Medical Secretary Jobs and Careers

If you are looking for a demanding yet rewarding secretarial career, then it might be worth considering that of medical secretary. Working in a medical practice or surgery, this involves being the point of communication between doctors and nurses, and their patients. This role therefore involves a considerable amount of interaction with other people, these mainly being patients who are seeking treatment. This is central to the demanding nature of the work - people can be hard to deal with, particularly when unwell - but it also underpins the rewarding side of the work, which is helping people at what can be a very difficult time in their lives.

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While interacting with people should appeal to you, if this is the kind of job you are considering, you need to remember that there is a fair quantity of mundane tasks too. These are practical and administrative in nature, often being completed under high time pressure.

For this reason, the role of medical secretary is perceived as something of a specialist role, similar to that of legal secretary. In this regard, it requires a high level of proficiency and efficiency, combined with specialist knowledge of the field.

What is Involved in the Job?

Medical secretaries start work before or at the surgery or clinic's opening time at 8.30am or 8.45am. Daily tasks may involve some or all of the following:

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Hours and Conditions

The general practice surgery is the most common working environment, but medical secretaries can work in a variety of other healthcare facilities and clinics. They may also work in group medical practices, medical research companies and medical insurance companies where an understanding of the healthcare sector is needed.

Hours are usually standard office hours as set by the opening hours of the general practice surgery. Weekend working is unusual, although some practices opt in to this. Part-time working is frequently available.

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Type of Person Required

As well as a pre-existing interest in healthcare, a strong interest in people and desire to interact almost constantly is essential to this role. Given the nature of the environment, a strong sense of discretion is required, with the ability to uphold the strictest patient confidentiality. Tact and sensitivity is also needed. At times, it may be necessary to deal with rude or impatient people, so the ability to remain calm in the face of sometimes unreasonable behaviour is important.

Good communication skills are essential. In smaller practices, the medical secretary might be involved in all levels of work and have a great deal of interaction with both patients and healthcare professionals. In larger institutions, they might be working within a department or with a number of other administrative staff.

With the increasing use of information technology, excellent computer skills are needed, in particular word processing, database management and spreadsheets. Given the healthcare specific nature of the work, secretaries also need to be diligent in checking the spelling and use of scientific and medical terminology.

It may also be necessary to be skilled in medical shorthand, audio-typing or word processing.

Qualifications Required

Secretarial skills evidenced through qualifications such as the various RSA awards are usually sought, in addition to a strong basic education that includes English and Mathematics. Depending on the level you wish to work at, or the kind of institution you wish to be employed within, other qualifications may be helpful. Some further education colleges offer courses that provide a foundation in the healthcare administration.

Much training is on-the-job, but there are some specific qualifications offered by professional associations. The Association of Medical Secretaries, Practice Managers, Administrators and Receptionists (AMSPAR) offers such training in the form of a Diploma. It is not essential but may strengthen your applications considerably, enabling you to secure interviews for the better jobs with higher wage rates.

Salaries and Prospects

The employment prospects are good for medical secretaries, with the ageing population guaranteeing a steady need for healthcare services at primary health level. As health services continue to be devolved to primary level, there is a trend towards secretaries taking on more duties. The majority of jobs exist within the NHS structures, but there are also roles in the growing private healthcare sector, pharmaceutical companies, research agencies and medical schools. Work may be permanent or temporary - major cities have a need for temporary secretaries in healthcare just as much as in the commercial and business sectors, and this is a good way to gain experience while in the early stages of your career.

Salaries for permanent positions begin at around £12,500 a year and rise to around £20,000 a year with experience and seniority

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