I thought I would say a few words about the current state of medical transcription salaries. The field has long been popular as a legitimate way to work from home. It sounds like a dream come true for parents with small children who want to be able to spend more time with their family. Training opportunities are now freely available online, easing the way for people who cannot find the time to attend a traditional school or have no local program nearby. However, it is difficult to find accurate information regarding salaries.
Can you really make decent money in this profession? Where do you go to find this information? Let’s start with the information provided by the United States Department of Labor Statistics. Here you will find information regarding the nature of the work, training and advancement, employment, job outlook, projections, earnings, wages, related occupations and other sources of information. The information that is currently available is for 2010-11.
Once you look at the statistics, which are pretty encouraging, you may be ready to jump right on the band wagon and embark on a new career. Wait! Let’s look at the reality of the situation. There are many factors to consider before getting all starry eyed. First of all, you may be someone who has very little work experience in any field or you may be considering this as a career change. Both of these scenarios create the same issue: When you begin working in a field, you start where? You have it in one, the bottom. When you graduate from college and obtain employment you start at the bottom and work your way up. Your work is reviewed and you may be lucky enough to receive regular raises. As each year passes, you earn more. At least theoretically. There is nothing different about the medical transcriptionist field. You start at the bottom.
Even if you graduate from a good program, you will immediately hit a wall. That wall is called “2 years of experience.” Be prepared to begin a search for employment that will entail taking employment tests, sending resumes and follow up emails, networking and many long hours of waiting to get a response from even one of these. In other words, it will be no different for you as a medical transcriptionist then it is for any other occupation these days. It’s tough out there. MTSOs (Medical Transcription Service Organizations) can be very newbie unfriendly, hence the “2 years of experience” wall. Be prepared to send out literally hundreds of resumes before finding a company that is willing to take the time to train a new graduate.
There is a very good reason for this. Even though you may graduate from an excellent training program, you will still be totally unprepared for the amount of things you do not know. There is literally no end to the learning process in this profession. The amount of money a company spends on training a new medical transcriptionist is staggering. Basically, it is unrealistic to assume that you will be making top dollar starting out. On a positive note, there are many good companies that are willing to take on newbies and offer excellent training. Their rates may be low and you will struggle to make money. However, the amount of experience you will gain is invaluable and another bonus comes in the form of their QA (Quality Assurance) teams, who are usually far more patient than a newbie can expect at other places. What it boils down to is, you have to pay your dues to get anywhere just like any other profession.
If you choose your training program wisely and graduate with honors or high honors, you will be able to obtain employment. If you graduate during peak hiring seasons, you may even find employment within a very short amount of time. If you graduate during slow seasons, namely mid to late summer or around the holidays, you may find yourself looking for employment for an extended period of time. It really is a matter of timing in some situations. If you choose a training program that is poorly constructed or carries a bad reputation, you may find that your efforts were wasted and you will be unable to pass employment tests. In most cases, if you fail an employment test, you will not be allowed to test with that company again for anywhere from 2-6 months, 6 months being the standard. Some companies allow you to sign in to their test sites immediately, some will only invite you to test after reviewing your resume.
Now let’s talk about some numbers. Medical transcriptionists can be a closed mouth bunch regarding how much they make. It also varies a great deal in accordance to what part of the country you live in, whether you work in house and what standard of payment is used. You will find that on site jobs in a hospital or doctor’s office will most likely pay by the hour, with some offering production incentives. You can most likely refer to the statistics on the United States Labor Statistics site in regards to these ranges. Metropolitan areas will obviously pay more per hour as a rule. However, you may want to find out what is happening at your local hospital before banking on one of these positions. Recently, all 3 of our closest hospitals dropped their transcriptionists and replaced them with EMR (Electronic Medical Records) systems. Also, due to the high volume of unemployment in my area, the local hospitals are laying off in all sectors of the hospitals, including nursing. There have been several physicians in this area who have closed their offices or gone to work for the hospitalist services, thus reducing the options for on site jobs in this area even further.
Another option for employment is your local small MTSO. It will depend on the size of the area you live in as to whether or not there are any of these near you. They may have as few as 2 and as many as 15 medical transcriptionists employed. They usually pay by the standard of cpl (cents per line). The method of calculating this line may vary. It may pay for a 65 character line including spaces or a 65 character line not including spaces. The amount paid per line for these companies can sometimes be more. However, you will most likely find that it will vary just like the larger ones, and they can sometimes be newbie unfriendly as well.
The large MTSOs will usually pay in this manner as well. They also vary in what they pay for regarding paying for characters typed or edited only, paying for spaces, paying for other information usually included in a report, etc. Currently, the starting pay varies from $.04 cpl up to $.08 cpl, with $.06 usually being regarded as a “good” starting pay rate for the new transcriptionist. The cpl rate for edited lines or VR (Voice Recognition) is usually half the rate of ST (Standard transcription). In other words, if you are paid $.06 per line for typing an entire report, you can normally expect to be paid $.03 cpl to edit a report generated by computer as a completed report. The exception to this rate of pay is radiology. These are usually paid a flat rate per report.
Finally, you may also attempt to obtain your own accounts with local doctors and clinics. Then you are free to set your own rates and methods of payment. This is not something I would suggest for a new transcriptionist, however. At least when you are working for someone else you have QA available to help you and give you feedback. This help is again invaluable for someone with no experience. It takes a huge amount of self confidence to start out this way.
Based on talking with other transcriptionists, I believe that it is fair to say that you can probably expect to earn anywhere from $8000 to $12,000 for part time work in your first year as a medical transcriptionist depending on your starting rate. I believe it is also fair to say that you can expect that to double by the end of your second year, depending on what your method of payment is, how many hours you work, where you live and whether you work on site or at home. I have also seen people who have started out at a much better salary and achieved triple that in 2 years. It is indeed possible to achieve the salaries promised by some training programs of $40,000 and more. What they fail to mention is that it takes time, hard work and sacrifice to achieve this. You will not walk out of a certification program in most cases and step into a job that pays $40,000 and up.
The ads you see stating that you can make large amounts of money at this profession right off the bat should be considered scams. The training that you receive from these programs is incredibly subpar in regards to material and the amount of time spent training. You will not be able to make the amount of money that they claim that you will make when you first start out. The old saying that “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” should be applied consistently regarding these claims.
Finally, we will touch on the subject of benefits. Some of the large MTSOs do indeed offer health insurance, 401k, paid time off, etc. The insurance in most cases compares with that offered by other companies. It can be expensive and will probably not be considered good insurance. However, I believe that we all must adjust to the fact that this will soon be the norm in most sectors of employment due to the new and forthcoming laws regarding insurance.
In a nutshell, medical transcription is a great job. You can indeed work from home. In some cases, you can set your own schedule. There are great companies to work for. You can work as an independent contractor or an employee with some benefits. There is indeed the potential to make some really good money. However, if you are looking for something that will give you those things immediately, search elsewhere. This is not the magic bullet you are looking for regardless of what you may have seen advertised.