What's it really like?
Serena has been a medical secretary for thirty years. Before taking on this role, she worked at the Royal Marsden Hospital as a copy typist, where she was responsible for typing up reports for the Nuclear Medicine Department. This provided her with excellent experience in a medical environment which has proved useful in her current job, working for a consultant dermatologist in the private sector.
During a typical day at work, Serena performs tasks which help with the smooth running of a private practice. Her work ensures that the consultant for whom she works can focus solely on treating patients and administering medical advice, rather than worrying about administrative tasks.
She liaises on a regular basis with patients, who often have complex queries which need in-depth answers. She is responsible for making bookings with the hospital for patients who need minor procedures, for example the removal of lesions. Serena also types up official clinic letters and collects and subsequently files medical test results. She is responsible for updating the notes of patients with the results of such tests and she generally makes sure that the notes are consistently accurate and thorough. If necessary, Serena will ring patients to inform them of the results of medical tests.
Serena enjoys the frequent contact with patients but also likes liaising with doctors and consultants. She enjoys the high level of responsibility demanded by her role and, whilst some employees may not agree, Serena appreciates the fact that there is never a quiet moment during her working day. She finds it extremely rewarding being responsible for consistently ensuring that the whole set-up operates smoothly and the good news for prospective medical secretaries is that Serena could not think of a negative aspect of her job. Serena has no plans for career advancement, having already reached the pinnacle of her career.
Medical secretaries are responsible for performing administrative tasks in hospitals, GP surgeries, general health service centres, and academic medical research environments.
Medical secretaries provide administrative assistance to individuals employed in a medical environment. They work in a wide range of environments, including hospitals, research establishments, GP practices, and community healthcare services. They keep the working environment running smoothly at all times and help medical professionals focus on their particular roles. Medical secretaries working in smaller environments, including private practices, will perform a wide range of roles and will report directly to their employer. However, medical secretaries working in larger environments, such as research establishments, tend to specialise in one area and may work alongside department administrators.
Medical secretaries are responsible for making sure that patient records are kept fully up to date and accurate. Tasks such as this often need to be performed both manually and using computerised systems. These systems provide back-up in case the handwritten files are lost or accidentally destroyed. Medical secretaries also deal with members of the public and ensure that interaction between them and the medical establishment runs smoothly at all times.
As with many secretarial jobs, the gender ratio in this job is relatively unbalanced. Far more women than men apply for the position, although there is no good reason for this and men should not be discouraged from applying.
Individuals starting out in the job of medical secretary can expect to earn approximately £12,000, although this figure can rise relatively quickly to around £15,000. After a few years in the position, employees may earn between £17,000 and £20,000, whilst senior medical secretaries who have worked in the field for a number of years can expect to earn up to £25,000.
The precise tasks undertaken by a medical secretary will differ depending upon their employer but typical responsibilities include:
- Updating patient records
- Making appointments for patients and arranging the general schedule of the employer
- Dealing with correspondence and general queries from patients
- Dealing with enquiries from members of the press. This is particularly applicable to those working for a research establishment
- Writing letters and sending them to the appropriate recipients
- Setting up a filing system and updating it regularly
- Filling in complex forms
- Sending away samples for medical testing and, if appropriate, accepting samples for medical testing
- Sending the samples to the appropriate internal hospital department
- Updating patient notes with accurate test results
- Phoning patients to inform them of the results of medical tests
- Making appointments with hospitals on the behalf of patients who require minor medical procedures
- Performing numerous general and personal tasks for the employer throughout the working day
- Undertaking medical research on a particular subject
- Writing reports on this research
- Presenting the results of the research to the employer and explaining its wider significance
Individuals do not need to hold any specific qualifications prior to applying to become a medical secretary. However, qualifications in word processing and computing will look very impressive on a CV. Any employer will expect applicants to have good GCSE grades and A Levels will also prove beneficial to any application. In-depth scientific knowledge is certainly not necessary but individuals may wish to take a relevant qualification to boost their chances.
There are numerous options with regards to qualifications but one popular choice is the qualification offered by the British Society of Medical Secretaries: the Certificate in Medical Secretarial Studies. This will teach both basic and more complex skills relevant to the medical secretary job. However, full training is likely to be provided once you have gained a position in a specific medical environment, since individual hospitals and other employers will have their own computer and organisational systems.
Medical secretaries will need to possess the following skills:
- Good organisational skills
- Good administrative skills
- A friendly nature
- The ability to deal with members of the public in a tactful manner
- Good communication and interpersonal skills
- Attention to detail
- Good computer skills
- An interest in researching medical matters
- The ability to keep important and sensitive information confidential at all times
- The ability to provide support for a team of employees
- The ability to work independently
- The ability to work under pressure and under the threat of looming deadlines
- The ability to keep calm in stressful situations
Medical secretaries will usually work in a comfortable office, although some time will probably be spent in a reception environment, with interaction with members of the public a likely feature of the daily job. Most medical secretaries work to a nine to five timetable and have weekends free. Part-time hours are also usually available if desired. The job can be stressful, since other employees are dependent upon the work undertaken by medical secretaries. They have a large amount of responsibility and often have to work to tight deadlines, particularly when researching contemporary medical topics which evolve quickly.
Experience in an office environment will look good on a CV and relevant work experience can be easily organised. Keen individuals should try contacting a local hospital or GP. Alternatively, you could try to shadow a relevant employee for a few days. This will provide you with a glimpse into the reality of the job. However, useful prior experience does not need to be conducted in a medical environment. It is good enough to be able to show experience in an environment which has demanded you to show competence around computers and familiarity with general secretarial skills.
Many medical secretaries work in hospitals and, as such, the NHS is a major employer. However, other employers include:
- GP surgeries
- Private practices
- Medical schools
- Pharmaceutical companies
- Complementary medical practices
- Research establishments
- Community healthcare establishments
- Charities with a medical basis
Individuals may choose to change working environment whilst staying in their general role. For example, an employee working for the NHS may choose to move to a research establishment. The general responsibilities will differ but the overall position will be familiar. However, other medical secretaries may choose to progress to become GP practice managers or they may choose to move away from specialising in medicine to become personal assistants in other office environments.