On the Job: The Valuable Experience of Becoming a Medical Scribe

Role Medical Scribes Play in Family MedicineSome of the most important items on a medical student’s resume are the MCAT score and GPA. Closely following, are letters of recommendation and professional experience. If you wish to pursue a career in medicine, the path can be steep and daunting. Where should you start? 

Becoming a medical scribe is the perfect training for college students or recent graduates taking a gap year. Medical scribes are highly trained individuals in medical documentation who assist healthcare providers throughout a patient encounter. Before you’re able to start earning your advanced degree, you’ll be on a path that will help both your test scores and your resume.

“I honestly feel like I’ve been in a ‘mini med school’ for two and half years,” says Emily Cabel, Chief Scribe with Elite Medical Scribes, based at United Family Medicine in St. Paul, Minnesota. Outside of the clinic, Emily devotes a lot of time to study and follow-up, which has clearly paid off as she advanced from Scribe to Chief Scribe in a matter of months. One of the secrets of her success: “During my shifts, I make lists of unfamiliar things I hear or see, then I do my own research when I get home from work. I come to each shift interested and eager to learn more, ask questions, and do more research.”

Scribes also have the opportunity to build soft skills like critical thinking, the ability to show how to handle difficult or emergency situations, how to think like a physician and provide compassionate, quality, and empathetic patient care.

Besides getting the medical knowledge you can apply to your studies, you can also get insight into the field and learn firsthand what it means to be a medical practitioner. “The main goal of a lot of people who work as medical scribes is to develop a larger perspective on what it means to be a doctor,” says Brendan McClafferty, Chief Scribe with Elite Medical Scribes, based at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

“Most people will tell you that it is all theoretical until you are in the clinic, with your hands on the keys, writing what the physician is saying,” Brendan remarks. “You expect that, being a scribe, you are going to have this peripheral perspective on the field of medicine because you are not allowed to touch anyone or give anyone medications. But you are making an impact on both the physician and the patient, every day.”

Because of the unique position of being a scribe, you’re able to observe provider-patient interactions and work closely with clinicians. “The providers I work with are really interested in my success and they care about my future,” says Emily. “They teach me, answer my questions, give me feedback, and keep me motivated to continue working hard toward my dream of being a Physician Assistant.”

Medical providers have come to depend upon their scribes. Having the support of a scribe allows them to provide better patient care. In the current healthcare environment, physicians are less able to treat their patients because they are dealing with more clerical and regulatory work than they have ever had to deal with in the past. Scribes participate in the patient visit – either in person or virtually – to record medical history, vital signs, prescription needs, and follow-up visits, while the physician can apply greater focus on consulting with those they serve.

In a 2014 survey, more than 54 percent of physicians exhibited some symptoms of burnout, up from 45.5 percent in 2011. Some of the specialties with the most burn-out include Emergency Medicine, Internal Medicine, and Family Medicine. A possible countermeasure to burnout can be increasing the ability to focus more time on developing patient relationships.

After over 4,000 patient interactions, Brendan has certainly picked up on the importance of relationship-building. “You start to recognize the emotional aspect of medicine. You are seeing the same people come in over and over, and you are tracking how their health is going. Sometimes things are improving, and sometimes their conditions are declining. I was surprised by how you actually get to follow patients and have them be a part of your life, more so than typing away quietly in the corner.”

Often, as in Brendan’s experience, scribes are working with physicians who have previously never had the support of a scribe. “Physicians that I work with consistently remark that having a scribe allows them to get back to what they got into medicine to do.” With the support of a scribe, more of the provider’s time is spent examining, listening to, and speaking with the patient, rather than entering information into Electronic Health Records (EHRs).

This underlines the importance of good training in documentation and working with EHRs. Many medical students won’t be exposed to the EHR until their third year of medical school. Fortunately, Elite’s training program, the Elite Academy, prepares you for success in a clinical setting. Curriculum includes how to document History of Present Illness (HPI), Review of System (ROS) and other elements of medical charts to meet billing and coding requirements.

As a scribe with familiarity and expertise in EHR use you’ll be ahead of your peers in medical school and ready to hit the ground running in your career. Brendan urges, “you must recognize that what you write will not only be reviewed by the physician you’re working with, but by any other physicians who might refer to that medical note in the future.”

As Chief Scribes, both Emily and Brendan have helped shape the careers of future scribes, while also enriching their own professional paths. Some valuable advice from Brendan: “I encourage people to branch out of their comfort zone so they can actually see what it is like to go into a healthcare position. A lot of people have preconceived notions of what it is like to work in medicine before they actually enter the field.”

Emily says, “I always tell my trainees you have to be interested. Seems obvious, right? Don’t expect scribing to be like any other job you’ve had. Instead, expect to be continuously learning something new every day. If you’ve had a shift where everything felt totally familiar to you, you’re missing something.”

Looking for more guidance before becoming a scribe? Visit these helpful resource sites.



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