Medical Secretaries: Everything You Need to Know About This In-Demand Healthcare Career
Healthcare careers are growing faster than average. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the healthcare sector will add 2.4 million new jobs from 2016–2026.1 This makes healthcare one of the top industries for growth in the next 10 years.
Anyone would be interested in career potential like that. But it can be hard to figure out which career in healthcare will make the best fit. Hospitals and clinics run on the work of so many different professionals with vastly different roles. One of these careers is that of the medical secretary.
Depending on the employer, medical secretaries could also be called medical administrative assistants, health unit coordinators, medical office specialists and unit secretaries. But no matter what title they go by, these professionals are vital to the health of their workplace.
“Believe me when I tell you that if one unit doesn't have a medical secretary, it slows down the flow of everything in the hospital,” says Jackie Williams, health unit coordinator and author. Williams says people who don’t understand the career think medical secretaries are just there to answer telephones. “But we run the hospital units, and we keep everything together.”
What does a medical secretary do?
Medical secretaries are responsible for a wide range of administrative tasks to ensure the office they are managing functions smoothly. These tasks can vary by location but typically include:2
- Checking in patients at the front desk
- Scheduling patients for their appointments
- Interviewing patients for case histories
- Compiling medical records and charts
- Answering the phone and fielding questions
- Processing insurance payments
- Operating computer software and office equipment
- Transferring lab results to the appropriate clinician
- Maintaining supplies and inventory
“My daily task and responsibilities include printing consent forms, admitting and discharging patients, ordering supplies, making coffee for my coworkers, answering the telephones, knowing exactly who to call to get equipment fixed and so on,” Williams says.
The professionals who work closely with medical secretaries, like nurses and doctors, typically understand the wide variety of problems medical secretaries solve in each unit, according to Williams. But other healthcare professionals don’t always see that medical secretaries are resolving issues, looking ahead to anticipate problems and making sure things are running smoothly.
“I love the fact that I get to help in the healing process for the patients,” Williams says. “Even though I'm not hands-on with their care, I love the fact that I am involved.”
Where do medical secretaries work?
As you can see, medical secretaries are key players in any healthcare environment, and pretty much every healthcare facility needs them. That means there’s many potential locations for medical secretaries to work in—everywhere from hospitals and dental offices to universities and nursing homes.
And, of course, the environment you choose to work in will definitely impact your work. Medical secretaries who work in a research facility, for example, will probably never deal with emergencies like their counterparts in a hospital. And medical secretaries who work in a diagnostic imaging facility will need to know a completely different array of terms and procedures than those who work in a pediatric physical therapy center.
This means that medical secretaries have the flexibility of working in an environment that most interests and connects with them. If you have a soft spot for the elderly, then you can find positions that maximize that. If you love sports, then there are clinics that specialize in athletic populations.
What are medical secretary schedules like?
Your choice of employer will also impact the kind of schedule you will have. Williams says most hospitals have gotten away from the “five-days-a-week, 8-hour shifts” and prefer three days a week with 12-hour shifts. “That's what I work. I do tend to do a lot of overtime, so my weekly schedule varies.”
The extra demand in Winter in southern Florida where Williams lives means there are plenty of opportunities to work overtime and make extra money. “Most medical secretaries do work weekends and holidays,” Williams says. “But we get to pick which days we work, so the flexibility is excellent.”
If you choose to work in a facility that keeps regular nine-to-five weekday hours, then your schedule would mirror that.
What skills do medical secretaries need?
So what kind of skills does it take to keep a good administrative handle on things in a medical environment? We used job posting analysis software to identify the top 10 skills employers were looking for:3
- Administrative support
- Appointment setting
- Customer service
- Patient care
- Medical terminology
- Front office
- Customer billing
- Data entry
- Microsoft office
What is the average medical secretary salary?
According the BLS, the mean annual salary for medical secretaries was $35,870 in 2017. In regions where demand is higher, employers may offer higher salaries to attract candidates.
Salary averages also change based on where medical secretaries work. For example, the average medical secretary salary for professionals who worked in dental offices was $39,630 in 2017.1
Another potential salary factor is job growth. The Department of Labor (DOL) projects a growth rate of 15 percent or higher for medical secretaries, which is much faster than the average occupation.2
What does it take to become a medical secretary?
If you’re considering becoming a medical secretary, it’s important to know what employers are expecting from their candidates. When it comes to education, most medical secretaries need some college or vocational training for the job, according to the DOL.2
Since medical secretaries have access to highly sensitive patient information as well as prescription samples, employers often screen for drug use, drug abuse history and criminal history.
How long does a medical secretary program take?
This is all good and well, you might be thinking, but you don’t have years to spend on education before the paychecks start. If that sounds accurate, a medical administrative assistant might be the perfect career choice for you! Unlike many careers in healthcare, education for this role can be completed relatively quickly—a Medical Administration Certificate can be completed in as few as nine months.4
What is my next step?
There are so many fantastic careers of all shapes and sizes in healthcare. The question is—which career best matches you? Now that you have the details on medical secretaries, you are in a great place to ask yourself if the career fits.
If you think a career as a medical secretary could be a good fit for you, check out the Rasmussen College Medical Administrative Certificate page to learn more about how they can help prepare you for this key healthcare career.
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [career information accessed May 22, 2018] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, [career information accessed May 22, 2018] www.bls.gov/oes/.
3Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 69,089 medical secretary job postings, Mar. 01, 2017 – Feb. 28, 2018)
4Completion time is dependent on the number of transfer credits accepted and courses completed each term.