An Interview with Janet Kunze
“I became a medical transcriptionist because it is a good way to make a living and because I am interested in medicine but don’t want to hold a clinical position in the field.”
Janet Kunze is a certified medical transcriptionist. She lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. As a medical transcriptionist, she transcribes medical notes for doctors, hospitals and clinics.
Ms. Kunze completed a medical transcription program at Andrews School. She earned Administrative Assistant and Medical Secretary certificates from Wright Business School and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theology from Oral Roberts University.
In her free time, Ms. Kunze volunteers with her church. In the past, she helped her husband with his business. When working from home, Ms. Kunze keeps in regular touch with other medical transcriptionists.
In your own words, what is a medical transcriptionist?
A medical transcriptionist is someone who helps doctors or other medical professionals to document their encounters with patients. Traditionally, this involves a doctor making an audio recording of their notes which is then transferred to the medical transcriptionist. The transcriptionist listens to the recording and types it into the proper medicolegal document. Transcriptionists also edit documents that have been produced with speech recognition software. We are also known as Healthcare Documentation Specialists.
I have been a medical transcriptionist for about 10 years. In that time I have worked as a transcriptionist, a quality assurance specialist, and an instructor of medical transcription classes.
If a student said to you, “I am interested in becoming a medical transcriptionist,” what would your response be?
If a student expressed their interest in becoming a medical transcriptionist, I would tell them that it is hard to get started. Getting your first job can be a challenge because the standards are extremely high and you must have an exceptional record from school. Training programs that include internships can be especially helpful in getting started in the field.
If a student can focus and is able to concentrate on detailed work, then they might be well suited to medical transcription. It would be helpful for students to be familiar with scientific terms and medical vocabulary and concepts. Medical transcription is not just a matter of typing. You also need to understand what the doctor is discussing.
What level of education is ideal to become a medical transcriptionist?
Medical transcription programs and science classes are ideal for becoming a medical transcriptionist. It is important to know how to type and how to format the documents, but it is also important to know what doctors are talking about so that you don’t make a mistake in a patient’s file. A certificate level program is all that is necessary to become a medical transcriptionist, but the more education you have the easier the work will be.
Are there any licensing or certification requirements to become a medical transcriptionist?
At this time, there are not any certification or licensing requirements to become a medical transcriptionist. There is a push within the profession for everyone to have some kind of certification, but it has not happened yet.
However, there are voluntary certifications that medical transcriptionists can obtain. There is the Registered Medical Transcriptionist certification that recognizes the transcriptionist’s knowledge in order to work for clinics or within limited specialties. You can also become a Certified Medical Transcriptionist, which means that you are recognized to have the knowledge to work with multiple medical specialties and for hospitals. To become certified, a practitioner takes a test through the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI).
Why did you decide to become a medical transcriptionist?
I became a medical transcriptionist because it is a good way to make a living and because I am interested in medicine but don’t want to hold a clinical position in the field. Medical transcription is a good profession for me because I like to hear what happens in the whole medical process.
What were the biggest misconceptions that you had about becoming a medical transcriptionist?
Personally, I did not have any misconceptions about becoming a medical transcriptionist. But 1 of the biggest misconceptions some people might have is that working from home is easy. There are good things about working from home, but you have to be disciplined with your time and be able to focus on your work. It might be difficult for someone who has children or other distractions at home.
What do you enjoy most and least about being a medical transcriptionist?
What I enjoy most about medical transcription is being able to hear what doctors think and the process they go through to make a diagnosis. I am constantly learning about different procedures and treatments for patients.
The least enjoyable things about working as a medical transcriptionist are that it can get lonely when you work from home and you also sit for a long time. To avoid loneliness, I make sure to visit online with other transcriptionists. I also do some committee work for AHDI to keep myself involved. To make sure I don’t get stuck in a seated position, I make sure to move around and stay physically active. Not all transcriptionists work from home, but even those who work in clinics and hospitals need to be sure to get up and move about regularly.
It can be a challenge to understand what doctors are saying. Some don’t speak clearly and some pronounce words differently depending on where they are in the country. There are also doctors for whom English is their second language, so getting used to different accents can be an interesting process.
Another challenge is learning how to edit for specific audiences. For example, Medicare and Medicaid require certain phrasing in their documents, so it is a learning process to understand what those are.
What is a typical week like for you?
In a typical week, I work 6 hours a day for 5 days. I usually start at about 9 a.m. and try to focus on work for 3 hours. I will then take an hour break and afterward work another 3 hours. Most transcriptionists work a 40-hour week.
However, it is not uncommon for medical transcriptionists to have overtime. There are times when a hospital or a clinic will be very busy, and the work doesn’t stop coming in just because it is a weekend.
The information I transcribe is time sensitive, so I do have to make sure to get the work done quickly. Transcribing can take longer when I hear a term I am not familiar with and have to research it on the Internet. I need to be sure not only that I am spelling a word correctly but that it also makes sense in context.
How do you balance your work and your personal life?
To balance my work and personal life, I stay involved with my church. Since I work at home alone, I need a social outlet, and working with my church provides that for me. I make a conscious effort to get out and see people when I am not working.
It is important to remember that this work requires a lot of concentration and it is a real job even though many do it from home. It sometimes requires a lot of discipline to remind family and friends that you are working even though you are at home.
It is important to take breaks from transcribing and editing. When a job is particularly difficult, you need to slow down and remind yourself that it isn’t the end of the world to have someone help you with your work. Quality assurance specialists are available in every company to review difficult words or passages so as few as possible blanks are in a document returned to a dictator.
What personality traits do you think would help someone succeed as a medical transcriptionist and what traits would hinder success?
People who have focus, who are detail-oriented, and who like science will find success in medical transcription. Being independent is another personality trait that is necessary for working as a medical transcriptionist.
However, people who are very sociable and need to talk to other people throughout the day will have trouble working in medical transcription. You can’t have a lot of little interruptions when you’re listening and transcribing.
Looking back at your formal education, is there anything you would have done differently?
If I could do anything differently, I would have taken more classes in business. Thinking about how a transcription company manages their employees and clients throughout the country is really fascinating to me. Having worked as an instructor, I understand the training side of the business, but I wish I knew more about the management and financial aspects.
Are there any extra-curricular experiences that you think a student interested in becoming a medical transcriptionist should pursue?
I think medical transcriptionists could benefit from extra-curricular experiences where they learn more about the healthcare field and understand the different roles within it. Students could visit their doctors’ offices and learn what each job entails. I think knowing how an office or a clinic runs would make transcribing a bit easier.
What classes did you take during your schooling that you have found to be the most and least valuable for the work you do today?
The most valuable experience during school was the hands-on experience of listening to different doctors, transcribing their notes, then having an instructor review the work. The feedback was extremely helpful.
It is hard to say what the least useful class was because so much has changed since I went to school. There is a lot that has changed with technology and I think that some of the classes I took in school would not be helpful now. For example, I trained using a cassette recorder and full-size cassette tapes. My first job used microcassette tapes, which we had to erase after transcibing and return to the doctors. Now, WAV files are transmitted securely via the Internet. Because both medicine and technology are changing so quickly, continuing education is essential.
What words of advice or caution would you share with a student who is interested in becoming a medical transcriptionist?
Although you do not need certification to work as a medical transcriptionist, I would advise people to go to a school or program accredited by the Association of Healthcare Documentation Integrity. There is a lot to learn and students should really consider enrolling in a program that has proven they know what they are doing.
Someone beginning their medical transcription career will earn their tuition costs back quickly. For a medical transcriptionist who is just starting out, they can expect to earn around $20,000 per year.