An Interview with Patricia Stettler
“The benefits of studying medical transcription are that you are immersed in medicine and constantly learning new things.”
Patricia Stettler has been an instructor of medical transcription for 10 years. She teaches at Everett Community College, which is located in Everett, Washington.
Patricia holds a Medical Assistant Certificate and a Legal Secretary Certificate from Lake Washington Technical College. In addition, she earned her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from University of Oregon. Currently, Patricia works as the program administrator and an instructor in Everett Community College’s medical transcription program. She began her career as a medical transcriptionist in 1984.
In your own words, what is medical transcription?
Medical transcriptionists are responsible for correcting and editing doctors’ notes and producing finalized print copies of reports to include in patients’ records.
What classes do you teach in medical transcription?
At Everett Community College, I teach classes in English grammar and medical terminology. This class covers the proper way to structure sentences as well as the medical terminology that medical transcriptionists are likely to encounter.
We also teach classes in all specialized areas of medicine, including anatomy and physiology. This class teaches students about the body systems, how they work, what the body parts are and the diseases that affect them.
Another class we teach covers the legalities involved in medical records. It is important to note that a patient’s medical records are confidential, and we like our students to have a good understanding of how they should deal with confidential records.
How long have you been a professor of medical transcription?
I have worked as a professor of medical transcription at Everett Community College since 2000. Prior to that, I worked as a medical transcriptionist. I decided to teach because I like the environment and I was able to receive a higher salary.
If a student said to you, “I am interested in studying medical transcription,” what would your response be?
If a student came to me and said they were interested in medical transcription, I would tell them that it is a lot harder than most people think. People tend to assume that all a medical transcriptionist does is listen to what a doctor says and types it. 95% of the work is trying to understand what the doctor is saying.
Students need to have a broad knowledge of medical terminology because it makes transcription easier. Doctors can make mistakes when they are dictating their notes, so medical transcriptionists need to be able to catch those errors and fix them.
The benefits of studying medical transcription are that you are immersed in medicine and constantly learning new things. It is also interesting to follow a patient’s medical story.
In your opinion, what are the biggest hurdles or difficulties that students entering a medical transcription program have?
The biggest hurdles that students entering a medical transcription program face are the general challenges of the transcription process and changing medical terminology. Students have to learn what a doctor is saying and what it means.
Again, the biggest misconception about medical transcription is that it is easy. I think a lot of medical transcription students think that they can work from home while watching their children, but it is very difficult to do both of these things at the same time.
What personality traits do you think would help someone succeed as a medical transcriptionist and what traits would hinder success?
A successful medical transcriptionist is someone who is detail oriented, has good time management skills and is able to think critically. For example, a good medical transcriptionist will be able to catch an error in dosage that a doctor might dictate.
I think that someone who is easily distracted and who has trouble thinking critically will not do well as a medical transcriptionist. Again, it is important that someone who works in this field is able to understand what a doctor is saying and catch any mistakes.
What courses in medical transcription are most important for a student to take?
It is necessary for students to take every class offered in a medical transcription program. Each class is valuable in the practice of medical transcription. We teach students medical terminology so that they know what a doctor is referring to. We also teach students how to handle patient documents because they are sensitive and private.
Outside of medical transcription, what courses would you recommend to a student?
Outside of medical transcription classes, I would recommend that students take any classes that might support their work. For example, good keyboarding skills can make their tasks go more quickly. Since medical transcription is mostly done on computers now, a good knowledge of how to use their computer and troubleshoot basic computer problems would be very helpful.
What skills can students expect to gain while studying medical transcription?
Students can expect to gain skills in listening and proofreading. By listening skills, I mean that students learn to recognize certain terms and phrases and learn to decipher different accents. Proofreading your work is another good skill that students develop while they are in a medical transcription program.
Can you give a few study tips that would help a medical transcription student succeed?
The first tip I can give to students who want to succeed is that they should let everyone around them know that they are in school. Just because a person is at home studying, it doesn’t mean that they are available to take care of things for their neighbors or their friends. Studying takes time, and students might have to give up certain activities while they are in school.
Another tip to help students succeed is to develop a schedule where they do some homework every day, instead of leaving it all for 1 day or for the weekend. It is better to chip away at an assignment or project than to try to finish everything at once.
For a student who is not interested in an academic career, what is the optimal level of education needed for a job in the field of medical transcription?
To work in the field of medical transcription, a student should have their high school diploma or a passing GED score and a certificate of completion from a medical transcription program.
What is the job outlook for students with degrees in medical transcription?
The job outlook for the medical transcription field is in an unsteady place right now. With the implementation of electronic healthcare records, it is unclear where medical transcriptionists will fit in.
However, there is a demand for medical transcriptionists who have been trained in voice or speech recognition programs. These kinds of programs allow doctors to dictate their notes into a written file that medical transcriptionists then edit and correct.
Most of the students I teach and who do well end up working from home either as a medical transcriptionist or a medical editor. I have also had a few students move into veterinary transcription, where they dictate the notes of veterinarians.
Students with a medical transcription certificate can expect to make minimum wage when they first begin working. This is because many medical transcriptionists are paid based on the number of transcriptions they complete, not the number of hours they work. Once new medical transcriptionists speed up, I think they will make around $30,000 per year.
How can undergraduate students prepare themselves if they are interested in studying medical transcription at the graduate level?
Students do not need an undergraduate degree or a graduate degree to study medical transcription. What students really need, besides a high school diploma, is an interest in the medical field. It can also help if a student enjoys words and learning new vocabulary.
Since most medical transcription programs are certificate programs, the best way for students to choose a program is to look at the various professional associations and their lists of approved programs.
What advice do you have for students who are interested in studying medical transcription?
The best advice I can give to students who are interested in studying medical transcription is to be prepared to work in an isolated setting. Students should have the discipline and time management skills to work on their own.