Medical Scribe Profession: A Stepping Stone Towards Medicine

The story of medical scribes began a decade ago in the United States, when hospitals were making the transition from paper charts to electronic medical records. To offset the physician’s loss of productivity caused by the new system and enable them to focus on medicine, some hospitals began to hire medical scribes to handle the clerical work. That turned out to be a very effective decision. Interview with Stephen Graves, vice-president and co-founder of Medical Scribes of Canada (MSC).

What is a medical scribe?

A medical scribe documents the physician-patient encounter in order to make a physician more efficient so he/she can see more patients. In hospital settings or in clinics, a patient will come in to see a physician. The physician would begin with their exams, like they  normally would. But rather than being distracted by charting while being with the patient, or taking time outside the appointment to document relevant information, the chart is being written concurrently.

Medical scribes also manage other clerical tasks, such as filling requisitions, tracking patients, making sure the physician sees the patient on time if there is a reassessment to make. In other words, a medical scribe would do anything the physician would have to do, but is below their medical skill set. This way, the physicians can focus more on care for the patient.

How does one become a medical scribe in Canada?

Medical Scribes of Canada is the only association training medical scribes in Canada. For example, we hire foreign medical graduates that have a medical background but cannot practice in Canada, and students coming to the end of their undergraduate or master’s degrees who have ambitions of a future career in medicine.

The training process for medical scribes is divided into two parts. Preclinical training takes about a month and includes, among other things, self-directed learning by way of textbooks and online resources, and through MSC’s proprietary CAMELOT training program which guides the individual through video tutorials and practice clinical scenarios.

The clinical training is at least 40 hours long. It is performed in a real hospital setting with a senior medical scribe, where the trainee progresses from shadowing the medical scribe to working independently while supervised.

What competencies does a medical scribe need?

The most important competency is the medical scribe’s personality, especially when working in a stressful environment such as an emergency department. Indeed, the medical scribe must be efficient without being another body getting in the way.

It also takes professionalism, organizational skills and emotional intelligence. A basic knowledge of biology, physiology and pharmacology is mandatory, in addition to good writing and typing skills. 

A few interesting facts about medical scribes

  • Being a medical scribe is meant to be a transitioning position and not a career. In fact, a person rarely acts as a medical scribe for more than two or three years.
  • If you pursue a career as a nurse, a physician, a physician assistant, or in public health, be aware that working as a medical scribe alongside a physician is extremely valuable for your future career in terms of knowledge and experience.
  • Medical Scribes of Canada are currently training scribes for the hospital settings and clinics only in Ontario.
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