Medical Secretary Career

What Does a Medical Secretary Do?

A medical secretary works in a doctor or other health professional’s office. Being a medical secretary involves numerous different duties in a variety of categories. The exact duties of an individual medical secretary depend on his or her employer. For example, a medical secretary working in a doctor’s office will likely have duties different than those of one working in a hospital.  Medical secretaries can be found in doctor’s offices, hospitals, and other medical settings.

Record-keeping

  • Maintaining patient records (paper and electronic), verifying and updating information
  • Gathering and updating patient insurance information
  • Assembling patient charts and admission records

An example of a medical secretary carrying out his or her record-keeping duties would be taking information from a new patient to create their record.

Appointment Scheduling

  • Booking and organize patient appointments, thus maintaining the doctor or other health professional’s schedule
  • Scheduling surgeries

For example, a medical secretary will speak with a patient either on the phone or in office to set an appointment time and date. He or she will record this date and time in the physician’s schedule.

Hospital Admissions

  • Processing hospital admissions and creating patient records and charts
  • A medical secretary working in a hospital might be involved in processing the admission of a patient.

Other General Office and Clerical Duties

  • Monitoring and ordering office supplies
  • General office management

As a medical secretary, you might be responsible for monitoring the use of office supplies and ordering them when needed.

Billing and Bookkeeping

  • Billing patients and completing insurance forms
  • Bookkeeping

Dictation and Correspondence

  • Preparing and handling correspondence
  • Transcribing dictation
  • Assisting with reports, conference proceedings, and articles

The medical secretary might be required to transcribe dictation from the physician or medical professional. Medical transcription requires excellent knowledge of medical terminology. This becomes especially important if the doctor speaks too quickly or doesn’t enunciate clearly. Transcription also involves properly formatting the document and ensuring that the accepted industry guidelines are met. You’ll need to know how to convert medical slang to formal medical language.

Interaction with Patients

  • Greeting and checking in patients, taking the information needed for their files
  • Gathering documentation from patients
  • Answering the phone and addressing patient inquiries.

For example, the medical secretary of a doctor’s office is the person who greets arriving patients. He or she is the person patients see when they walk into the office.

Using Computers and Other Technology

  • Using computers for email as well as spreadsheet and word processing software and software used for billing and record-keeping, and maintaining office equipment

Medical secretaries require excellent knowledge and skill in using computers and various computer programs. They must also know how to use a variety of office equipment, including facsimile (fax) machines, photocopiers, and multi-line telephones.

Why Do We Need Medical Secretaries?

Medical secretaries are essential to the successful daily and long-term operations of a physician’s office. They are also found in other settings, such as hospitals, clinics, and the offices of other health professionals. Without medical secretaries, the essential appointment scheduling, record-keeping, and other functions necessary to keep a medical office functioning would be left undone.

Where Does a Medical Secretary Work?

Medical secretaries work in physicians’ offices, the offices of other healthcare professionals, hospitals, clinics, and other medical settings.

How Medical Secretaries are Different from Medical Assistants?

Unlike medical secretaries, medical assistants escort patients to examination rooms and prepare them by taking weight, height, temperature, and blood pressure.

What Do You Learn in a Medical Secretary Training Program?

A Medical Secretary training program at a vocational school or community college will generally cover a variety of skills.  Some of these might include:

  • Keyboarding and word processing: You will learn how to increase your typing speed and use word processing programs.
  • Medical office procedures: Students learn about office procedures, especially those specific to the medical office. This will include general procedures relevant to any office in addition to those specific to a medical practice.
  • Medical terminology and communications: It is necessary for medical secretaries to understand medical terminology so that they can understand and generate medical communications. This knowledge is important in a number of different contexts, including that of having to transcribe dictation from the physician or other medical professional.
  • Medical transcription: Medical secretaries may be asked to transcribe dictation from the doctor or other medical professional for whom he or she is working. Medical transcription requires building up to a much faster typing speed and learning specific techniques.
  • Billing and coding: Most employers require medical secretaries to have billing and coding knowledge. This will allow you to be able to effectively administer this aspect of the practice, ensuring its continued success.
  • Anatomy and physiology: To succeed as a medical secretary, you may also need an adequate knowledge of human anatomy and physiology.
  • First aid: You might be required to learn first aid in your medical secretary education program. This is because you’ll be working in a medical office and you need to have these skills in order to do so.
  • Oral and written communications: Medical secretaries need to be able to communicate effectively and efficiently in both written and verbal communication. You will learn to improve in these areas as you train to become a medical secretary.
  • Bookkeeping: You will learn the basics of bookkeeping that medical secretaries need to run a medical office. This will involve becoming much more detail-oriented and developing a sense of responsibility for the well-being of the practice.
  • Pharmacology and pathology: You will be required to learn the basics of pharmacology and pathology. Pharmacology is the study of medicines and prescriptions and pathology is the study of illness.  A medical secretary needs to have a basic grasp of these topics in order to function as he or she should in a medical office.
  • Law and ethics: You will learn about the law and ethics applicable to working as a medical secretary. You will come to understand the vital importance of confidentiality in your work.

What are the Educational Requirements to Become a Medical Secretary?

A high school diploma is generally the bare minimum needed to begin a career as a medical secretary. Most employers will want you to have training and education beyond that, however. You will probably need to have a typing speed of between 60 and 90 words per minute. To make yourself competitive, you need to take a vocational or community college program in the field. These programs will generally be called “Medical Secretary” or something similar and will lead to a certificate or diploma. The length of the program can vary by school.  Two years is a common duration.

Admission requirements for educational programs that will prepare you to become a medical secretary is generally a high school diploma or GED. The goal of medical secretary education and training programs is to prepare students for a career as medical secretaries by giving them the practical knowledge and skills that they need.

Medical secretary education and training programs often include courses in the following areas:

  • Medical office procedures
  • Medical billing and health insurance
  • Pathology and pharmacology
  • Law, ethics, and confidentiality
  • Electronic medical records
  • Anatomy and medical terminology
  • Bookkeeping
  • Business writing
  • Electronic spreadsheet production
  • Document production
  • Keyboarding
  • Transcription
  • Micro database applications
  • Oral communications

You will find that your educational program to become a medical secretary involves both classroom instruction and practical, hands-on training. This hands-on training will likely involve a practical placement in a real workplace.

Certifications

You do not need to have special certification as a medical secretary but having it may give you an advantage. You may wish to seek a Certified Administrative Professional (CA) or Certified Professional Secretary (CPS) certification from the International Association of Administrative Professionals. Obtaining these certifications involve meeting specific requirements and passing an exam.

What Skills are Needed to be a Medical Secretary?

Medical secretaries are dedicated professionals who require a variety of skills and traits. Some of these include:

Organizational Skills

Medical secretaries need excellent organizational skills in order to effectively run the medical office. You will need to effectively and efficiently use physical and electronic filing, and you’ll be responsible for making sure that the office runs smoothly.

Communication Skills

Outstanding written and verbal communication skills are necessary for successful medical secretaries. You will have to communicate not only with your employer (the physician or other medical professional) but also colleagues and perhaps most significantly the patients themselves.

Interpersonal Skills and Empathy

As medical secretaries must interact and communicate with patients and others, it is necessary that they have strong interpersonal skills.

Attention to Detail and Accuracy

Medical secretaries are obliged to pay strong attention to detail, as failing to do so can lead to errors that will adversely affect patient well-being and will interfere with the smooth running of the medical practice.

Typing

You will generally be required to have a minimum typing speed of 60 to 90 words per minute to work as a medical secretary. Medical transcription generally requires a higher speed. It is advisable to try to build your speed up as much as you can. Practice is essential here, so type whenever you get a chance to become better in this area. Be aware that medical secretaries must know how to touch type.

Computer and Technology Skills

Computer and technology skills are essential for a career as a medical secretary. Medical secretaries must be able to use computers for various types of software, such as word processing, spreadsheet, billing, and record-keeping program, as well as general office equipment such as facsimile machines and telephone switchboards.

Conscientiousness

It is essential that medical secretaries be extremely conscientious. This personality trait will help to ensure that potentially harmful errors are not made. Conscientious people also tend to be more caring and empathetic, and these are essential traits for anyone working in a medical setting.  Remember that medical secretaries are the face of the medical practice that patients first see.

Knowledge of Medical Terminology

Medical secretaries must have a sound knowledge of medical terminology in order to carry out their duties. They will need to have a good memory and the determination to study hard until they learn whatever they need to know.

Medical Transcription

You may be required to complete medical transcription as a medical secretary. Medical transcription requires a higher typing speed than other general duties. You will likely learn about transcription in your medical secretary education and training certificate or diploma program.

What Tools and Technologies are Used by a Medical Secretary?

Below is a list of some of the tools and technologies that are used by medical secretaries.

  • Computers: Medical secretaries need to know how to use computer and keyboards in their daily work.
  • Word processing and spreadsheet software: Knowledge of word processing, spreadsheet, and other kinds of software is a requirement for medical secretaries.
  • Billing and record-keeping software: As a medical secretary, you are required to understand and use billing and record-keeping software to help you do your work more effectively and efficiently.
  • Facsimile (fax) machine: Although fax machines are an older technology, medical offices still make heavy use of them in their daily operations.
  • Photocopying machine: Medical secretaries often have to use photocopiers in completing their work.
  • Multi-line telephones: Most medical offices use multi-line telephones.
  • Telephone switchboard systems: If you’re working in a larger establishment, you might need to use a switchboard system.
  • Physical and electronic filing systems: Medical secretaries must be able to use physical and electronic filing systems.

What are the Benefits of Being a Medical Secretary?

Being a medical secretary is a challenging career. However, there are many benefits to a career as a medical secretary.

  • A career as a medical secretary is both challenging and rewarding. You will feel that you’re helping to improve other people’s lives on a daily basis.
  • This career provides opportunities for continuous learning and personal growth.
  • Medical secretaries generally work in comfortable medical office environments.
  • In being educated and trained for their careers, medical secretaries learn fascinating information on the human body and medical terminology.
  • There are jobs for medical secretaries all over the United States, and it is easy to transfer your skills from one place to another.
  • A career as a medical secretary will give you the chance to take a leadership position in the administration of an office.

What is the Job Outlook for Medical Secretaries?

While it’s true that office administration jobs in general are not expected to have strong growth in the near future, the medical field is experiencing excellent growth and the job market for medical secretaries should benefit from that. There is expected to be a 21% increase in job growth for medical secretaries between 2014 and 2024.

Jobs for medical secretaries should increase in number as a growing number of new medical practices and clinics open to help cope with the demands of changing demographics (specifically an aging population). Job opportunities for medical secretaries tend to be evenly distributed across the United States. Wherever there are medical offices, clinics, and hospitals, there are certain to be medical secretaries.

How Much Does a Medical Secretary Make?

The median salary for medical secretaries in 2016 was $33,730. Annual earnings of $49,730 is at the top end of the spectrum, while $23,220 is at the lowest end.  Hourly pay for medical secretaries generally falls between $17 and $21 (with an average of $19). Pay for medical secretaries tends to vary from place to place. According to U.S. News, some of the best paying cities for these professionals include:

  • San Jose, California: $50,920
  • San Francisco: $48,150
  • Vallejo, California: $47,840
  • San Luis, California: $47,230
  • Olympia, Washington: $46,700
  • The same source says that the best paying states for medical secretaries are the following:
  • District of Columbia: $43,750
  • Washington: $42,470
  • Massachusetts: $42,270
  • Connecticut: $42,110
  • Minnesota: $41,260

Medical secretaries generally work on a full-time, 40-hours per week basis. While job sharing (where two employees split one full-time position’s hours into two part-time jobs) is sometimes seen, it’s not very common. As a medical secretary, you should expect to work full-time consistently in your career.

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