What Is It Like Being a Medical Scribe?

Becoming a medical scribe is a common extracurricular for premed students. There is no surprise there. The benefits of being a medical scribe before medical school is tremendous! But what is it actually like being a medical scribe? What can a premed expect before accepting a job as a scribe?

Here is a general overview of the ins and outs in the world of medical scribing. 

A typical day

When I was a scribe the first thing I did when I got in was grab a portable computer and log on.  Typically, I would get in at the same time as the doctor, and the majority of days we begin seeing patients right off the bat.

Every doctor has their own preference, but for the most part, I would follow the doctor into the patient’s room and take notes as he or she asks the patient questions.  Afterward, the doctor will usually dictate the exam and some notes of the history.  As I said, every doctor has their own preference, some might take you into every room and not dictate anything, while others might not take you into any rooms and dictate everything after they are finished.  

On very busy days, you can expect to be on your feet for the entire 8 or so hours.  Sometimes you won’t even have enough time to stop for food besides a small snack (especially in the ER).  Don’t worry, you will be so focused on keeping up with charts, the day will just fly by.  On the other hand, some days may be very slow, and you will end up sitting around waiting for the time to tick by. 

Every day you have plenty of opportunities to see some pretty cool things. 

Most of the time you are in the room when the ER doctor performs a procedure or manages a CPR code.  These are great experiences for premeds to have before committing to 4 years of medical school.

What exactly do you do?

Nowadays everything is documented electronically.  In addition to this, there is also a lot more documentation to be done in general.  Hence the need for scribes.

Scribes document basically everything that goes on every patient’s official record.  There are different electronic record systems out there, so I can’t speak for all of them.  For our system, there are certain areas that need to be filled out in order to bill the insurance company.  Apart from this, our goal is to type out a history and exam in a succinct manner such that every important detail is included and the documentation is consistent with what the patient is being treated for. 

That’s the bulk of the job, but there are some other duties as well.  The scribe also acts as a personal assistant to the Physician.  This encompasses a wide variety of little tasks, from running around checking the status on certain labs and imaging, to grabbing some snacks from the cafeteria. 

Scribing has a learning curve

Scribing does not require any sort of certification, but it can have a rather challenging learning curve during the first few months.  

Scribing isn’t simply writing down everything that occurs during a doctor-patient interaction (although that alone can be challenging if you are not the fastest typer).  You need to be able to detect which information is important depending on the patient’s complaint. 

MCAT stress

For instance, if a patient comes in with chest pain, information such as the time of onset, the quality of the pain, whether it was a sudden or gradual onset, what they were doing at the time, and whether or not the pain worsens with deep inhalation is important information that will help the physician develop a more accurate diagnosis.

In addition to this, it takes a while to get the hang of the electronic recording system (figuring out where everything is, what to click on, etc).  Becoming fluent in electronic medical documentation is important for those high traffic days.

Practice is key and most doctors will expect you to be slow your first few weeks of work.

In my experience, physicians are patient with new scribes. Rest assured, it will eventually become second nature and the stress of messing something up will slowly disappear.

What you gain as a scribe

There’s a reason why medical schools love scribes.  As a scribe, you can expect to gain a lot of experience.  To name a few:

  • You learn tons of medical terminology.
  • You learn about all kinds of pathologies.
  • You see a bunch of different procedures.
  • You learn how CPR is conducted, and how lives are saved.
  • You learn to see the patient from the doctors perspective.
  • And much more.

And of course, you are constantly working with doctors, providing ample opportunities to obtain letters of recommendation.  Like in any career, networking is key!

In conclusion

Being a scribe is all about being the physician’s personal helper. You’re a personal assistant for the doctor’s charts and for general tasks that don’t require a degree. The job can be very fast pace (especially in the ER) requiring you to be on your feet and attentive to what is going on around you. The experience of being a scribe is something I recommend to every premed. You see and learn a lot on the job.  

Scribing is an excellent resume booster that requires little preparation prior to working.  There are plenty of other medically related jobs out there that can provide awesome experiences but most of the time pre-med students just don’t have the time/money to obtain the proper credentials.

If you have any more questions about scribing or would like to share your experience as a scribe, please leave a comment/email me!

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