Medical secretaries’ roles have greatly evolved with the advance of technology in healthcare organizations. They have assumed responsibilities once reserved for managerial and professional staff. Their core duties include coordinating a healthcare office’s administrative activities and organizing information for dissemination to medical staff, hospitals, insurance companies, and patients.
Serving as the information and communication hub for a medical office, medical secretaries plan and schedule appointments, meetings, and travel; manage projects; organize and maintain paper and electronic records; and communicate using telephones, postal mail, and email.
Medical secretaries transcribe dictation, prepare and respond to email messages, and assist physicians or medical scientists with reports, speeches, articles, and conference proceedings. They may also record simple medical histories, arrange hospital admissions for patients, and order supplies.
Medical Secretary Job Summary
Extremely favorable job growth is expected in this field, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Opportunities should be best for job seekers with training in multiple computer software applications.
Typically, a two-year associate’s degree is required to work in this field.
Most medical secretaries need to be familiar with insurance rules, billing practices, and hospital or laboratory procedures.
Work Environment for Medical Secretaries
Medical secretaries work in medical offices, hospitals, or lab settings. While most medical secretary jobs are 40 hours per week in a five-day work week, some work part-time or in temporary positions. Other medical secretaries are self-employed, freelance, or work in a job-share situation, where two people divide responsibility for a single job.
Medical secretary jobs can involve sitting for long periods. Prolonged use of computer monitors and keyboards plus other repetitive manual tasks can lead to eyestrain, stress, and repetitive motion problems like carpal tunnel syndrome.
Education, Training, and Licensing
Medical secretaries must obtain instruction in the language and business practices of the healthcare industry. Most receive this education through one- or two-year programs offered by business and vocational schools or technical and community colleges. Courses usually include medical office procedures, prescription medication, hospital admissions, records management, transcription, insurance, medical law, ethics, and communications.
Training can include both classroom instruction and on-the-job training. Specialized fields, such as gynecology, podiatry, or optometry, can require additional training. For admission to most programs, a high school diploma or GED is needed.
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Medical secretaries may be required to pursue additional advanced education, either on the job or through training offered by equipment and software vendors. They may attend classes either on campus or online to learn how to operate new office software systems. As medical office technology advances, retraining and continuing education will be an important aspect of a medical secretary’s job.
Medical secretaries must be proficient in word processing, written and oral communication, medical software packages, spreadsheets, project management, and customer service. Employers of medical secretaries look for qualities like discretion, good judgment, organizational ability, initiative, and tact. Adaptability and versatile skills will improve job prospects for those seeking employment in medical offices.
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The International Association of Administrative Professionals offers testing and certification for proficiency in office skills. Experienced medical secretaries can also qualify to take the Certified Professional Secretary (CPS) or the Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) examinations. A medical secretary interested in further advancement in the medical field may also be certified by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) as a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA).
Medical secretaries advance by being promoted to positions with greater responsibility. Highly qualified medical secretaries who enhance their skills or improve office operations may be promoted to senior or executive secretary, or office manager. Medical secretarial experience can also lead to employment as a pharmaceutical, medical software, or medical equipment sales representative.
Employment Figures, Projections, Outlook, and Earnings for Medical Secretaries
Medical secretaries held 471,100 jobs in 2008, based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) records. Most of these positions were in the offices of health practitioners, including physicians, dentists, chiropractors, and physical therapists. Others were in outpatient care centers, hospitals, and medical and diagnostic laboratories.
The BLS expects employment in this field to grow much faster than other occupations, due to the growing population and an increased need for healthcare.
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Median annual wages for medical secretaries were $30,190 in May 2009, according to BLS reports. The middle 50% earned between $24,950 and $36,830, while the lowest 10% earned about $21,080. The highest 10% had an annual salary of $44,060 or more.