Is Medical Indexing Right for You?

by Michelle Guiliano

annefiferbackgroundNot everyone comes to medical indexing with the impressive credentials of S. Anne Fifer. Anne has a strong medical and academic background as a doctor of osteopathic medicine along with a PhD in Experimental Psychology. She was working as a medical transcriptionist, teaching a medical terminology course at Durham Technical Community College, and working on staff development at Duke University when she began contemplating a career change due to health reasons.

She discovered medical indexing on the ASI website. Anne said, “Medical indexing was a great option for me because not only is it challenging, but I am also able to use my background.” Indexing was a natural fit for her: she loves to read, she has an analytical mind, and she describes herself as partially obsessive compulsive. She began indexing part time in 2008 and by 2014 she was indexing on a full-time basis.

One-third to one-half of Anne’s business is medical indexing. She describes medical indexing as having all the same attributes of any other indexing specialty with the key difference of granularity. In a medical reference book, for example, the reader needs to find an answer right away as opposed to browsing. There is also the need for redundancy in the subheadings. Anne’s favorite medical area to index is neuroscience. She enjoys the multidisciplinary approach of the field because it covers anatomy, psychiatry, psychology, and physiology.

But is an academic background like Anne’s necessary? Can an experienced indexer become a medical indexer without this kind of résumé? In Indexing Specialties: Medicine, Irving Conde Tullar, a successful medical indexer without a medical academic background, answers this question by writing, “I would not recommend that anyone thinks of specializing in medical indexing without first becoming a competent and time-efficient indexer.”

Anne’s three-part online course is designed to help you and other accomplished indexers explore this specialty field.

Part one will focus on the types of medical indexing. Medical books range from trade books to the very narrowly focused reference book. Anne will review the differences among these books, from both an indexer’s and a reader’s point of view. She will also provide examples of indexes written for these books. The goal of this section is to allow you to determine what kind of medical indexing you are qualified to take on.

In the second session, medical terminology will be the focal point. Anne will review resources for dealing with medical terminology such as a medical-specific spellcheck program that also provides definitions. Anne will also explain how to approach a word that can’t even be Googled. She stresses that medical terminology is rooted in Latin and Greek. Indexers with a strong background in classical languages usually have a high affinity for medical terminology.

Anne will conclude the series by concentrating on her approach to writing medical index entries. She will explain how to deal with variations of word phrases and how to produce alternatives, when necessary, based on the audience. Finally, she will review the resources and processes she uses to produce medical indexes.

Anne is excited to share her experience in medical indexing with other indexers. She hopes that indexers from a cross-section of specialties will feel encouraged to sign up for this online course to explore this ever-evolving specialty—no previous experience required except for back-of-the-book indexing!

Medical Indexing will be held on Wednesdays, January 18, 25, and February 1, 2017, at 10 am Pacific; 11 am Mountain; 12 pm Central; 1 pm Eastern. If you register you will also have access to the recorded sessions. Register now for the discounted early rate. ASI members and sister association members get the best rates.

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