She works hard for the money: managing MT student expectations

If you missed it, last week’s For The Record magazine carried an interesting piece about the education of medical transcriptionists. The story tackles the divide between school and the real world and what teachers and companies are doing to bridge the gap.

Tara Courtland

The article is extensive and covers a range of challenges for education, but it’s reminded me of one that I come across a lot – the expectations of students.

This isn’t an issue that’s limited to transcription, of course. Most of us would probably say our college classes didn’t bear much resemblance to our job. But a four-year bachelor’s program teaches you to think, whereas a technical training program teaches you skills.

So what happens when your skills don’t match up to the job description? You end up learning on the job, just like in any career. The difference is that in other jobs, you’re paid a salary or you’re paid by the hour. Your employer is the one who absorbs the cost of your on-the-job training.

That is, if you’re paid a salary to write blog articles, for the first six months out of school you may be pretty bad at it. You’re slow, your writing style is choppy and you spend extra time going back to check for typos. But you’re on salary – your slow production and inexpertise is essentially your employer’s problem, not yours.

That’s also true if you’re paid by the hour to dig ditches. Your first few weeks are slow. You’re probably inefficient, you can’t move as fast as the other ditch-diggers and your employer is losing out on your productivity because you’re only doing one ditch a day and the more experienced guy next to you is doing five.

Now your starting pay accounts for all of this – you’re getting paid less than a seasoned blogger or an experienced ditch-digger so your employer has accounted for the productivity hit and has calculated that into the equation.

But so have you. Before you start your first day’s work, you understand that you’re going to be making the equivalent of $7 – or $20 – or $100 an hour for your day’s work.

Transcriptionists don’t have the same expectation. They’re paid for their productivity so they’re the ones who shoulder the burden of inexperience and inefficiency. Sure, they’re reminded in school that the earning potential takes time to achieve, but there’s no amount of warning that is going to adequately cover the sheer size of the gap between beginner’s expectations and reality.

Think about it: You pick a career based on an earning potential of the equivalent of $20 an hour. You do well in all of your classes, feel good about yourself and you’re excited about starting to work, even though you understand that you’re not going to make that $20 an hour right off the bat.

You set your expectations a bit lower – you’ll probably be bringing in $10 an hour to start – maybe even only $8 or $9.

At the end of the first day you total it up and realize it was only $3 an hour. At the end of the first week your average isn’t much better. A month later, you’ve gotten it up to $5.

How long are you going to hang in there? The people who make it are dedicated and determined, but it’s a frustrating business. You have to be perfect to keep your job but you have to be fast to earn a living.

Managing those expectations is everyone’s problem. Companies don’t want to put weeks of training into someone who’s going to quit after two months. Schools don’t want to turn out students who feel ripped off after comparing the cost of their degree to their take-home pay. And students don’t want to put time and money into a career that they don’t want to keep.

Is the answer to make classes harder or more relevant so only the strongest survive school but those who do are better MTs when they start work? Or is the answer to lower their expectations so they’re more willing to put in months at low pay? Maybe a little of both but when you add in the rise of speech recognition and EHRs, the issue becomes even more complicated.

We’re all focused now on the changing industry and trying to predict what will happen to our business models. We’d do well to turn around from time to time to also look at our future workforce. Wherever our companies end up next, are we going to have the workers we need when we get there?

Check out the article – it will give you a lot of food for thought.

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About Tara Courtland

Tara Courtland is the communications director at NEMT.
This entry was posted in News and stories and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to She works hard for the money: managing MT student expectations

  1. Betsy says:

    Relevant statements, Miss Tara, with ACE in the near future. We are going to address some of theses concerns at the Educator’s Summit on Saturday, August 3. Hopefully the instructors will bring their thoughts and concerns for discussion. Thank you for the post. Our students are the future of the MT industry!

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