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Nature of the Work
* A high school diploma is sufficient for stenographers; employers prefer medical transcriptionists who have completed a vocational school or community college program; and court reporters generally complete a 2- or 4-year postsecondary school program.
* Overall employment is projected to grow more slowly than average, as growth among medical transcriptionists is offset by the decline among stenographers. Certified medical transcriptionists and court reporters should have the best prospects.
* Court reporters generally earn higher salaries than stenographers or medical transcriptionists.
Court reporters and stenographers take verbatim reports of speeches, conversations, legal proceedings, meetings, or other events when written accounts of spoken words are necessary for correspondence, records, or legal proof. Medical transcriptionists translate and edit recorded dictation by physicians and other healthcare providers regarding patient assessment and treatment.
Court reporters document all statements made in an official proceeding using a stenotype machine, and present their record as the official transcript. Because there is only one person creating an official transcript, accuracy is vitally important.
Although many court reporters record official proceedings in the courtroom, most court reporters work outside the courtroom. Freelance reporters take depositions for attorneys in offices, and document proceedings of meetings, conventions, and other private activities. Others capture the proceedings in the U.S. Congress, State and local governing bodies, and government agencies at all levels.
Court reporters use stenotype machines, which allow them to press more than one key at a time to record combinations of letters representing sounds, words, or phrases. The symbols are then recorded on computer disks. The disks are loaded into a computer that translates and displays the symbols in Englishthis is called computer-aided transcription. Stenotype machines that link directly to the computer are used for real-time captioning. That is, as the reporter keys in the symbols, they are instantly transcribed by the computer. This is used for closed captioning for the deaf or hearing-impaired on television, or in courts, classrooms, or meetings. Court reporters who specialize in captioning live television programming are commonly known as stenocaptioners, and work for television networks or cable stations captioning news, emergency broadcasts, sporting events, and other programming.
Using a transcribing machine with headset and foot pedal, medical transcriptionists listen to recordings by physicians and other healthcare professionals dictating a variety of medical reports such as emergency room visits, diagnostic imaging studies, operations, chart reviews, and final summaries. To understand and accurately transcribe dictated reports into a format that is clear and comprehensible for the reader, the medical transcriptionist must understand the language of medicine, anatomy and physiology, diagnostic procedures, and treatment, and must be able to translate medical jargon and abbreviations into their expanded forms. Editing as necessary for grammar and clarity, the medical transcriptionist transcribes the dictated reports and returns them in either printed or electronic form to the dictator for review and signature, or correction. These reports eventually become a part of the patient's permanent file. (Medical secretaries, who are discussed in the Handbook statement on secretaries, may also transcribe as part of their jobs.)
Stenographers take dictation and then transcribe their notes on a word processor or onto a computer diskette. They may take dictation using either shorthand or a stenotype machine, which prints shorthand symbols. General stenographers, including most beginners, take routine dictation and perform other office tasks such as typing, filing, answering telephones, and operating office machines. Experienced and highly skilled stenographers take more difficult dictation. For example, they attend staff meetings and provide word-for-word records or summary reports of the proceedings to the participants. They also supervise other stenographers, typists, and clerical workers. Some experienced stenographers take dictation in foreign languages; others work as public stenographers serving traveling business people and others. Technical stenographers must know the medical, legal, engineering, or scientific terminology used in a particular profession.
Court reporters work in the offices of attorneys, courtrooms, legislatures, and conventions. Transcriptionists work in hospitals, doctors' offices, or medical transcription services. An increasing number of court reporters and medical transcriptionists work from home-based offices as subcontractors for law firms, hospitals, and transcription services. Stenographers usually work in clean, well-lighted offices. Sitting in the same position for long periods can be tiring, and workers can suffer wrist, back, neck, or eye problems due to strain, and risk repetitive motion injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. The pressure to be accurate and fast can also be stressful.
Many court reporters, medical transcriptionists, and stenographers work a standard 40-hour week, although about 1 in 4 works part time. A substantial number of court reporters and medical transcriptionists, however, are self-employed, which may result in irregular working hours.
Court reporters medical transcriptionists, and stenographers held 98,000 jobs in 1996. More than 1 in 4 were self-employed. Of those who worked for a wage or salary, about one-third worked for State and local governments, a reflection of the large number of court reporters working in courts, legislatures, and various agencies. About one-fourth worked for hospitals and physicians' offices. Other stenographers and court reporters worked for colleges and universities, secretarial and court reporting services, temporary help supply services, and law firms.
Court reporters generally complete a 2- or 4-year training program, offered by about 300 postsecondary vocational and technical schools and colleges. About 110 programs have been approved by the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA), all of which teach computer-aided transcription and real-time reporting. NCRA-approved programs require students to capture 225 words per minute. Court reporters in the Federal Government generally must capture at least 205 words a minute.
Some States require court reporters to be notary publics, or to be a Certified Court Reporter (CCR); reporters must pass a State certification test administered by a board of examiners to earn this designation. The National Court Reporters Association confers the designation, Registered Professional Reporter (RPR), upon those who pass a two-part examination and participate in continuing education programs. Although voluntary, the RPR designation is recognized as a mark of distinction in this field.
For medical transcriptionist jobs, understanding medical terminology is essential. Good English grammar and punctuation skills are required, as well as familiarity with personal computers and word processing software. Good listening skills are also necessary, because some doctors and health care professionals speak English as a second language.
Employers prefer to hire transcriptionists who have completed postsecondary training in medical transcription, offered by many vocational schools and community colleges. Completion of a 2-year associate's degree programincluding coursework in anatomy, medical terminology, medicolegal issues, and English grammar and punctuationis highly recommended. Many of these programs include supervised on-the-job experience. The American Association for Medical Transcription awards the voluntary designation, Certified Medical Transcriptionist (CMT), to those who earn passing scores on written and practical examinations. As in many other fields, certification is recognized as a sign of competence in medical transcription. To retain this credential, CMT's must obtain at least 30 continuing education credits every 3 years.
Stenographic skills are taught in high schools, vocational schools, community colleges, and proprietary business schools. For stenographer jobs, employers prefer to hire high school graduates, and seldom have a preference among the many different shorthand methods. Although requirements vary in private firms, applicants with the best speed and accuracy usually receive first consideration in hiring. To qualify for jobs in the Federal Government, stenographers must be able to take dictation at a minimum of 80 words per minute and type at least 40 words per minute. Workers must achieve higher rates to advance to more responsible positions.
Stenographers can advance to more responsible secretarial positions, especially if they develop their interpersonal and communication skills. Some stenographers complete the necessary education to become court reporters.
Overall employment of court reporters, medical transcriptionists, and stenographers is projected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations. Employment growth among medical transcriptionists should be offset by the decline among stenographers, and the number of court reporters should remain fairly stable.
Demand for medical transcriptionists is expected to increase with growth in the need for health care and the industries that provide it. Growing numbers of medical transcriptionists will be needed to amend patients' records, edit for grammar, and discover discrepancies in medical records. Those who earn an associate's degree or American Association for Medical Transcription certification, should have favorable job prospects.
Employment of court reporters should be stable. The growing number of conventions, conferences, depositions, seminars, and similar meetings in which proceedings are recorded should create demand for court reporters. Although many of these events are videotaped, a written transcript must still be created for legal purposes or if the proceedings are to be published. Also, the trend to provide instantaneous written captions for the deaf and hearing impaired should strengthen demand for stenocaptioners. In addition, demand should grow for court reporters willing to freelance or take depositions for court reporting service bureaus. However, budget constraints should limit the ability of Federal, State, and local courts to expand, even in the face of rising numbers of criminal court cases and civil lawsuits. Competition for entry-level jobs is increasing, as more workers are attracted to the occupation. Opportunities should be best for those who earn National Court Reporters Association certification.
The widespread use of dictation machines has greatly reduced the need for office stenographers. The traditional "steno pool" is almost a thing of the past. Audio recording equipment and the use of personal computers by managers and other professionals should continue to greatly decrease the demand for these workers.
Court reporters, medical transcriptionists, and stenographers had median earnings of about $410 a week in 1996. The middle 50 percent earned between $340 and $550; the lowest paid 10 percent earned less than $280; and the highest paid 10 percent earned over $840 a week.
Court reporters generally earn higher salaries than stenographers or medical transcriptionists, and many supplement their income by doing additional freelance work. According to a National Court Reporters Association survey of its members, average earnings for court reporters were about $1,080 per week in 1995. According to a 1996 survey by the American Association for Medical Transcription, over 4 out of 10 members earned less than $25,000 a year, more than 3 out of 10 earned between $25,000 and $35,000, and over 2 out of 10 earned over $35,000. Regardless of specialty, earnings depend on education, experience, and geographic location.
A number of other workers type, record information, and process paperwork. Among these are bookkeepers, receptionists, secretaries, personnel clerks, administrative assistants, and medical assistants.
For information about careers, training, and certification in court reporting, contact:
National Court Reporters Association, 8224 Old Courthouse Rd., Vienna, VA 22182. Homepage: http://www.verbatimreporters.com
For information on a career as a medical transcriptionist, visit AAMT's Internet site or send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to:
American Association for Medical Transcription, P.O. Box 576187, Modesto, CA 95357. Homepage: http://www.aamt.org/aamt
For information about job openings for stenographers, contact State employment service offices.
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