How to Become a Medical Scribe—Is It the Right Extracurricular For You?


Medical scribing has become an increasingly popular extracurricular among premeds in recent years—but it’s not for everyone. This is the first article in our new extracurricular series. We’ll dive deep into various premed extracurriculars to help you decide which ones to pursue. Let us know with a comment below what extracurriculars you’d like to see next.

Extracurriculars are an opportunity to acquire the kind of skills and knowledge that will help you succeed in medical school while also helping you determine if becoming a doctor is right for you. Choosing to become a doctor is not a decision that should be made lightly. Admissions committees want to see that you have already immersed yourself in the medical industry, as that’s the only way to know if you’re truly ready to commit to it.

As a scribe, you’ll gain a vast foundation of knowledge that can be applied to your studies in medical school. You’ll learn to recognize patterns and build your medical relationships outside of school, as you’ll work with many different doctors, PAs, NPs, etc.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering becoming a medical scribe. Our guide to scribing as an extracurricular discusses the benefits of this experience, how to find work as a scribe, and how to make the most of the experience. Is scribing the ideal extracurricular for you? Find out below.


What Is a Medical Scribe?

Medical scribes are assistants who help doctors and other healthcare providers enter patient information into the medical record. They work either in-person or virtually to create charts in real time. This reduces the amount of time that providers spend on clerical work and allows them to focus their attention on seeing patients and providing medical care.

Medical scribes are trained to document all aspects of the patient encounter. This includes the patient’s history of present illness, symptoms, relevant past medical and surgical history, exam findings, lab and imaging results, diagnoses, and plan of care. As a scribe, it’s your job to document the patient’s entire visit, from history to diagnosis to treatment and beyond.

According to Medscape’s 2022 Physician Burnout and Depression Report, excessive charting and paperwork are the leading causes of physician burnout. This should come as no surprise, as clinical documentation in the United States is, on average, four times as long as those in other countries. As a medical scribe, you have the opportunity to provide incredible value to the doctors you work with while simultaneously gaining valuable clinical experience yourself.

Medical scribes work closely alongside doctors and other members of the healthcare team. They see first-hand the different roles and responsibilities of the different staff members (medical assistants, CNAs, RNs, RTs, doctors, PAs, NPs, etc.), and effectively shadow physicians as they meet with patients.

A list of what medical scribes document

If you’re looking for hands-on experience in a clinical setting, working as a medical scribe immerses you in the medical environment and enables you to interact with patients as well as their health issues.

It’s also an excellent opportunity to learn and use medical terminology and communicate with healthcare professionals in the clinical setting. When you’re still learning it, medical terminology can feel like another language. Being able to understand the terminology and follow along is an incredibly valuable skill to develop during undergrad that will serve you well in medical school and beyond.


The Purpose of Extracurriculars—What Schools Look For

Along with your personal statement, your extracurriculars (i.e., the Work and Activities section of your medical school application) is the first place admissions committees look to get a sense of your personality, interests, motivation, and whether or not you fit the mold of the kind of student they’re looking for.

The AMCAS Work and Activities section allows you to select 15 premed experiences, which range from employment, honors, volunteering experiences, and extracurricular activities. You will be able to discuss why and how these experiences shaped your dream of becoming a doctor. It’s important to include a variety of activities that demonstrate you have the kind of well-rounded experiences and relevant interests to know whether or not you actually want to dedicate your life to the study and practice of medicine.

Primarily, medical schools look for a few core activities; namely, research experience, clinical exposure, and community involvement.

You do not have to spend an equal amount of time in each of these areas. In fact, it’s much more important to choose activities you are genuinely passionate about. This way, you’re more likely to take on leadership roles, and leadership is one of the most important qualities admissions committees look for. Plus, when it comes time to interview, you’ll be able to speak enthusiastically about the activities and more effectively describe their impact on you.

That said, admissions committees do want to see variety, so don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Balance a diverse range of experiences with what you’re truly passionate about to give admissions committees a clear sense of your capabilities as well as your interests.

For more information, read our AMCAS Work and Activities Section Guide. For osteopathic applicants, read our AACOMAS Experiences and Achievements Guide, and for Texas medical school applicants, we have a TMDSAS Activities Section Guide.


How to Become a Medical Scribe

You do not need any formal certification or training to become a medical scribe. Often, the only hard requirement is a high school diploma. That being said, many employers show preference to college students pursuing careers in healthcare. These students tend to have at least some background in science or healthcare and often possess a strong desire to learn and improve, which is necessary for any successful medical scribe.

Although not a requirement, having completed coursework in anatomy, physiology, or medical terminology will not only look good to prospective employers, but it will also help you in your day-to-day work as a scribe. Being able to understand and apply medical terminology is crucial for communicating with healthcare professionals and ensuring accurate documentation.

Learn about medicine as a scribe - anatomy, physiology, medical terminology

Finding a Job as a Scribe

Medical scribe jobs tend to have high turnover rates, as most students will use the experience as a stepping stone to bigger and better things, such as getting into medical school. It’s fairly uncommon to see someone working as a medical scribe for more than a few years. This means there are often plenty of opportunities for students interested in becoming medical scribes.

You can also complete an online course to help you stand out from other scribing applicants. Most positions won’t require this, but it may be beneficial in locations where there are limited opportunities.

Regardless, scribing courses are unlikely to completely prepare you for your first job. You’ll still require plenty of on-the-job training to learn the specifics of the facility you’re working at, the preferences of the doctors or other providers you’re working with, and the electronic medical record (EMR) you’re documenting on.

Types of Scribe Jobs

The types of scribe jobs you should apply for will depend on your preferences and availability. Medical scribes are used in a variety of specialties, so your roles, responsibilities, and schedule can vary greatly depending on where you work.

The emergency department is one of the more common medical scribe specialties and can offer great flexibility in terms of your schedule. EDs are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, giving you the ability to work nights and weekends. This gives you more flexibility to work around your classes and other responsibilities. In contrast, scribes in outpatient clinics tend to work 9-5 schedules, which are often less flexible. Where you are in your training and how much time you can allocate to being a scribe should be key factors in determining which jobs you apply for.

Regardless of the specialty, most scribe jobs will require extensive on-the-job training. This often consists of online modules covering topics such as medical terminology, documentation, and navigating the EMR, as well as on-site training, which primarily consists of shadowing experienced scribes.

types of scribe jobs - medical terminology, documentation, navigating the ER

Before you’re cleared to work independently, most jobs will require you to prove yourself on supervised shifts, also known as “mock solos.” Depending on where you work and the number of hours you work each week, the entire process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

When to Start

Given the amount of time spent in training and the steep learning curve, the ideal time to start scribing is when you have few other responsibilities and can put more time and attention into it. Summer or winter break are perfect times to start, as you can allocate a few weeks to training and be well-situated in the position by the time classes roll around.

Many premeds will also wait until they’re at least sophomores so that they’ve had time to acclimate to the rigors of college. By this time, they’ll also have some relevant courses, such as medical terminology, under their belt. Others start scribing during gap years when they have few academic responsibilities and can focus solely on gaining clinical experience.


Benefits of Scribing as a Premed

Next, let’s talk about the benefits of becoming a medical scribe. Scribing is a very common extracurricular for both premeds and medical students because it allows students to soak in vast amounts of information surrounding various aspects of medicine.

Increases Your Chances of Getting into Medical School

First and foremost, becoming a medical scribe may increase your odds of a medical school acceptance. According to one study, although with significant limitations, applicants with medical scribing experience were more likely to gain admission to medical school than applicants who did not.

Having medical scribing on your application can show admissions committees that you have a strong understanding of the realities of being a doctor and can work effectively in the healthcare setting. You have seen the good and the bad and are still committed to your goal of becoming a doctor.

Commitment is only one factor medical schools look for. To learn more about how to stand out on your medical school application, be sure to check out the Med School Insiders Premed Roadmap to Medical School Acceptance course.

Earn Money While Gaining Clinical Experience

Another advantage of becoming a medical scribe is the opportunity to earn money while gaining clinical experience. Given how closely you’ll work with doctors and other healthcare providers, some view the opportunity as “paid shadowing.”

That being said, compared to traditional physician shadowing, you’re often even more involved and engaged in the patient’s care because it’s your responsibility to document it. Furthermore, doctors are incentivized to teach you because the more you know, the better their charts will be.

Building Relationships with Doctors

This brings me to my next point, which is the opportunity to build strong relationships with doctors. Most scribe jobs will assign one scribe to one doctor for an entire 8, 10, or even 12-hour shift. Depending on where you work, this may be the same doctor every day or several different physicians that you cycle through.

No matter how many doctors you work for, scribing offers you the opportunity to build longitudinal relationships with doctors over the span of months to years. They’ll get to know you and your work ethic intimately, and they can often write strong, personalized letters of recommendation that can help you stand out to admissions committees.

Ability to Learn About Medicine

Scribing is also a great opportunity for personal development.

Working closely with doctors and other healthcare professionals gives you first-hand insights into the field of medicine, and it can help you decide if medicine is a good fit for you. You’ll see how doctors interact with patients and other members of the healthcare team. You’ll gain a better understanding of the different roles and responsibilities of various healthcare professionals. And you’ll get to see how doctors navigate difficult situations.

Furthermore, scribing gives you ample opportunities to ask questions—not just about medicine, but also more personal questions. You might ask doctors about their decision to go into medicine, the pros and cons of the field, or how to get into medical school. If you work with multiple doctors, you’ll have the additional advantage of receiving multiple perspectives.

Scribing also gives you the opportunity to learn a ton about clinical medicine. Over time, you’ll find yourself making connections between symptoms, tests, diagnoses, and treatments. You may not always understand the reasoning behind these relationships, but they can provide you with a framework to build upon later in your medical training. In some cases, you may even work at a facility that has residents or medical students, which means you can listen in on the teaching moments between attending physicians and students.

Exposure to Different Fields of Medicine

Scribing can help expose you to different fields of medicine. Medical scribes are found in a variety of specialties, so it’s possible to find a job and gain experience in a specialty that interests you. Each field comes with its own types of patients, diseases, interventions, and procedures, and you have the opportunity to see all of it first-hand.

As an ED scribe, you could be charting on a patient who is actively coding. As a medical oncology scribe, you could be charting on a patient with a new diagnosis of cancer. Or as a pediatric scribe, you could be documenting a routine check-up on a baby. If you’re interested in a particular specialty, scribing can give you an opportunity to gain exposure before starting medical school. The relationships you build in a field of interest can also help you if you decide to pursue that specialty later down the road.


Drawbacks of Being a Scribe

Although there are many benefits to being a medical scribe, there are some drawbacks you should be aware of.

Learning Curve

To start, there’s a steep learning curve that comes with scribing. No matter how you try to prepare, there will be tons of information that you simply don’t know. And the more you learn, the more you’ll realize you don’t know. This can make the first few weeks, or even months, quite stressful. But if you can push through the discomfort and stick with it, it does get easier.

Challenging Schedule

Another drawback of scribing is that the schedule can be challenging. As a scribe, you’ll often mirror the doctor’s schedule. If you’re in an outpatient clinic, this will mean working the same 9-5 schedule as the doctor. If you’re in the emergency department, this might mean working 10 to 12-hour shifts.

On the one hand, some students may find the long hours beneficial since they can work fewer shifts per week. On the other hand, long shifts can be more difficult to fit into an already busy schedule.

Pay and Job Mobility

The last drawback is compensation. Many medical scribe jobs will pay close to minimum wage, especially if you work for a large medical scribe company. If you work for a smaller group or private clinic, you may earn slightly more per hour.

In addition, there is often little room for growth in terms of compensation, unless you become a trainer or take on more administrative roles. That being said, what the job lacks in compensation and upward mobility it often makes up for through the clinical experience you gain and the relationships you make.


Medical Scribe Tips and Strategies

If you’ve decided to become a medical scribe, here are some tips to help you get the most out of the experience.

1 | Ask Questions and Look for Patterns

First, be curious. There are few other jobs, if any, that allow you to work more closely with a physician than a scribe. Take advantage of the opportunity and learn as much as you can. Ask questions and look things up whenever you don’t know something.

Pay attention to patterns and try to get a feel for how doctors think. If a patient presents with X complaint, then the doctor will probably ask certain questions because they’re concerned about a particular issue. They might order certain labs/imaging studies, which may show certain things, which lead to certain diagnoses and treatments. While this may not be part of your job, it’s how you will learn.

2 | Be Flexible and Adapt

Be flexible—especially if you’re working somewhere that requires you to work with several different providers. Everyone practices medicine differently. Some doctors will be incredibly thorough with their charting and want every minute detail documented. Others will take a more minimalistic approach and only want the most important details documented.

There’s not necessarily a “right” approach, so you’ll have to be flexible and adapt your charting to the style and preferences of the person you’re working with.

Doctors are people too. Scribing will help you appreciate that no doctor knows everything, and everyone has their own certain areas of expertise. Get to know each of the professionals you’re scribing for to ensure you are actually fulfilling your role and making their job easier.

3 | Utilize Systems for Organization and Efficiency

As a medical scribe, you also have to be efficient with your workflow. Depending on the specialty you work in and the specific doctor you work with, you may end up seeing a high volume of patients.

If you work in a busy emergency department with a highly productive physician, for instance, you may see more than 50-60 patients in a single shift. As such, you need to have systems to keep you organized and efficient.

Some helpful strategies include having a catch-all word document to write information in a pinch, practicing keyboard shortcuts, and using common medical abbreviations to streamline your workflow. Experiment and find what works for you.

4 | Try to Gain Exposure to Multiple Specialties and Providers

Scribes are utilized in a variety of clinical settings, which can help you gain exposure to multiple specialties. Depending on where you work, you may be able to work with dozens of different providers, which lets you see how different physicians practice and interact with patients. Some doctors have great bedside manner, and others… not so much. Some doctors spend more time with patients than others. Some doctors do more thorough H&Ps than others.

You’ll get to see how different physicians practice and what you do or don’t like about how they practice, which will help you think about the kind of provider you want to be in the future.

By working with various providers, you also get to hear about different pathways to medicine and their perspectives on it. You’ll gain a much more realistic view of medicine from people who have been through the training and worked in the field.

5 | Try to Get Along with Everyone

Lastly, you should make it a point to get along with everyone you interact with. Keep in mind that people are shades of gray, and everyone has something to teach you. Although you may encounter doctors who are difficult to work with, you’re ultimately trying to get to where they are.

This means that even if they’re rough on the outside, there are still many things they got right. If you adopt this mindset, not only will you have better relationships with the people you work with, but you’ll also learn more in the process.


How to Choose Your Extracurricular Activities

It is vital that you choose extracurricular activities you’re actually interested in. Find something you’re truly passionate about so that you can commit to it fully.

If you pick something you’re not so interested in or even bored by, getting your hours will be torturous. Not only will the work itself be challenging, but your lack of enthusiasm will surely be noted by your supervisors, which could negatively impact your chances of receiving strong letters of recommendation. Think about what you want to gain from the experience. For example, if you want to build a foundation of medical knowledge, you might pursue employment as a medical scribe.

You also need to tailor your extracurriculars to what’s actually available in your area and through your school. If something isn’t available at your college or university, go outside of that to consider opportunities in your community or at a private company.

While it’s essential to pick extracurriculars you’re passionate about, watch out for diminishing returns. It’s better to gain a different experience than to get 100 more hours at something you already have 1000 hours for.

Aim for a sustainable amount of hours while showing you are committed to your extracurricular. As a full-time student, you might be able to pursue two part-time opportunities, but not more. You don’t want to overcommit and underperform. Illustrating commitment to your extracurricular is more important than the number of hours you’ve clocked on it.

Medical school admissions committees and residency programs look for well-rounded students. What are your current weak areas? What do you need more experience in? Don’t spread yourself too thin while still striving for variety in your experiences. Prioritize research, clinical, and volunteering opportunities to flesh out your application and demonstrate that you’re a candidate with a wide range of skills and interests.

Types of Extracurriculars graphic


Become a Well-Rounded Applicant

The biggest mistake applicants make on the Work and Activities section is falsely thinking it’s not as important as the other sections. The experiences section of your medical school application is the first place admissions committees look to get a sense of your personality and to find out if you fit the mold of the medical student they’re looking for.

If your dream is to become a doctor, be sure to check out the Med School Insiders Premed Roadmap to Medical School Acceptance course. We cover the nuances and details of how to be a stand out premed, including course scheduling, extracurriculars beyond just scribing, research, common mistakes and pitfalls to avoid, and our tactics to securing full scholarships to top medical schools. This is the guide we wish we had back as premeds ourselves.

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