What Is a Medical Secretary? Getting Started in Health Care

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Medical secretaries act as the face of the doctor’s office, managing the stream of patients coming in and handling any administrative tasks. Here’s how to become one.

[Featured Image] A woman sits at a reception desk.

A medical secretary is the person who greets you when you enter a doctor’s office and manages the administrative side of the clinic. They ensure the clinic runs smoothly and efficiently. Becoming a medical secretary can be a steady income for someone who is meticulous, organized, enjoys interacting with people, and is familiar with using software programs. 

Jobs in the health care industry are expected to grow 16 percent between 2020 and 2030, in part due to an aging population and the COVID-19 pandemic [1]. That includes medical secretaries, who take care of a clinic or hospital’s operations so doctors, nurses, and medical assistants can provide health care efficiently.

In this article, you’ll learn all about medical secretaries and how to become one.

What is a medical secretary?

Medical secretaries manage the flow of patients in a clinic or doctor’s office. Also known as medical administrative assistants or medical receptionists, a medical secretary performs administrative tasks and is knowledgeable about a medical office’s processes.

They tend to be the first face you see when you walk into a doctor’s office. Many medical secretaries also work behind the scenes to ensure vaccine and prescription records are orderly and up to date. Medical secretaries check patients in, collect insurance cards and copayments, and play the important role of maintaining an organized clinic.

Medical secretaries are different from medical assistants, who are trained to handle clinical tasks. Medical assistants help physicians or nurses with direct patient care, though some of their duties may overlap with a medical secretary’s when they handle patient records.

Read more: What Does a Medical Assistant Do? And 10 Steps to Become One

Where does a medical secretary work?

Medical secretaries can work in the following locations:

  • Doctor’s or physician’s offices 

  • Outpatient care centers

  • General hospitals

  • Nonprofit organizations (grantmaking or fundraising)

  • Insurance companies

  • Scientific research facilities

What does a medical secretary do?

A medical secretary tends to have these tasks and responsibilities:

  • Greets patients and visitors, and directs them to the appropriate doctor or specialist

  • Makes sure patients complete their intake forms, personal and medical histories, and insurance information

  • Uses software programs to record medical charts, reports, and other details

  • Schedules patient appointments for surgeries, check-ups, and consultations

  • Answers the telephone and directs calls to the appropriate staff member

  • Maintains administrative organization with spreadsheets and word processing systems to prepare invoices, medical records, reports, and more

  • Organizes medical and paper records in the office

What differentiates a medical secretary from other secretaries (administrative, legal, school, etc.) is their knowledge of medical procedures, terminology, and software systems. If you currently are in an administrative role and interested in switching to health care, you’ll benefit from the Clinical Terminology for International and U.S. Students course from the University of Pittsburgh. 

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Skills needed 

Medical secretaries should have the following workplace skills:

A medical secretary should also be a great multi-tasker and have some technical skills:

  • Knowledge of medical terminology and procedures

  • Familiarity with basic bookkeeping skills and processing insurance claims 

    • Intuit QuickBooks, accounts receivable software

  • Experience with software systems, especially those used by medical offices

    • NueMD, Phreesia, Epic Systems, medical coding software

  • Ability to send emails, generate reports and keep track of scheduling

    • Microsoft Office or Google Docs for word processing and Excel spreadsheets

    • Acuity Scheduling

    • Outlook or Gmail

Keeping up with the times (and technology)

Over the years, medical offices have become much more digitized. Patient records, medical histories, insurance claims, finances, and more, are now all accessible on data-driven software programs tailored to the medical industry.

Enroll in the course eHealth: More Than Just an Electronic Record from the University of Sydney, or dive into the Healthcare IT specialization from Johns Hopkins University.

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Salary and job outlook

Medical secretaries in the US can earn an annual median salary of $37,450, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics [2]. The projected job growth between 2020 and 2030 is 11 percent [3]. 

Being a medical secretary can provide a steady income in a field that will always be needed. You can earn more certifications or move into another higher-paying role within the health care industry as you gain more experience.

Requirements for becoming a medical secretary

Before you start applying for jobs, it’s good to make sure you have all the requirements. Here are the education, training, and certification requirements for becoming a medical secretary.

Education and training

While the minimum education requirement to become a medical secretary is a high school diploma or equivalent, you might also consider an associate or bachelor’s degree. Earning a certificate from a technical school in medical administration or a similar program that emphasizes medical training can also boost your chances of landing a job. Once hired, you’ll most likely receive on-the-job training, even if you’re just getting trained on the specific processes and procedures a clinic uses.

According to Zippia, 20 percent of medical secretaries have just a high school diploma, while 29 percent have an associate degree and 24 percent have a bachelor’s degree [4]. 

Certifications

You do not need a certification to become a medical secretary. However, like for many professions, it can make you stand out when searching for jobs. You can get certified as a Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) with the National Healthcareer Association. To take the CMAA exam, you must complete a training program or have one year of work experience and a high school diploma (or GED). 

The CMAA exam consists of 100 multiple-choice questions on medical laws, office procedures, and insurance procedures. 

As you progress in your career, you may decide to take more courses that qualify you for additional certification. For example, you can become a certified medical assistant through the American Association of Medical Assistants. With additional coursework in medical coding, you can become a certified medical records technician.

How to become a medical secretary

Here’s how to get started on your career as a medical secretary.

1. Earn a degree or diploma.

Start by gaining a solid foundation by earning at least a high school diploma. Some community colleges or technical schools offer medical administration training programs that teach you the specific skills and terminology you’ll need to be a medical secretary. Do your research to decide which program is right for you, your budget, and your lifestyle.

If you choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in this field, consider health care administration, which provides you with all the skills and clinical knowledge you’ll need to know to succeed as a medical secretary.

2. Get certified.

It is optional to get certified but recommended. Your resume will be stronger, and you’ll have access to more job opportunities. Employers are more likely to consider job candidates who have a certification.

3. Start working as a secretary.

After getting your training and certification, you may decide to apply directly for medical secretary roles. However, if you have trouble finding one specifically in the health care industry, you might consider finding a job doing secretarial or administrative work for any type of office or industry.

4. Apply for jobs. 

Once you have gained some work experience, apply for more medical secretary jobs. If you have already landed one and have been working for a few years, you may choose to apply for executive medical secretary roles. 

No matter which path you choose, you can always turn to online learning platforms, vocational schools, universities, or certification providers to equip you with new career opportunities within health care. 

Get started in health care

Launch your career in health care with a specialization in Healthcare Organization Operations from Rutgers University. You’ll learn the concepts for health care organization administration and operations in four months or less. 

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Healthcare Occupations, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home.htm.” Accessed August 23, 2022.

2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes436013.htm.” Accessed August 23, 2022.

3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Secretaries and Administrative Assistants-Job Outlook, .” Accessed August 30, 2022.

4. Zippia. “Medical Office Secretary Education Requirements, https://www.zippia.com/medical-office-secretary-jobs/education/.” Accessed August 23, 2022.

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