Story shared and written by Sue B.
In a recent radio interview about The Working Lives Project, I told a simple story about a job that disappeared. Lamplighters, after the era of gas lamps, were no longer needed. But then they returned in one European city, along with the lamps, for cultural reasons. I told the story to illustrate somewhat colorfully the fact that changes in technology, cultural values, decisions by employers, and government policies are constantly affecting the jobs that exist and the work that people do. Right after the interview, we heard from Sue in Menomonee Falls about her experience of change in a job she has held for decades. This is her story. What is yours? What changes do you see in how we work?
-Dena Wortzel, WHC Executive Director
Before I start, I should explain the job of a medical transcriptionist because many people have no idea what that job involves. A medical transcriptionist transcribes in medical terms what a doctor or clinician is dictating after a patient visit, surgery, test results, postmortem examination, pathology, etc. The medical language has a form all its own, complete with synonyms, antonyms and all the rules of the English language. Missing one comma can change the entire diagnosis. The doctors themselves often do not know how to spell these words. It is the medical transcriptionist’s job to correctly and perfectly document this information while understanding mispronunciations and accents.
Before becoming a medical transcriptionist, I had a civil service job which entailed talking to the public 8 hours a day. I talked to people of all cultures and economic levels. It was a high-stress, fast-paced job. I left this job to take on a medical transcription job closer to home. The job was at a multispecialty clinic near a major city. My little office of women enjoyed chitchat before we worked. We’d interact with patients and doctors, all the while receiving a vast medical education absolutely free of charge. As technology improved, we became more and more efficient.
The medical profession was also changing and improving, implementing new laws regarding medical privacy and responsibility. This brought about numerous changes to the profession. The changes for me as a transcriptionist involved being responsible for correcting doctors’ mistakes, mishaps, diction, sentence structure, medications and measurements. In short, we were responsible for producing absolute correct documentation of what the doctor was dictating. If we could not find the correct information, we had to know where to find the correct references. We were transcribing legal documents and putting our names on them and claiming responsibility.
Soon technology again improved and our little office was sent home with computers to make space in our valuable office for a more profitable doctor’s office. A few things happened unforeseen to all of us transcriptionists. No longer would we have human interaction. No longer did I drive, nor dress for work. We were no longer visible to doctors and they assumed we no longer existed. They thought the computer was recognizing their speech, and in fact, some programs were doing that. No longer were we asked to office parties, dinners, meetings. We were silent, invisible, forgotten. Soon I realized how much I needed that drive to work in the morning, or the unwinding offered by the drive back home. I felt ugly because I worked in pajamas. There was no need for makeup. My work buddies were my pet birds. The only time anyone knew we existed was if a mistake was made.
There are benefits to working “in the cloud.” For 32 years, I have been receiving a paycheck while receiving a medical education, something most people spend many years and so much money on. I can—through my words– describe surgical procedures, make diagnoses, prognoses, prescribe medications, understand psychiatric conditions, mediate psychological groups, all verbally and in my head. But I ask myself, what good is this knowledge when I am totally in the cloud, invisible, silent, alone? As for the future of medical transcription – When will we all be replaced by voice recognition? As for me – “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away”
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