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Mentoring Experimental: Learning from Scratch

By Mary Morken, 11/97, reprinted from MT Monthly, 12/97.

My daughter Lora's first essay at school was, "A mother is a teacher." I had taught her much when she was a child; now she had four children of her own and wanted to stay home. She had learned from me as a child; could I teach her typing and medical transcription all at once in a new way? Some MT educators would not like this; they had told me that MT should be learned the hard way, typing long-hand and looking up the definition for every new word.

After nine months of almost daily training and practice, she is well on her way, and I am proud! She knew it would be a tough challenge, like learning a foreign language almost, because she had watched my progress over eight years of learning, and she had talked to many online MTs. Now perhaps others can benefit from the unique experimental curriculum we followed.

First, she began learning to type with Mavis Beacon software and then the Cortez Peters Keyboarding program book, and she got up to about 35 wpm. Then she began working her way through a medical terminology workbook. She listened to the SUM tapes while doing her housework, getting used to the cadence and rhythm of the doctors' voices and not trying to understand every word yet. She bought a used Sony transcriber with a thumb pedal and about seven basic medical dictionaries and word books. Then she began transcribing the beginning and orthopedics SUM tapes, learning Word Perfect 5.1 and using Smartype, a speed-typing program, with a copy of my working vocabulary. Smartype provides an on-screen list constantly appearing as you type. There were 30,000 words and almost 20,000 abbreviations that would come up on the list, with correct spelling and capitalization. This was her first word list and a constant spellchecker.

When I arrived from Virginia to spend the summer with Lora in New Mexico, we bargained for a pilot project of on-site mentoring with the company through which I get my work, Signal Transcription Network in Columbia, Maryland. She would be paid at a training rate and I would be responsible to proofread and sign off on all her work. She would be doing hospital and clinic transcription for a national teaching hospital. Now I could give her samples of the work to read, so we printed off about 50 documents for her to read. She would circle every new word and look it up if the meaning was not clear, but many new words could be understood by context.

Suddenly, it was the real thing! Now there were the adjustments for the children to make. Mom was up early like Grandma, sitting at the computer. The household schedule changed, and Dad began helping with breakfast. The children learned to play quietly while Mom took a nap in the afternoon. Nine-year-old Sarah told a friend that she was going to be a medical transcriptionist when she grew up, and when she described the work her mother was doing at home, the friend said, "That's not a job!" But the children knew better. There was a new sense of pride in Mom's achievement; this was not just a job, it was a future!

Each morning, Lora would record a few dictations over the phone. For about six weeks, after she transcribed the work, she would listen with me again as I corrected her work. Then she would send the work in via modem. By that time, I had discovered most of her bad grammar and writing habits. She began to pick up my editing judgments, learning just where to stick to verbatim and where to clarify. Her ears were becoming tuned and she was beginning to enjoy the puzzle of thinking like a doctor and hunting for new words. I could not always tell how she was learning; as in childhood it seemed as if just living alongside her was enough for her to pick up a great deal as if by osmosis.

Right along with the definitions, she was picking up the Smartype abbreviations, noting them in her alphabetical notebook along with new words. I could see that she had an advantage over me; she relied on the abbreviations more and was not as tempted to fall into typing long-hand. She could see ideas for macros to shorten command keystrokes that I had been used to doing the hard way like a robot for years. We benefited from a brainstorming session on macros on the Signal MTs' private website, and my production improved too! We were learning to work smarter, not harder.

Then it was time for me to leave, and so we practiced our long-distance routine. She would zip her files up with a password and attach them to E-mail. I would retrieve them, proofread them while listening to the dictation, and send them in. Then I would call her with the corrections, still going over every single correction and blank that she had marked with a blank line and her phonetic guess. Over the weeks ahead, there were the expected leaps and plateaus of learning in her accuracy and her speed, and she began to tackle a wider variety of dictation. She discovered surgeons can be excellent dictators but had to conquer some initial nausea at listening to some of the gory details. She overcame several equipment breakdown crises, and the required new mother board upgraded her computer to a Pentium. She began to benefit from being know as an MT when taking a child to the doctor; she was now a part of the medical community.

At this point, she is up to about 150 lines per hour for about four hours every morning, and she is still getting detailed feedback from me daily, but mostly on blanks rather than grammar or format errors. The basics are done and now it will be constant vocabulary broadening and that elusive ear training. I'm hoping to stick with her for another six months to give her the benefit of intensive training and to keep her from falling into bad habits. Then I'll turn her loose and show her off to the QA staff at Signal for their approval. And in about six years when my younger daughter, Eva, has had her last child, she's already asked me to spend the summer with her for another experiment!

7/98: Lora has more than one year's experience now of almost daily transcription. She still calls with questions, about 3-4 times per week. She's on her way! -Mary

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