General Transcription vs. Medical Transcription: What's the Difference?

Feb 22, 2023

Whenever I meet someone new, inevitably the question, “What do you do for a living?” comes up.

When I answer “I’m a transcriptionist,” I’m met with one of two responses:

  • A furrowed brow, head-tilted, bewildered look and the words, “What’s that?”
  • “Oh, you type all that doctor stuff,” (or something along those lines).

I have my 60-second elevator speech. So, when I reply, “No, I don’t type for doctors. I provide general transcription services,” I’m not surprised when the bewildered look appears again.

“What do you mean? Who do you work for?” My reply:  “Transcription is the art of turning any audio or video content into a text document.

My general transcription clients include:

  • Authors
  • Filmmakers
  • Interviewers (like podcasters -- such a hot industry)
  • Trainers (training tutorials)
  • Conferences
  • Speakers (speeches)
  • Commercials
  • Marketing Professionals

And that’s just the short list!

"I also provide legal transcription services," I tell them. Most people get it by then, and they’re usually surprised to learn that there’s actual work you can do from home providing these services.

Um, yeah, there is!:) Transcription's kind of a "ghost" job -- no one knows you exist because your client gets all the credit for what you type. You don't get your own "Transcribed by [YOUR NAME]" on your clients' transcripts.

Sometimes, people are interested enough to ask further questions -- and that's when it gets really interesting!

So What's the Difference Between General and Medical Transcription?

The difference is that, while both general and medical transcription require training in how to transcribe effectively -- which encompasses a lot more than most people think -- medical transcriptionists must also possess proficiency in medical terminology, physiology, anatomy, pharmacology and be familiar with medical documentation procedures and patient confidentiality issues (HIPAA).

What a learning curve! It must be in high demand and high-paying, right?

Not so fast.

The Demand and Pay for Medical Transcription are Rapidly Declining

The learning curve for medical transcription is indeed much steeper, but unfortunately, the only other thing that's steeper is the time spent doing the work -- if you can get it. The demand for medical transcriptionists is actually shrinking -- right along with their pay -- and the pay nowadays is actually even lower than it was when I first started doing home transcription more than 10 years ago!

I'll let you in on a little secret: not only did I used to do medical transcription myself, I used to teach it, too -- I sold a course for $99 that was wildly popular because it taught the same things as the big-box schools at a much lower cost (there are STILL schools out there offering medical transcription courses for thousands of dollars!).

But it's just not worth it for the scarcity of jobs and the peanuts employers are paying these days. I've received many sad emails from students who've worked their fingers to the bone as medical transcriptionists for a wage that was barely livable.

Medical Transcription Employment by Physicians is Declining, Too

According to a recent poll on WebMD, only 32% of physician practices in the U.S. still employ medical transcriptionists! That trend is going to continue to decline. Why? Because of the adoption of the electronic medical record and voice recognition technology -- many doctors speak their notes right into their iPads and have a nurse edit it later.

True story: I actually started my home-based business as an MT (medical transcriptionist), but rather quickly moved towards general transcription. The work is so much more abundant, the pay is better, and I enjoy learning new things every day -- and that’s not to mention that I no longer have to deal with poor audio and unintelligible speech by doctors who often speak heavily accented English.

And frankly, medical transcription becomes boring after a while. You may be transcribing about different patients, but you're basically typing the same things over and over (and OVER!) again.

Let me be clear: I’m not knocking the profession of medical transcription. I have the greatest respect and admiration for any MT who is still working under these current conditions -- it's a tough gig. But it's not for me anymore. I’m much happier and better compensated by providing general transcription and legal transcription services.

General transcription is a much safer industry -- one that's growing rapidly. Podcasters, marketers of ALL kinds, authors, speakers ... the list goes on. 

There is so much work out there for general transcriptionists. That's why it's now my main focus both in my own transcription business and in my training. When you know how to do excellent work and how to find the higher-paying work, you're in charge -- and you don't have to work for peanuts. 

What do you think?

Have any questions or comments? What's your experience with medical transcription? I’d love to hear from you.

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