Do you want to work in the healthcare field but don't have the urge to spend years in medical school?
There are other ways to work in the healthcare industry that don't take between 11 and 14 years of schooling. Becoming a medical secretary is one of those options.
Most of the time you just need a high school diploma, postsecondary diploma/certificate, or associate degree plus familiarity with computer software applications and a willingness to learn.
Get the details on the medical secretary career and its outlook below.
What is a Medical Secretary?
When you check into a doctor's office, you give your name and appointment time to someone at the front desk. That person is typically a medical secretary, and he or she is the face of the doctor’s office.
Medical secretaries can have a big impact on office efficiency and patient satisfaction.
A medical secretary's job typically includes answering phone calls, scheduling appointments, and processing insurance.
Each medical secretary job is a little bit different, based on the location. In general, they're responsible for the tasks below.
When patients arrive at the clinic, a medical secretary processes their appointment. If the patient made an appointment, the medical secretary will typically check them in and make sure all patient information is up-to-date.
If the patient is a walk-in or in need of emergency care, the secretary gathers the same information and schedules the patient to be seen.
The medical secretary then communicates the wait time to patients and answers any questions they might have.
Patients via Phone
When they're not processing patients in-person, medical secretaries are on the phone with patients. When you call your doctor's office, it's usually a medical secretary who answers the phone.
These secretaries can help you schedule an appointment or go over your bill with you. In some cases, they may work as an operator, connecting you to someone who can answer a more technical question.
Sometimes, if no one's available, they may write down your question and call you back once they find the answer.
Unless they work in a large hospital, many secretaries take some billing duties as necessary. This means finding and understanding medical insurance types.
Once a medical secretary sees a patient’s insurance type and understands what the coverage include, they will typically ask for the co-pay amount, among other billing tasks.
Charts & Paperwork
Medical clinics organize patient information into charts, either physical or electronic. Most large clinics use electronic charts, but smaller ones may still work with paper. Federal regulation requires that physicians’ offices and healthcare offices employ meaningful use of electronic healthcare records (EHR).
As part of the process of signing patients in, a secretary may put together the patient’s chart. That means finding it in the system, printing or updating any information, and making sure it's ready for the doctor.
Most clinics have supply managers, but sometimes refilling duties falls on the secretary. This can entail refilling items like glove or paper dispensers and ordering more products from the supplier.
If the doctor needs a letter or report written for the insurance company, they may ask the secretary to help. Secretaries can use templates from past letters but have to fill in the relevant information.
The same goes for answering emails or messages in client portals—medical secretaries often assist physicians in completing these tasks.
A medical secretary job is typically a desk job but may involve getting up and finding physicians or nurses as needed.
Most medical secretaries work in a team with 2-3 others, but it depends on the clinic size. The flexibility for shifts depends on the clinic size as well.
If it's a large clinic and there are other receptionists to fill in, getting a day off or working part-time may be easier. In smaller clinics, you're more likely to be an essential, full-time member of the team.
The hours depend on the clinic but typically match their operation hours, possibly with additional time in the morning or evening.
What Makes a Good Medical Secretary?
To succeed at being a medical secretary, you don't need extensive medical knowledge, but it’s typically useful to know medical terminology and be familiar with medical office processes, like appointment scheduling. It’s also good to have basic computer skills.
You need at least a high school diploma to apply for jobs as a medical secretary. Other than that, there isn't a strict industry standard, so clinics can make their own rules regarding education.
Some require an associate degree, and some even may require a bachelor’s degree, though that isn't common. If you want to be a medical secretary and earn a degree, then you can pursue education within the healthcare field.
If you're going to school to pursue this career path, it can benefit you to choose a degree like Medical Administrative Assistant, Medical Billing and Coding, or Health Information Technology. The coursework in these degrees typically teaches students about office procedures, medical terminology, healthcare technology, and other useful skills.
Salary and Benefits
Along with the healthcare benefits, full-time positions usually come with sick days and paid time off. The median salary for a medical secretary was $34,610 a year as of May 2017. The states where medical secretaries make the most include Washington DC, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Alaska, and New Jersey according to the BLS.
Demand & Outlook for Medical Secretaries
An aging baby boomer population is driving a lot of need for healthcare. This means careers in healthcare are increasing. Medical secretaries are within that growth, with a projected employment increase of 22% through 2016. This translates to about 129,000 new jobs.
If this doesn't seem like the right fit for you, check out some of the related professions below.
A medical assistant provides hands-on patient care. This typically includes taking blood pressure, weight, and temperature,
Medical assistants are usually responsible for prepping the patient to see the doctor or nurse and making sure all paperwork is filled out correctly.
Medical assistants may also troubleshoot equipment and schedule surgeries with patients.
Interested in other healthcare related jobs? Check out our Healthcare Management Career Resource Guide.
Is Becoming a Medical Secretary Right for You?
If you read the information above and think being a medical secretary is the right fit for you, look into UMA’s Medical Administrative Assistant, Medical Office and Billing, and Medical Billing and Coding programs.