Medical secretaries perform administrative and clerical work in medical offices, hospitals, or private physicians’ offices. They answer phone calls, order supplies, handle correspondence, bill patients, complete insurance forms, and transcribe dictation. Medical secretaries also handle bookkeeping, greet patients, schedule appointments, arrange hospital admissions, and schedule surgeries. There are approximately 373,000 medical secretaries employed throughout the United States.
Medical Secretary Career History
No one knows exactly when secretaries originated. Members of the nobility had secretaries (always men) who had command of several languages, including Latin, and were required to have what we would consider today to be a broad, generalized education.
During the industrial expansion at the turn of the century, businesses faced a paperwork crisis. Secretaries helped to solve this problem, using new technologies such as adding machines, telephones, and typewriters. Many people aspired to hold positions as secretaries. In the 1930s, the number of male secretaries dwindled, and women began to dominate the office workforce.
Today, secretaries, also known as administrative assistants, office coordinators, executive assistants, and office managers, are more technologically driven, using computers, the Internet, and other equipment to perform vital information management functions in the modern office.
As insurance and billing practices in the health care industry grew more complicated, and physicians began to see a higher number of patients, the career of medical secretary was created to handle administrative responsibilities that were previously taken care of by physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals. Today, medical secretaries are key players in keeping medical facilities operating at top efficiency.
Medical Secretary Job Description
Medical secretaries play important roles in the health care profession. They transcribe dictation, prepare correspondence, and assist physicians or medical scientists with reports, speeches, articles, and conference proceedings. Medical secretaries also record simple medical histories, arrange for patients to be hospitalized, and order supplies. Most need to be familiar with insurance rules, billing practices, and hospital or laboratory procedures.
Doctors rely on medical secretaries to keep administrative operations under control. Secretaries are the information clearinghouses for the office. They schedule appointments, handle phone calls, organize and maintain paper and electronic files, and produce correspondence for the office. Medical secretaries must have basic technical skills to operate office equipment such as facsimile machines, photocopiers, and switchboard systems. Increasingly, they use computers to run spreadsheet, word-processing, database-management, or desktop publishing programs.
Medical Secretary Career Requirements
Most employers require medical secretaries to have a high school diploma and be able to type between 60 and 90 words per minute. In order to handle more specialized duties, you must be familiar with medical terms and procedures and be able to use medical software programs. In addition, you need to have basic math skills and strong written and verbal communication skills to write up correspondence and handle patient inquiries. English, speech, and health classes will help you prepare for this career.
One and two-year programs are offered by many vocational, community, and business schools covering the skills needed for secretarial work. For more specialized training, some schools offer medical secretarial programs, covering the basics such as typing, filing, and accounting, as well as more specialized courses on medical stenography, first aid, medical terminology, and medical office procedures.
Certification or Licensing
Certification is not required for a job as a medical secretary, but obtaining it may bring increased opportunities, earnings, and responsibility. The International Association of Administrative Professionals offers the certified professional secretary (CPS) and certified administrative professional (CAP) designations. To achieve CPS or CAP certification, you must meet certain experience requirements and pass a rigorous exam covering a number of general secretarial topics.
To succeed as a medical secretary, you must be trustworthy and use discretion when dealing with confidential medical records. You must also have a pleasant and confident personality for handling the public and a desire to help others in a dependable and conscientious manner.
Exploring Medical Secretary Career
The best way to learn about this career is to speak with an experienced medical secretary about his or her work. Ask your school guidance counselor to set up an information interview with a medical secretary, or arrange a tour of a medical facility so you can see secretaries in action.
Approximately 373,000 medical secretaries are employed in the United States. Medical secretaries work in private physicians’ offices, hospitals, outpatient clinics, emergency care facilities, research laboratories, and large health organizations, such as the Mayo Medical Clinic. The Mayo Clinic branches, located in Florida, Minnesota, and Arizona, employ more than 1,000 medical secretaries who work for nearly 1,200 physicians and scientists.
A majority of medical secretaries work with one or two physicians practicing in a clinical outpatient care setting. The remainder provide support to physicians and scientists in clinical and research laboratories, hospitals, or Mayo Clinic’s medical school.
To find work in this field, you should apply directly to hospitals, clinics, and physicians’ offices. Potential positions might be listed with school or college placement centers or in newspaper want ads. Networking with medical secretaries is another inside track to job leads, because employers tend to trust employee recommendations.
Promotions for secretaries who work in doctors’ offices are usually limited to increases in salary and responsibilities. Medical secretaries employed by clinics or hospitals can advance to executive positions, such as senior secretary, clerical supervisor, or office manager; or into more administrative jobs, such as medical records clerk, administrative assistant, or unit manager.
The U.S. Department of Labor reports that medical secretaries earned a median annual salary of $27,030 at the end of 2004. Salaries ranged from less than $19,310 to more than $39,720. The median salary in 2004 for medical secretaries employed in physicians’ offices was $27,890; in hospitals, $27,320; and in dentist offices, $33,070.
Most employers offer vacation, sick leave, and medical benefits. Many also include life, dental, and vision care insurance, retirement benefits, and profit sharing.
Medical secretaries usually work 40 hours a week, Monday through Friday, during regular business hours. However, some work extended hours one or two days a week, depending on the physician’s office hours. They do their work in well-lit, pleasant surroundings, but could encounter stressful emergency situations.
Medical Secretary Career Outlook
While the demand for secretaries in the general sector is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations, the U.S. Department of Labor projects a higher demand for medical secretaries, expecting the occupation to grow as fast as the average through 2014.
Health services are demanding more from their support personnel and are increasing salary levels accordingly. Technological advances are making secretaries more productive and able to handle the duties once done by managers or other staff. The distribution of work has shifted; secretaries receive fewer requests for typing and filing jobs. Instead, they do more technical work requiring computer skills beyond keyboarding. The job outlook appears brightest for those who are up to date on the latest programs and technological advances.