What It's Like to Be a Medical Scribe

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A graduate student talks about what it was like to be a medical scribe and how it will prepare her for medical school.

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Morgan Carter

Undergraduate: University of Virginia, 2018
Major: Biochemistry
Minor: Bioethics 
Graduate: George Mason University (George Squared Advanced Biomedical Sciences Certificate Program) & Georgetown University (M.S. in Physiology and Biophysics), 2021
Medical school: Applying to MD programs for matriculation in the Fall of 2023 

Bio: After graduating from college, Morgan spent two years in biomedical research at the National Cancer Institute, studying mechanisms of drug resistance in Ewing Sarcoma. While there, she participated in the NIH Academy where she learned more about the social determinants of health. Having grown up in a rural, medically underserved town in Virginia, Morgan appreciated the seminars and discussions focused on creating a more equitable healthcare system with improved access and delivery of medical services. During that time, she also served as a Red Cross volunteer at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Now, during graduate school, she is working to expand her knowledge of human anatomy and physiology, while also working as a medical scribe in an ENT clinic and volunteering as an EMT in her hometown.

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 in an Otolaryngology clinic (also called “ENT”, for “ear, nose and throat”), I’ve transcribed hundreds of physician-patient encounters, medical histories, and diagnostic test results while working closely to assist pediatric otolaryngologists in the delivery of patient care. On a typical day, each physician in the office sees 20 to 35 patients for a wide range of needs, as well as pre-op and post-op consultations. In general, a medical scribe helps physicians provide more effective and efficient care by saving them time by documenting findings from patient exams and assessments.

How did you find out about medical scribing?

I found out about medical scribing from an alumni of my graduate program, George Squared, who worked as a scribe in the same ENT clinic where I’m currently employed. He highly recommended the position as a great way to gain clinical experience before starting medical school. I was looking for an opportunity to work closely alongside physicians and observe their clinical decision making firsthand, which is why it was such a good fit for me. 

How long did it take to be trained?

After I was hired, I trained for about one month, then was paired with another scribe who had prior experience so I could shadow her twice a week in the clinic. She taught me the ins-and-outs of the electronic medical record (EMR) system used to access and update each patient’s chart. Once I was on my own, I found there was a steep learning curve for the first few months, from adjusting to the pace of the clinic to understanding each provider’s unique style and approach to patient visits. Currently, I typically work with a single physician on a given day, although I may also work with more than one provider during busier periods.  

Although we use one EMR system clinic-wide, each provider tends to have a distinct way of formatting their exam findings and assessments. Furthermore, there are three different medical offices where our physicians practice, each with its own equipment, dedicated team of receptionists and medical assistants, and unique layout for exam rooms. This can be difficult for new scribes, as you must learn to implement different ways of charting according to the provider’s preference and layout of each clinic. I found meeting with physicians beforehand allowed me time to feel well prepared in advance of their patient visits. In the end, I was always able to receive help from fellow scribes and the medical staff whenever I had questions or needed assistance.

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

My time as a medical scribe has been both insightful and transformative. It’s greatly expanded my understanding of how physicians make clinical decisions. I’ve also developed a greater appreciation for the principles of biomedical ethics and heard use of much of the medical terminology I learned as a graduate student. Moreover, I’ve been able to witness dynamic changes in health care delivery as my community and the world has adapted to a new normal during the pandemic. For instance, I have now scribed for many telemedicine appointments, which are now readily available for patients with COVID-19 or other illnesses. We’re able to provide prompt medical care from home while avoiding potentially dangerous exposures in the clinic. Telehealth has also become an increasingly popular option for those who live long distances from the clinic, saving them considerable travel time. 

Additionally, I’ve witnessed how medical staff and patients have adapted to the use of face masks in the clinic. In one case, a family once provided us with transparent face masks to facilitate lip reading for a deaf parent. This made a significant difference for the family’s experience and ability to understand the provider during the appointment. Despite the challenges to interpersonal communication face masks present, we’ve learned to be creative and accommodate each patient’s unique circumstances while still prioritizing health and safety. In all, I believe my experience has prepared me well for my application, and in fact, it was one of my most meaningful experiences that I described in the AMCAS Work & Activities section. 

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

My advice is to be willing to learn and grow each day on the job, ask many questions during training, and be proactive while you work with medical providers. When you encounter new medical terms, diagnoses, referrals, or clinical phrases, always seek feedback or clarification from the health care provider you’re paired with to ensure open and accurate communication. Working in a busy clinic or health care setting can be demanding, both in time and energy, but if you stay persistent, humble, reliable, and show kindness to everyone, you will succeed in becoming an invaluable member of the medical team.     

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