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What Is a Medical Receptionist and How Do You Become One?

illustration of medical receptionist assisting patient at desk

At some point in our lives, we all come into the doctor’s office. Whether it’s with a screaming baby struggling with an ear infection, for an annual screening or a quick routine flu shot, the first person you interact with when you walk through the clinic doors is a medical receptionist. Though the circumstances surrounding a visit to a clinic can be downright miserable for some patients, being greeted by a warm and helpful medical receptionist can go a long way toward making the visit a positive experience.

You maybe didn’t give this role a second thought while you were in the middle of dealing with your last sinus infection, but it’s worth reconsidering. The career of a medical receptionist offers a stable and interesting path into the healthcare industry. Plus, with the United States’ large baby boomer population aging, demand for healthcare services and the professionals providing them will remain strong, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

If you are looking for opportunities within a stable field, becoming a medical receptionist could be a great fit for your career. In this article we’ll take a closer look at the role of a medical receptionist and what you need to do to become one.

What is a medical receptionist?

Medical receptionists—sometimes called medical administrative assistants, unit secretaries or patient coordinators—are administrative professionals within a healthcare setting. These are the people you interact with when you schedule an appointment, make billing inquires, or come into a hospital, clinic, or laboratory for an appointment. Unlike a receptionist in a traditional office, medical receptionists have extensive knowledge of medical terminology and healthcare procedures. They are responsible for an essential link between the healthcare infrastructure, providers and the people seeking medical care.

Where do medical receptionists work?

Medical receptionists work in pretty much any patient-facing healthcare facility. They staff community clinics, hospitals, laboratories and any other medical setting where you might come in for care.

According to the BLS medical receptionists are most often employed in doctor’s offices, followed by general medical and surgical hospitals, and dentist’s offices.1 This wide variety of options means medical receptionists can work in fast paced locations such as emergency care, and quieter locations such as outpatient clinics offering treatment in anything from behavioral health to physical therapy.

As a medical receptionist, you have the opportunity to explore a diverse variety of workplace settings in order to find the best fit for your needs and interests.

What are some common medical receptionist duties?

Though medical receptionists work in many unique environments, the majority of a medical receptionist’s work responsibilities translate across the profession. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, medical receptionists are typically responsible for the following:2

  • Answering telephones and directing calls to appropriate staff
  • Scheduling and confirming patient diagnostic appointments, surgeries, or medical consultations
  • Operating office equipment such as voice mail messaging systems, word processing, spreadsheets, or other software applications to prepare reports, invoices, financial statements, letters, case histories, or medical records
  • Maintaining medical records, technical libraries, or correspondence files
  • Greeting visitors, discovering the purpose of their visit and directing them to appropriate staff

A significant portion of a medical receptionist’s duties involve working with others. They make it possible for patients to find the care they need, make correct records available to healthcare providers, and create a safe and warm atmosphere in what can be intimidating medical environments. If you’re a natural at making people feel welcome, you’re already off to a great start.

How do you become a medical receptionist?

While some aspects of this job may come naturally to you, there are also role-specific skills you’ll want to refine. Let’s take a closer look at several of the sought-after technical and transferable skills of an effective medical receptionist.

What skills do you need to become a medical receptionist?

To be a medical receptionist requires strong interpersonal skills, technical knowledge and critical attention to detail. These skills can be gained in an educational setting or in on-the-job training.

According to our analysis of over 146,000 medical receptionist job postings, these are the most in-demand skills for medical receptionists:3

  • Administrative support
  • Scheduling
  • Appointment setting
  • Customer service
  • Customer billing
  • Medical terminology
  • Data entry
  • Electronic medical records
  • Clerical duties
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

Though these skills can all be learned in advance of becoming a medical receptionist, there are some broader traits and qualities that can be particularly useful in the profession. Here are five important qualities for people interested in becoming medical receptionists:

  • Strong communication skills: Medical receptionists communicate complex information about billing and scheduling with patients. Strong communication skills like telephone etiquette and cultural competency are essential for helping all patients navigate their medical needs.
  • Ability to multi-task: As a medical receptionist you may be juggling writing an email with checking in a patient for an appointment, all while the telephone rings. A medical receptionist needs the ability to stay cool under the pressure of having many things going on at the same time and know how to prioritize competing demands.
  • Attention to detail: As with all administrative work, a keen eye to detail is very important. Particularly dealing with medical records and scheduling, being able to spot a small mistake can have very significant consequences.
  • Teamwork: The medical receptionist is a key part of a team providing healthcare and support. Being able to work closely with other professionals can streamline communication and impact patient experience.
  • Positive attitude: The majority of the time people come into a doctor’s office, they are under significant personal stress. Medical receptionists can provide a calm and friendly interaction that improves the experience of both patients and healthcare providers. 

What training do you need to become a medical receptionist?

Now that you know more about what the role entails, you’re probably wondering what training or education you’ll need to get started in a medical receptionist role. Depending on the job market where you live, you may be able to find a position with a high school education, but many employers may seek additional training and education from applicants.

According the Department of Labor, 41 percent of medical receptionist jobs require at least some college education.2 A further 20 percent require a post-secondary certificate—for example a Medical Administrative Assistant Certificate, which can be completed in as few as 9 months.4

Take the first step toward a healthcare career

Now that you know more about what a medical receptionist is and what they’re responsible for, is this the right career path for you? If so, visit the Medical Administrative Assistant Certificate page to learn how Rasmussen College can help provide you with the education and training needed to excel in this critical healthcare career.

1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages – Medical Secretaries, May 2018 [accessed November, 2019] https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes436013.htm Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, [accessed November, 2019] www.bls.gov/oes/.
3Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 146,267 medical receptionist job postings, Oct. 01, 2018 – Sep. 30, 2019).
4Completion time is dependent on number of transfer credits accepted and the number of courses completed each term.

Anjali Stenquist

Anjali Stenquist is a content writer for Collegis Education who writes student focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She is passionate about helping students of all backgrounds navigate higher education.

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