In My Experience: The Work of a Medical Transcriptionist

Story shared and written by Sue B.

“The Doctor’s Visit” detail) by Job Adrianensz Berckheyde, ca. 1665. This painting is part of the Eckhart G. Grohmann Collection at Milwaukee School of Engineering. Used with permission

“The Doctor’s Visit” (detail) by Job Adrianensz Berckheyde, ca. 1665. This painting is part of the Eckhart G. Grohmann Collection at Milwaukee School of Engineering. Used with permission.

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”


Respond to Sue and join the conversation about work by commenting here. We’d love to hear from you.

14 Responses

  1. Diane Stewart says:

    I hear you all. I’m working at this moment with nothing to do. Docs are still on their vacations for Christmas and New Years and when I do work, it’s only 9 cents a line. That’s what I’ve been getting for the last six years. I have work this field for 20 years. I’m making what I made in 1994. I feel too that this is a dying field. Thanks for helping me know there are others out there that feel this way. It is very disheartening.

  2. Ada Jonnassen says:

    About to enroll with At Home Professions for Medical Billing, Coding, Transcription, Editing. Afraid it may be a mistake. 🙁

  3. Sara says:

    Every job is what you make of it. If you feel ugly working in pjs, dont work in pjs. If you feel isolated, meet friends after work. Almost everyone in every field has fekt unappreciated and been treated badly.

  4. Gary Price says:

    Hi, I am a older gentleman who’s disabled with a severe back condition. I am thinking about getting into the ( Medical Transcription Buisness ). I figured it’s something I can do at home, at my own pace and earn xtra money. I am just wondering if any of you feel like this would be a worthwhile endeavor for me.
    Thank you, I would greatly appreciate any comments and suggestions…………..Gary

    • Terri says:

      I’m sorry to tell you this, Gary, but this is a dying field. I have been a medical transcriptionist for almost 30 years and am being laid off of the last time. It used to be a wonderful job – interesting, respected, and decent pay. Those days are gone.

      All the outsourcing, speech recognition, and greedy companies have taken what used to be a great job and reduced it to the worst of the worst dictators for less than minimum wage pay. Add to that incredible disrespect to the point of abuse, and that is what you will deal with trying to find a company to work for in this industry. It’s not good, and I would not recommend it to anyone. Horrible benefits, unrealistic expectations – truly you are not even a person to them.

      The electronic medical record has created an environment where physicians are required to create their own reports from drop-down menus or use speech recognition and correct their own work. The doctors hate it, but the money making machine that is the health care industry cares little about what anyone thinks.When a doctor still wants to dictate, it’s sent out to a service and then sends it overseas because it costs far less than paying an American employee to do it. The quality of work shows that too. Not good for employees or patients. But, hey, as long as the rich get richer who cares, right! All those CEOs of those huge companies creating a well-performing company – at least on paper – for the stock market and taking home their huge paycheck and bonus on the back of middle class America can only be good, right? LOL.

      I’m going to look for something else but am seriously considering a blog or marketing my homemade skills or crafts. Seems like you’re good on a computer – tell your stories and market your knowledge. Take an e-commerce course and learn to use social media to your advantage. There’s a huge market for it. Learn to use YouTube, Twitter, or any number of platforms that are out there.

      I wish I had better news for you, but you need to know the truth. Maybe things will come full circle and jobs will come home. I sure hope so. I don’t mean to discourage you but, honestly, as a seasoned transcriptionist I feel you need to know the truth before you expend your time, money, energy, and self esteem in an industry that will truly bring you to your knees.

    • Priscilla says:

      You can go on MTjobs and other transcription job sites and apply. HOWEVER, you can’t just jump into it without an excellent working knowledge of medical terminology and excellent typing and English grammar skills as well as familiarity with computers. It is very rarely verbatim; more we have to do the correcting of what they say. There are online courses you can take, which would be the first step. Doctors hate doing it themselves, so there are still places to work. I’ve done it for 20 years, always at home on my own time, and taken on temporary side jobs if things were slow. In your particular case, I would worry about your back being able to handle sitting all day. I was always in great physical condition, but this job turned me into a hip-replaced fat-bellied old lady. Good luck, whatever you do.

  5. I also have been a Medical Transcriptionist for over 30 years plus a certified medical tech. I also did work for a Transcription Service from home. My mother became ill with cancer and I choose to take care of her.
    Now I am trying to find a Transcription or coding to do at home but do not know where to apply. Does anyone know where in the area arround Eau Claire, WI or Barron WIs.

  6. erica says:

    I like being alone most of the time and I only like a small circle of people around me that I trust. I do understand you feel socially isolated.

  7. Tyler says:

    Maybe you should talk to other people in your field and find out how other places treat people with your job title. Could it be your employer is just not that great of one? may be you could find a new place to work. best of luck.

  8. madhu singh says:

    This is such an interesting read. As a physician, I see the changes that happen in healthcare mostly with dismay. I am so glad you had community and a satisfying job for years and sorry that it ended.
    Nowadays, physicians have to do their own documentation and our electronic medical records, initially meant for billing, are now being used for documentation. This leads to a lot of physician and patient dissatisfaction. The patient often feels that their doc never looks at them, they are too busy typing.
    Thanks for writing this.

  9. Wesley Mani says:

    I’m a new student of the MT course, a month has gone now. I was glad reading your testimonial. But I’m so sorry to hear that your office has been disbanded. I don’t really understand the reason why it happened to you.

  10. Sue says:

    Sadly, after I wrote this article, after working for 32 years as a medical transcriptionist, my entire office was disbanded due to the techology and we are all without jobs now. Ironic.

  11. Shoshauna Schey says:

    This is a moving and informative description of your life. These sentences really struck me: “I felt ugly because I worked in pajamas…The only time anyone knew (I) existed was if a mistake was made.” So much depends on the accuracy and attentiveness to detail that medical transcriptionists do – and yet this is the reality. Very sad to hear.

Leave a Reply