How to Become a Medical Scribe

Medical scribing and the healthcare industry provides opportunities for many people who want a stable job that is both exciting and well-paid. It is often said that if you work in healthcare, then you’ll always have a job. Unlike some industries, where technological advances can lead to job loss, the healthcare industry’s technological progression has led to additional jobs. Medical scribe is a position in the healthcare industry that resulted from advancing technology and electronic medical record requirements. Jobs are plentiful and this article will show you how to become a medical scribe. Read this article to discover the daily activities of scribes. Discover why a scribe job is better than shadowing a doctor. Learn how medical assistants make good medical scribes.

Doctors now document patient visits in an electronic medical record. Physicians are busy interacting with a computer, typing and entering data instead of focusing on patients. Medical scribes help doctors by electronically document patient visits allowing doctors to focus on patients. Medical scribes have many tasks and as healthcare continues to become more technological and regulated, clinical scribes will continue to increase in importance.

Great Way to Get Clinical Experience

One primary reason for the fierceness in the market for scribe jobs can be found by considering one of the groups most likely to seek them. In their admissions processes, many healthcare schools require clinical experience in healthcare settings, or at least prefer it (which, as I’ve been taught, means they require it). This includes many medical and osteopathic schools, nursing schools, physical therapy schools, and even chiropractic schools. Healthcare schools are known for their competitiveness. This is one of the best pre medical jobs to get clinical experience. This means that many students seeking admission to professional healthcare schools will be aggressively fighting for scribe positions to acquire that valuable clinical experience.

Medical Transcriptionists Seek Scribe Jobs

Another reason for the competition in finding scribe jobs is due to those shifting from other areas of healthcare into medical scribing. One group I’ve seen doing this most is transcriptionists. Despite creating many opportunities across healthcare, one occupation that has been negatively impacted by recent changes is medical transcription. There are still plenty of transcription jobs that can be found in healthcare, but it does appear the heyday of transcription has passed. Consequently, many transcriptionists who are unable to find transcription work are trying their hand at scribing with mixed success and satisfaction.

Difference Between Transcriptionist and Medical Scribe

This is a fitting time to distinguish between scribing and transcription. The most fundamental difference is that transcriptionists are told what to document via dictation, whereas scribes see and hear what happens in real time and document it accordingly. As you can imagine, some people are better at one or the other, while other people can do either well. Even when transcriptionists do withstand the transition to medical scribing well, some of them do not necessarily like it. The work environment, expectations, and responsibilities are very different, and the change to chasing a doctor from working in a primarily seated job may be problematic for some. In addition to transcriptionists, there are also other allied health professionals, such as phlebotomists and medical assistants, who are competing to become medical scribes.

Keys to Becoming a Clinical Scribe

While the backgrounds discussed above aren’t requisites for a scribe opportunity, I would estimate that 75% of the scribes I have worked with fall into either of these groups. As we take a closer look at ways to get noticed as a potential scribe, you’ll understand why so many scribes are pre-health students or allied health professionals from other areas of healthcare. Whether you come from these groups or you’re a newcomer to the healthcare field, there are some keys to becoming a scribe.

Multitasking

Certain abilities, skills, and knowledge will be crucial if you’re going to be a great scribe. Before discussing skills and knowledge, you’ll want to make sure you have certain capabilities. Chief among these is multitasking, which will be your norm as a scribe. Seldom will scribing be as simple as watching, listening, and typing. You’ll need the presence of mind to have a basic understanding of the complex medical interactions unfolding before you while documenting what happens in several ways. While doing this, you’ll be navigating through different sections of the patient’s overall medical chart and current encounter note. In addition to typing, many parts of the visit are documented through what is called structured history, which is usually achieved by clicking boxes that add pre-filled information into the visit note. Another form of required documentation is through reporting codes, which are used by physicians to prove that certain quality measures are being addressed.

​Juggling numerous sections is achievable enough, but you’re still listening to what’s happening between the provider and the patient, right? What surgery did the patient say she had since last visit while I was focusing on documenting that exam finding? What’s the new medication she said another doctor gave her? Why are they talking about her dog now? Imagine being tasked with documenting car colors while standing on the roadside. While you’re documenting one car’s color, several others may pass, so you must be paying attention to both documentation and watching the cars intently to be sure you don’t miss anything. Now, each vehicle type needs to be documented in a different area of your program, so you’ll have to be able to bounce between all these screens to document all the traffic correctly. This should start to give you an idea of multitasking as a scribe!

You also want to be sure you have a certain degree of physical endurance, as many scribe jobs involve a lot of standing. While you may get to sit in between seeing patients in many settings, for the most part you’ll be standing throughout patient encounters. In some settings, you’ll put your computer on one of the counters in the exam room. Other facilities may have something called a COW (computer on wheels). These are two setups I’ve seen, although I’m sure there are more examples. Nonetheless, this means that you’ll likely be standing in the same place, sometimes for upwards of 30-45 minutes, so it’s essential to be sure you can take this kind of activity.

Finally, in many healthcare settings you’ll have firsthand exposure disturbing sights and troubling events. While this may be synonymous with healthcare, it’s worth mentioning that you’ll need to have some emotional stability and resilience to see a devastating patient outcome and quickly rebound to correctly help with documenting the next patient’s care.

Computer Skills

One of the most important parts of scribing is your computer. Working as a scribe, you’ll be almost exclusively documenting on a computer. There are a few exceptions to this when there is downtime for the servers for whatever reason. In these rare cases, some scribes will get to experience the not-thrill of paper-scribing, while other scribes will get a break while their doc relishes a taste of medicine before computers and writes it all themselves. Of course, it all must get in the computer eventually, so downtime often means double work for scribes. Nonetheless, your competency with a computer will be nearly as essential as any other skill as a scribe.

Typing Speed

​The ability to type fast is an essential skill for healthcare scribes. The lowest typing speed I’ve seen on a job listing is 45WPM, which is slightly above average. I recommend as close to 60+WPM as you can manage. I’ve never seen an employer require potential scribes prove their typing ability through any type of formal typing test during recruitment or training, but I have seen a scribe with poor typing and computer skills make it to the floor with live patients. This turns out as disastrous for the patient and physician, and as embarrassing for the scribe as it sounds. Healthcare providers are very caring and amiable, but many are known for being critical and vicious to those who negatively impact the care of their patients. This isn’t a situation you want to find yourself in, especially early on!

Ability to Use EMR Software

In addition to being able to type quickly, your fundamental computer skills will need to be sharp. There are a multitude of electronic medical/health record (EMR/EHR) programs. That means, between facilities, you may never see the same platform twice. Obviously, you’ll be trained on at least one EHR program, and you’ll be expected to pick it up quickly. As such, it is imperative that a scribe have an intuitive relationship with computers in general so they are comfortable enough to quickly learn to navigate these different programs that each have their own nuances. There are tiny details in each program that can be frustrating to learn, but knowing them is necessary to perform the job correctly.

Finally, being able to use basic computer programs, such as Microsoft Office, will be vital. Besides documenting patient visits, you’ll be tasked with a variety of clerical duties, such as writing professional business letters that the physician dictates to you. Many of these different tasks will be achieved with fundamental computer programs such as those in Microsoft Office.

If you have these skills, then great. But what if you need to practice your typing skills or brush up on Office? Microsoft's Office Training Center has a helpful set of tutorials for each of the programs in Office, as well as a broad tutorial on Office itself. If you want to improve your typing, I recommend Typing.com. I’m confident you’ll find both these free resources helpful in building your skills.

Essential Knowledge for Scribing

Fundamental medical knowledge is arguably just as important as computer skills. This includes anatomy & physiology, medical terminology, and pharmacology. Applying with this knowledge already in hand will make you a more appealing applicant, although I’ve seen some scribes receive job offers without having any exposure to these subjects. Having some knowledge before you jump in puts you at a huge advantage.

​Scribing, like medicine itself, builds upon rudimentary medical knowledge. If you already have a solid foundation in these basics, then your learning will be more straightforward. For example, scribes must learn how to properly document different physical exams. To do this, knowledge of the human body is extremely helpful. It’s easy to see the disadvantage of having to backtrack and learn the basics while trying to stay afloat during the intense training process. Of course, you’ll always be learning as a scribe. No matter how much you learn, there will always be a new word, disease, or drug. A solid foundation will reduce the likelihood of you being terrified when the doctor starts speaking in what sounds like a foreign language.

How to Acquire this Knowledge?

Many pre-health programs will have courses in these subjects as required or elective courses. If you aren’t in this type of program, many local/community colleges and technical schools offer these courses, as well. You can take them as a non-degree seeking student, although this option will be more expensive than if you were in a degree-seeking program, such as an associate or bachelor’s degree.

If structured courses aren’t for you, then you have a few options that way, too. One of these includes searching for textbooks in these subjects online. Openstax.org, run by Rice University, is a website that provides free, high-quality textbooks available in a variety of formats, such as PDF, online, and even print (although that will cost a few bucks). Among their textbooks is one in anatomy & physiology.

A helpful resource for sharpening your medical terminology chops is offered by Des Moines University. Their medical terminology course is free, although there is a paid option offering a certificate.

Another way to learn this material is through flashcard platforms, many of which offer apps for your phone. These are especially good for learning pharmacology, which can be more difficult to find free resources on. Quizlet.com is a very popular one that allows you to make your own flashcards or download some that others have made. Brainscape.com is another great option for flashcards. Both these sites have free and paid options. You’re able to download sets made by others for free, and you’ll be able to find plenty of them already made for anatomy & physiology, medical terminology, or pharmacology.

As of 2017, scribing certification is not required. Nonetheless, organizations such as the American College of Scribe Specialists offer certifications. These certifications offer individual options with didactic training. I have seen scribe positions that pay for this certification for their scribes, although I do not have this certification and have never worked for a company that requires it.

Where are Scribe Jobs

​Now you know what skills will lead you to success as a scribe and some ways to acquire them, but where do you use them? Scribe jobs seem to have formally originated in emergency rooms within the past few decades, but since then they have begun rapidly spreading far beyond the emergency room. In addition to being found throughout hospitals, scribes can be used in places such as rehabilitation centers and clinics of a variety of specialties. When searching for a scribe position, it’s important to make considerations of the type of settings scribes can work in and how you feel about the perks and drawbacks of each. Hospitals and the emergency room tend to be more intense with a wider spread of hours and possible shifts, while clinics tend to be relatively more predictable and often provide shifts closer to normal business hours. You may need to take the first opportunity you get due to the competitive nature of these jobs, but it’s important to consider these factors when applying to each type of scribe job.​

How to Find a Scribe Job

As for finding these jobs, there are a variety of ways you can track them down, but persistence is important like with any job search! Performing a search for “scribe companies” online will lead you to a multitude of options to check out. Scribe America and Elite Medical Scribes are two good places to start. Many of these companies are nation-wide, so between them all there should be one relatively close to you. Their websites usually have an easily accessible application section where they often display what openings they have and where, although many of them are always accepting applications. Companies like this tend to hire regularly at fixed intervals during the year in anticipation of incoming and outgoing students, so don’t despair if you don’t hear back right away!

Besides these large companies, many facilities hire and train scribes on their own. To find these jobs, you’ll want to search classifieds and online job boards. Indeed.com frequently has several job postings for medical scribes. Another common place to find scribe job postings is on sites like Craigslist, which is where I found both of my scribe jobs. Beware, you’ll want to use cautionary discretion regarding scams and safety when using these types of sites for finding jobs.

Now you have a checklist and a map of how to get to scribing! Scribing will provide a fulfilling experience for you whether you’re looking for a way to gain healthcare exposure, need a change of pace from your current job in healthcare, or you want to start a career and grow with this promising young industry.