What It's Like to Be a Medical Scribe

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A medical student talks about what it was like to be a medical scribe and how it helped prepare him for medical school.

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Clay Downey

Clay Downey

Undergraduate: James Madison University, 2010
Major: Business-Marketing
Post-bacc: Virginia Commonwealth University
Medical school: Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, 2017

The medical scribe profession is an emerging field that some medical school applicants pursue while in college or during a gap year. The benefits of being a medical scribe include gaining more experience in a medically related environment, earning income to pay off loans, saving money for medical school, and shadowing physicians while working closely alongside them.

What does a medical scribe do?

As a scribe, I was responsible for taking notes during a patient interview, writing up the encounter on a medical chart, and assisting with the flow of patients through the emergency department.

On a given day, I was scheduled to work with a single health care provider for the entire shift. After taking notes from the patient interview, if time permitted, I would enter the history of present illness (HPI), review of systems, and document physician dictated notes such as the physical exam, differential diagnoses, and progress notes.

There were also a number of small duties to manage at various times throughout the visit, such as calling consults and obtaining medical records from other facilities. The ultimate goal is to improve physician productivity by allowing them to focus on the medical decision making, thereby improving patient flow and overall outcomes.

How did you find out about medical scribing?

I found out about scribing from my undergraduate academic adviser. I received an email regarding an open position at a hospital about an hour away from my house. I applied but didn’t get the job. I then researched other programs in my area and was surprised to find a few located closer to my house. I applied to another program and was accepted.

How long did it take to be trained?

Once I was hired, there was a lengthy orientation session to teach the basics of the computer program our hospital used for electronic medical records (EMRs), the layout of a note, and how to write an HPI.

After this session, we were required to complete eight to 10 training sessions with another senior trainer. We were paid for all of the sessions (at a slightly lower rate than our base pay), and it took approximately two months from the time I was hired until I was permitted to scribe without supervision.

What is the job market like for scribe positions?

Every year, there are numerous positions that open up, mainly in the fall as senior scribes are entering their respective schools (medical, PA, nursing, M.H.A., etc.). Therefore, we begin hiring new scribes in March or April and continue until September or October. Hiring in the winter months is minimal and dependent on staffing requirements.

How did your experience as a scribe prepare you for applying to medical school?

It prepared me a great deal for both medical school and upper-level undergraduate courses. There is so much that you learn about physiology, anatomy, etc. that can be applied to real life cases. I tend to learn best when I see something in context, so making the connection between the classroom and the emergency room was extremely helpful for me.

In addition, there was an entire class dedicated to the physical exam and how to chart, something that I was intimately familiar with before entering medical school. I continued to work as a scribe through my first year of medical school because it was so beneficial.

Do you have any advice for someone interested in becoming a medical scribe?

I would say go for it, no matter what your level of experience or education. Apply early in undergrad and plan to stick with it for a while.

One of the untold benefits of being a scribe is the connections that you make with the providers you work with that will serve you well in the future. They were always willing to offer advice and assistance in any way possible.

Another piece of advice would be to stay humble. No amount of medical experience was necessary coming into the program, but the best scribes were always the ones who wanted to learn. After all, the medical profession is a continuous learning process, and being a scribe is just a starting point of a lifelong practice.

Finally, act like you really want the job. Don’t be afraid to apply twice, three times, whatever it takes.

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