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Medical secretary salary & career outlook

Health care is both the largest and the fastest-growing industry in the United States, thanks to numerous factors: a large and aging population, medical advancements that help us live longer, and federal health care legislation that expands patient access to health insurance, and, in turn, treatment. While doctors and nurses are among the most recognizable medical professionals, not all health care professionals wear scrubs or lab jackets. In fact, many of them do not have much, if any, patient contact at all. Medical secretaries are a perfect example of health care professionals that help ensure patients have access to quality care from behind the scenes.

What does a medical secretary do?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics these secretaries support physicians and medical scientists in an administrative capacity. They can work in a variety of settings, from hospitals and outpatient clinics to medical laboratories and physicians' offices. Setting, education and experience can affect the types of duties medical secretaries perform, but according to the U.S. Department of Labor's O*Net Online, the following rank among some of the most common tasks these professionals perform:

  • Answering telephones and routing calls
  • Scheduling and confirming patient appointments
  • Greeting patients and directing them to the appropriate staff
  • Compiling medical charts
  • Receiving and routing laboratory results and other documents
  • Tracking supplies and ordering more as needed
  • Interviewing patients to complete case histories or forms, including intake and insurance forms
  • Maintaining medical records, technical documents and correspondences
  • Operating voice mail messaging systems, computers and other key office equipment

O*Net reports that medical secretaries must be service-oriented and organized. They must exhibit strong listening, speaking, writing and critical thinking skills. Professionals can often master other important, but less innate skills — including medical terminology, insurance rules and billing practices savvy — through formal medical secretary programs.

Employment outlook and job prospects for medical secretaries

The future could be bright for medical secretaries: The BLS projects that demand for these professionals will grow by 36 percent nationally between 2012 and 2022 — much faster than the average for all U.S. occupations. Rapid expansion of both the health care and social assistance industries, along with an ever-growing patient base will likely contribute to this strong growth, the bureau notes. Federal health care legislation, like the Affordable Care Act, will probably contribute, too, since it boosts the share of Americans with access to health insurance.

Though the U.S. Department of Labor's Career OneStop projects that demand for medical secretaries will grow in every state in the nation between 2010 and 2020, some will fare better than others. The following states are projected to see the strongest growth over that period:

  • Arizona: 47.8%
  • Utah: 47.7%
  • Idaho: 44.8%

Medical secretary salary: 2013 ranges and other information

BLS data show that the annual median salary for medical secretaries in the U.S. in 2013 was $31,890, with the middle 50 percent of professionals in the field earning a median salary of between $26,,400 and $38,160. The top 10 percent of earners made a median salary in excess of $46,420. There are a number of factors that can impact a medical secretary's earnings. For example, the BLS reports that in 2013, medical secretaries working in consumer goods rental establishments, dentists' offices and for insurance carriers tended to earn the most. Those who graduate from medical secretary schools, invest in additional professional certifications or accrue a good deal of experience in the field may also earn more than colleagues with less training or experience.

Location is another factor that might affect salary, and figures can vary not just by region or state, but by metro. According to the BLS, the following states were the most lucrative places for medical secretaries in 2013:

  • New Jersey: $39,740 mean annual wage
  • Washington: $39,460 mean annual wage
  • District of Columbia: $39,210 mean annual wage

The BLS reports that the following metropolitan areas tended to offer the highest mean annual salaries for medical secretaries in 2013:

  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.: $44,380
  • San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, Calif.: $44,120
  • Norwich-New London, Conn.-R.I.: $44,000

Medical secretary training: online and off

Although high school graduates with basic office and computer skills may qualify for some entry-level medical secretary positions, according to the BLS, employers increasingly prefer candidates with formal training — this trend is reshaping how medical secretaries learn their craft. The U.S. Department of Labor's O*Net OnLine reports that as of 2013, 41 percent of medical secretaries had some college, but no degree, and another 20 percent held post-secondary certificates. Only 37 percent reported having no higher education at all.

There is a diversity of institutions that offer medical secretary training today, including community and technical colleges, and private career schools. Whatever the educational venue, the computer-centric nature of the field means many students can complete medical secretary training at least partially, if not completely online. Not all programs are suitable for all students, however: Budget, learning style and lifestyle play a role. Future professionals should research several programs before applying for admissions to ensure they find one that meets their needs.

Sources:

Occupational Employment and Wages for Medical Secretaries, Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2013,
http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes436013.htm

Secretaries and Administrative Assistants, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Jan. 8, 2014,
http://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/secretaries-and-administrative-assistants.htm

Medical Secretaries, Occupational Information: Employment Trends by Occupation Across States, Career OneStop, U.S. Department of Labor, 2013,
http://www.careerinfonet.org/carout3.asp?optstatus=111111111&id=1&nodeid=2&soccode=436013&stfips=01&jobfam=43&menuMode=&order=Percent

Summary Report for Medical Secretaries, O*Net OnLine, U.S. Department of Labor, 2013
http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/43-6013.00