Students learn about legal terms, consent, and guidelines on the patient-doctor relationship. In addition, this course emphasizes professionalism in the workplace and covers the legal and ethical responsibilities of employees.

In addition to coursework, some schools require students to complete a work-study program before graduation to gain relevant real-world experience. After program completion, graduates should consider taking the accreditation exams that employers often require from applicants, like those offered through the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity.

Career Outlook for Graduates of Associate Degree Programs in Medical Transcription

Most graduates of these programs pursue jobs as medical transcriptionists in settings such as hospitals, clinics or medical offices. Those who enter office settings may have additional administrative or customer-service responsibilities. Unlike most professions, medical transcription is one field where individuals have a greater opportunity to find jobs that allow them to telecommute and work from home offices or other remote locations.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that between 2010 and 2020, employment for medical transcriptionists will grow by six percent. An increase in the number of health care facilities is projected to increase the number of medical procedures and tests performed, which, in turn, will drive the industry's need for additional transcriptionists.

"Medical Transcriptionists," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-transcriptionists.htm

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