Receiving that acceptance letter to medical school is one of the most exciting and joyous moments in an aspiring physician’s life, but the path leading to that letter can be daunting, to say the least.
One of the biggest contributors to this ever-growing ball of stress and anxiety is finding extracurricular involvement and medical experience you believe will make you a standout applicant. Is there one experience that is better than the rest? Subjectively, scribing in the ED not only helped guide me toward a career in emergency medicine but also gave me the type of exposure and experience needed to be a great medical student.
The Role of a Scribe
As a scribe, you accompany the resident, attending, or non-physician provider into every patient encounter as they obtain a history, perform a physical exam, and discuss their assessment and plan with the patient. Scribes see everything from the sniffles to level 1 trauma alerts. They are responsible for writing all the health information collected into the electronic medical record in an organized, fluent, and detailed manner. In a teaching hospital, educational points will be made during the patient presentation, treatment plan, and workup. Scribes hear it all.
During my 2 years of scribing in the ED at UF Health Gainesville, I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge that I did not fully appreciate until medical school. I was able to answer countless exam questions using my prior scribe experience. Learning how to perform a patient exam and write a SOAP note came much easier. The knowledge and skills I gained from watching thousands of patient encounters and resident presentations as a scribe gave me the confidence to see more patients and get more involved during clinical rotations.
My mentor, Alexa Peterson, said, “Looking back, if I had to pick, being a scribe prior to medical school was the single most beneficial thing I did to prepare myself for this path. It was what propelled me into the field of emergency medicine. First, it taught me time management and prioritization, both of which we know are critical for surviving medical school. More important, scribing provided me with the best mentors. I came out of that experience thinking, ‘I want to be those docs.’ The physicians I was working with offered guidance on why I should pursue medicine and the admission process, provided teaching points on difficult patients, and were always motivating. These aspects were extremely important because nobody in my family is a physician and I was lacking mentorship at home.
“Yes, EM is fast-paced shift work, with endless variety that can make the specialty appealing on the surface, but for me, it was the people I met in that department who made me feel part of the team and made me feel welcomed in the specialty.”
EM resident Annabeth Johnson, DO, of Morristown Medical Center, said scribing prepared her for residency. “The skills I acquired through my time as a scribe helped prepare me for many of the challenges I encountered not only in medical school but also in my first year of residency. I gained exposure to medical terminology, learned how to properly document, and became familiar with formulating a differential diagnosis. Working alongside physicians trained me to think clinically and allowed me to see firsthand all the different hats physicians wear when it comes to patient care. These are skills that have served me well during my audition rotations and into residency as I work with patients from all walks of life.” This shows just how impactful being a scribe can be. Four years after scribing, Dr. Johnson is still implementing some of the skills and knowledge acquired from scribing as she cares for her patients every day.
Attending physicians who have worked with scribes notice students with scribe experience. Diana Mora-Montera, MD, Ultrasound Director and Assistant Program Director at North Florida Regional Medical Center, said, “I did my residency at a program with its own scribe program. I worked side by side with hopeful undergrads who had a better idea of what medicine really is about, than I did as a third- or fourth-year medical student. Later as a brand-new attending, I often discussed the differential diagnosis and workup of complicated case presentations with scribes, not only as a way of teaching but also as a sounding board. There is a drastic maturity level and clinical acumen that is obviously identifiable in medical students who have been scribes.”
If you are a pre-medical student looking for that one experience in medicine to give you an edge, then grab a laptop and head to the local ED, because scribing is calling your name.