After undergrad, and before starting medical school, I worked for two years as scribe in the emergency department. I followed emergency physicians and completed their charts as they saw patients. I would also remind the physicians of various tasks to complete, alert them of abnormal lab values and pull up x-rays to be interpreted.
One of the reasons I wanted the job was to gain experience in medicine, first as a litmus test to determine if medicine was right for me and then as sort of an early training grounds to help me succeed in medical school and beyond.
Now, as a second year medical student I see my experience as an scribe as invaluable. Working as a scribe gave me a jump start into the world of medicine.
Here are a few specific areas where I have noticed an advantage.
Medicine is a whole new language. The most difficult part of starting out as a scribe was learning how to spell and recognize the variety of foreign terms. Not to mentioning having a vague idea of their meaning. After a steep learning curve, I started to become comfortable with the language of the hospital. Now that language is used in my education and I don’t have to expend any more energy looking up definitions.
Taking a history
While taking a history in an ER is often a rushed affair, the basic structure still holds. I observed and recorded countless patient interviews, learning not just the structure of a history but how to alter and refine questions based on previous answers. When I work in clinic now taking a history usually flows quite naturally.
Working as a scribe I looked at hundreds of x-rays and recorded each interpretation by the physician into the chart. I am grateful for this little head start I have in interpreting x-rays.
I have even found benefits during exams and quizzes. On several occasions during exams I have come across a question I was not sure about but was able to think back to experiences as an scribe and remember the treatment or disease.
While working as a scribe was a great experience, nothing can completely prepare you for the rigors of medical school. But any little edge helps.
Pre-med students, if you are interested in becoming a scribe, search for jobs in your area. A pre-med advisor at your college should be aware of any scribe programs nearby.
Emergency physicians, please remember that your scribe may be a future colleague. They may model how they practice medicine after you and if you take the time to teach them something, that knowledge will stay with them.
Steven Krager is a medical student who blogs at MD Journey.
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