all about medical scribes medical scribing

All About Medical Scribes

As part of your research into pre-medical clinical experience opportunities, you may have come across medical scribing as a way to gain exposure to clinical settings. Read on for information about what medical scribes do, who can become a medical scribe, how scribing can help set you up for success in a future medical career, and more. 

 

What does a medical scribe do?

In the last few years, the use of electronic health records (EHR) has expanded in the United States, leading to doctors and health providers to rely partly on medical scribes to document and maintain patient data. As a medical scribe, you’ll accompany a physician, nurse, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant during patient interactions and take down relevant information to enter in the patient’s records. You will also perform several clerical or administrative duties for the physician you’ve been assigned to, such as receiving and alerting the physician of lab results, completing patients’ chart information, and processing admitted and discharge paperwork. This allows doctors to spend more time diagnosing and treating patients and less time handling records. 

How to Become a Medical Scribe

Anyone with a high school diploma or equivalent and an interest in the medical field can apply for a scribing position. If you do well in fast-paced, stressful environments, take constructive criticism well, are computer-savvy, and can multitask effectively, scribing may be a good fit for you. You’ll do especially well if you have some knowledge of medical terminology and can type quickly.

Keep in mind that scribing positions are not intended to be seasonal; in general, scribes are hired under the stipulation that they will scribe for approximately two years part-time (e.g. two 8-12 hour shifts/week or 8-12 shifts/month) or one year full-time (e.g. four 8-12 hour shifts/week or 16-20 shifts/month). 

Why Be a Medical Scribe?

To Help Your Medical School Application

Scribing is an incredibly impressive addition to anyone’s medical school application. By being a scribe you get both hands-on clinical experience and built-in shadowing opportunities. And because it’s a long-term commitment, it will show medical schools that you’re invested in your medical career. You’ll be able to say with certainty—and with examples—that you’ve done your research into the field of medicine and are fully confident that you will succeed as a physician. 

You should include medical scribing on the Work and Activities section of your AMCAS primary application. If you want to emphasize it even more, you can select it as one of your three notable experiences and write a concise description of your time as a scribe.

Medical scribing also gives you face time with doctors who may be able to write you letters of recommendation. 

To Help You During Medical School

Scribing will give you a leg up in many areas of medical school and residency: you’ll already know much of the medical terminology others will be struggling to memorize, and you’ll be familiar with how to interpret labs, take a patient history, and perform physicals (although you won’t have performed them yourself as a scribe). Not only that, but you’ll also be comfortable in a hospital setting and have already mastered skills necessary to being a great physician, such as patience and discretion, as well as maintaining your composure in stressful situations. 

Additionally, the doctors you worked with during your time as a scribe may be able to connect you with other physicians in the fields that interest you for research projects or clinical work.

 

Medical Scribe FAQs

How many hours will I need to commit to medical scribing?

If you are hired through one of the agencies that specialize in hiring and training scribes to be deployed in clinical settings, you will typically be asked to commit to scribing for a minimum period of time. For example, you’ll be asked to maintain a certain number of shifts as a part-time medical scribe for a period of two years, or less if you commit to full-time placement. Be aware that even a part-time commitment of a few shifts a week can be 20 hours or more, so make sure you’re able to balance this time with your class schedule and MCAT prep. Although scribing is a rewarding experience, it should not come before your grades or your MCAT score. 

How much does a medical scribe get paid?

Medical scribes are paid an hourly rate, usually starting between $11-$15, depending on the state you live in and the agency you work with. If you work full-time as a medical scribe, during a gap year for example, you may be eligible for benefits such as health and dental. There’s plenty of room for upward mobility as a scribe; if you stick with it and develop strong scribing skills, expect promotions and raises. When assessing potential wages, remember that this opportunity is unmatched in its ability to help with your med school applications and prepare you for medical school.

What different specialties can I scribe in?

Although they’re frequently used in emergency departments at hospitals, medical scribes can be used by physicians in just about any specialty. Any physician looking to increase her productivity may choose to work with a scribe. When you’re hired, you’ll usually be placed with a specific department and rotate between providers, or you might get to work with one provider over a longer period of time. When interviewing, you can indicate your interest in other specialties. You can also make those connections on the job. As you excel at your work and become a reliable, valuable member of the healthcare team, you may even get requested on a specific service.

What should I look for when deciding between different scribe companies?

As there are several companies you could choose from, see which ones are working with providers in your area, or with a provider you most want to work with. For example, if the hospital you’d like to work in only works with a certain scribe provider, you’ll want to apply there first and go from there. Other than that, do your due diligence like you would any other job. Check out company reviews on websites like Glassdoor and Payscale to get a sense of salaries, interview questions, and employee experiences. Ask your career services department or pre-med advisor at your school if they’ve heard particularly positive things about a specific company, and ask around your classes — one of your classmates might be working as a medical scribe and be able to tell you about their experience.

Can I be a scribe if I want to become a nurse or PA, not a doctor?

Yes! Medical scribing is great preparation for any career in medicine, and will add to your application to any graduate medical program. 

What about remote medical scribes?

Although this is likely a good option for people wanting to pursue medical scribing as work and is a great employment opportunity, if you’d like to use this experience as preparation for medical school, you should strongly consider settings where you are working side-by-side with physicians and staff and spending time with patients. You won’t diagnose, treat, or touch patients as a scribe, but in-person scribing allows you to learn the “soft” skills required in direct patient care. 

How can I build connections as a medical scribe?

As a medical scribe, you function as the physician’s personal assistant over many hours and a lengthy period of time. You will spend time with them and in the department and have a chance to interact with people throughout your shift. Your assigned physician may not have the time or the inclination to mentor you personally, but you’ll be around healthcare providers all the time. During your quiet periods, the physicians you work with will be able to offer advice and guidance, as well as their perspective on medical school and their chosen field. That face time, coupled with showing your reliability and maturity is going to help you in the future.

Shadowing vs. Scribing: Which should I choose?

You don’t have to. While you won’t want to take on medical scribing and shadowing commitments at the same time, there’s no reason why you can’t do both. The benefit of scribing is that you’ll truly become a part of the team providing healthcare while getting to observe a physician in their day-to-day. Physician shadowing will give you a greater degree of flexibility and the opportunity to observe more varied specialties with a shorter time commitment. No matter which path you choose, you’ll want to be able to speak about your experience and your choices when you get asked about it at your medical school interview.