The Hobby MT – Business or baby?

There's been a lot of criticism over the years about the hobby MT, someone who just needs to make a little money to pay for a few extras. This is as opposed to the professional MT, someone who takes their career, the industry and the business of MT seriously.

When it comes to the business side of MT, many MTs lose all sense of  perspective. Although there is a general derision for hobby MTs, the flip side is that the same (or more) level of derision is applied to the corporate aspects of the business. It sends a message that small business is okay, big business is not and that my small business is better than your small business because I run a serious business, dammit! There's an aura of superiority put off by those who look down on the hobby MT because s/he doesn't treat MT like the business it is and make business-like decisions. They undercut prices, they aren't adequately trained – golly, sometimes they aren't even real MTs! However, while the attitude is that we should be business-like, there is a fair amount of derision heaped upon being too business-like. All that business rah-rah goes down the drain when it comes to the large MT businesses and even the not-so-small MT businesses. Men are suits and women who are too business-oriented are bitches.

What got me writing is a thread at MT Chat about the sale of M-TEC and changes taking place at that school.

I am not thrilled with the corporatization of MT or the fact that what used to be an industry of primarily women has been taken over by men in suits. Men don't think the way women do and they don't do business the way women do. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes it's difficult for women to deal with, much like the toilet seat that's left up. Unfortunately, any business dominated by women is going to look a lot like medical transcription; i.e., marginalized and commoditized and that has little to do with “the suits” and the corporations. I've been stiffed and mistreated just as often by the small local MTSO run by a woman as I have been by a large corporation run primarily by men. I'd rather work for a corporation run responsibly and by the book than a poorly-run small outfit and I don't care whether a man or a woman is at the helm of either. Suits ≠ bad bad bad.

There is an attitude in the MT community that a transcription service owning/operating a transcription school is automatically A Bad Thing. Let's apply some intelligence to this. First of all, M-TEC was originally owned and operated by owners of a transcription service. Maybe everyone has forgotten that in the intervening years. I don't know how long Kathy and Susan ran a transcription business along with the school, but I know they ran a transcription service simultaneously with the school at some point. Second of all, the origins of this objection were based on small services with local clinic accounts that charged exorbitant sums of money to “school” people in MT. The curriculum (and I use the term loosely) was geared towards that service's specific needs and was not even close to adequate for educating a well-rounded MT. The MTs who completed these “programs” were only employable by the service that ran the “school” they attended. This worked fine for both parties as long as the transcription service actually had work for the MTs completing the “school.” The problems arose when those people, thinking I R A MT, lost or left that job and represented themselves in the wider MT community as a trained medical transcriptionist with experience. Which – by every definition – they were! However, because their education, training and experience were so narrowly confined to that one service, they found they were simply unemployable elsewhere – and had to start all over again. That is not the case with M-TEC, whether we're talking about past or present owners. WebMedX, in fact, would be able to provide an excellent training ground for MTs because they have contracts with a wide variety of facilities. If they intend to employ many of the MTs who attend M-TEC, then it's a win/win situation for MTs and for WebMedX. On top of that, M-TEC gets a real boost to its placement numbers. Any MT who has completed the M-TEC program and worked for a year or two for WebMedX would most likely have no more trouble finding another job than any Andrews School graduate. So – get a grip, people! Transcription Service + Transcription School ≠ Bad bad bad, either.

The next big criticism was the shortened time allowed to complete the program before additional fees are assessed. I think what many of the participants in that discussion are not realizing is that there are many, many community colleges offering medical transcription certificate programs and that's really the competition. I don't have numbers, but based on my discussions with a lot of educators at those programs, the college programs are a bigger competitor than other online schools. Most of these colleges have 9-month programs and many of the requirements are regulated by the community or state education system. I was at a meeting of educators earlier this year and the college educators said that if they made the MT certificate program a 2-year program, they wouldn't get any students. Several months ago, I did a spreadsheet of what the schools charge and some of the community colleges were the most expensive (depending on location), especially for out-of-state students. The number of credits required to complete the certificate program and the cost per credit jumped some of these well over the $5K range for tuition. While the prior owners ran a good business, the new owners have an investment (i.e., the purchase price) that the prior owners didn't have and they need to see return on that investment. Therefore, their focus is going to be a little different and more aggressive than the prior owners'.

And while higher fees may push some people to the less expensive schools, I don't think it's going to make that much of a difference. Someone who price shops their education doesn't even get as far as M-TEC or Andrews – they think Career Step is too expensive and they're agonizing over that or one of the $900 programs.

Andrews can't – and won't – take everyone who applies. As I've said in prior posts about transcription schools, the stance that it's “M-TEC or Andrews” (and now if you take M-TEC out of the equation, it's just Andrews) is just unrealistic. If your dream is to see every other transcription school shut down, consider the consequences – a mass shrinkage in the labor force. We can't even say that's a good thing, since the MT industry has been defying the usual influences of supply and demand for years now. I'm not sure what anyone thinks would be the positive consequences of this, or what MTs who believe in “M-TEC or Andrews” think would happen to the quality of education at those schools if they started expanding to take more candidates. (Hint: There's a reason Harvard and Yale are so expensive and have higher admission standards. They don't take just anyone, either.)

Can an MT program be completed in 9 months? Of course it can. Just because an MT who took longer “can't imagine” completing the program in less time doesn't mean it isn't possible. Someone who is truly desperate to get into the job market can complete a self-study course in much less time than that, even. It takes focus and hard work – but I know more than one MT who eschewed Andrews in favor of a self-study course they could get through quickly so they could get a job faster. Take your pick – be broke for 2 years because you're working part time and going to school part time, be really broke for 2 years because your school won't let you complete faster and there aren't any local jobs available or you live in a rural area – or be really broke for 9 months or less because you're going all out to complete a program so you can get a full-time job and stop being broke. There's a reason community colleges can't “sell” a 2-year program. For one thing, the pay rates don't justify it and for another, most people wanting to enter MT need to get into the job market faster than that.

It costs money for a school to carry people who are poking along in the program. What WebMedX is doing is requiring people to make a real commitment to their education. Having to expend considerable money and a significant amount of time speaks to motivation and commitment.

I'm going to share with you one of my first experiences about learning the value of money and commitment. I joined a martial arts class at the university in the town where I lived. The instructors were volunteers and the university let the group work out in a room in the physical education building. Although the stated fee was $5 per month, it was like it was voluntary – nobody really made an effort to collect it and most students didn't pay it. When I had gained some seniority, I told the senior instructor I was taking over the treasury – then I started aggressively collecting the fee. Oh, the whining! Even the instructor whined, telling me these were poor college students who couldn't afford $5 a month for martial arts. I looked him in the eye and told him “they spend more than that on beer every Friday night.” Then I looked them in the eye and told them “you spend more than that on beer every Friday night.” Did we lose students? No, we didn't. In fact, we had a resurgence of participation. Paying $5 per month was enough to motivate these students to make a real commitment to studying martial arts and working out. People who had previously come to class only when they felt like it now attended every class. For $5 a month, they didn't try to find time for class – they made time for class. People who had worked out with a modicum of effort either dropped out altogether or started working harder. The club finally had money to buy equipment and have social events (read: parties) at the end of the quarter after belt testing.

Someone who is having financial difficulty will either decide they simply can't complete the program in 9 months and they'll go elsewhere – or they'll knuckle down and work twice as hard to finish the program before having to pay more money to extend the education – 0r pay more money to extend the education. The MT benefits by getting into the job market faster. WebMedX benefits by getting more potential candidates faster. And if WebMedX considers itself the #1 employer of its graduates – do you really think they're going to do anything that results in their getting less qualified graduates? If employers won't hire their graduates, if they find their own graduates aren't adequately trained to work for them – they'll suffer the consequences of their own decision and make adjustments.

WebMedX made (presumably) a huge investment in M-TEC. From a business standpoint, it's in their best interest to do what is most profitable and will get them the best return on their investment. Whether or not they feel preserving the reputation of the school is a necessary part of that investment remains to be seen, but they could've bought any of a dozen lesser schools if they didn't care about name recognition and reputation.

I've said it many times over the years when a group of MTs criticizes the decisions of a business – if you don't like the way a business is run, feel free to start your own. You can run it any way you like, including making decisions that eat into your profit so you can please the masses of faceless MTs criticizing you in the forums.

The blind leading the blind

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