Pros and Cons of a Career As a Medical Administrative Assistant
Medical administrative assistants, often called medical secretaries, greet visitors, make appointments and perform administrative duties in various medical settings. Read on for some pros and cons of this career to see if it seems like the right job for you.
|Pros of Becoming a Medical Administrative Assistant|
|Job skills transfer easily to administrative jobs in other fields*|
|Very high projected job growth (an expected increase of 36% from 2012-2022)*|
|Can work wherever there are healthcare facilities*|
|Can enter the career with a high school diploma*|
|Numerous certification options*|
|Cons of Becoming a Medical Administrative Assistant|
|On-the-job training can last several months*|
|May have to work nights and weekends*|
|Meager pay (median salary was $32,240 for medical secretaries as of May 2014)*|
|Advancement usually requires formal training*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Essential Career Information
Medical administrative assistants work in various medical settings all across the nation, such as hospitals, clinics, physicians' offices or specialty medical offices such as chiropractors' offices. In this job, you'll fulfill both general and specialized clerical duties, including maintaining paperwork and medical records, drafting correspondence, processing insurance forms, maintaining inventory and overseeing billing matters. You might also take basic medical histories. Unlike other medical assistants, a medical administrative assistant does not conduct clinical tasks.
Medical administrative assistants have extensive contact with people in person, in writing and on the phone. You'll communicate with patients while scheduling appointments, receiving them in the office and accepting payments. At times, you may be required to handle or complete numerous tasks at once, so you'll want to consider whether you're comfortable working in a fast-paced environment. You will usually work a full-time schedule, though you may also be required to work evenings or weekends, depending on the hours of your facility.
Salary and Job Prospects
The medical-secretary field was projected to be one of the faster-growing occupations in the country, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicting a 36% increase in employment from 2012-2022. This rise in demand will be the result of an increasing older population, which has a greater need for medical care. The median salary of medical assistants was $32,240 as of May 2014. The lowest-paid assistants earned $22,270 or less per year, while the highest-paid earned $47,300 or more per year.
There are generally no formal educational requirements beyond a high school diploma for medical administrative assistants. After obtaining employment, you will likely gain the skills you need through on-the-job training, which can last up to several months. Another healthcare professional may teach you tasks that help the office run efficiently, such as scheduling appointments, ordering supplies and filing records, as well as medical terminology and coding procedures.
There are a number of specific skills employers seek when hiring a medical administrative assistant. Some of these qualifications include: attention to detail (for duties such as filling out forms and filing them appropriately), strong typing and word processing abilities, personable manner to instill ease and confidence in patients, solid organizational skills, polite phone manner, and adherence to patient confidentiality.
Real Job Postings
Due to the high volume of public and patient interaction, many employers emphasize customer service skills. Some also seek candidates comfortable with or experienced in fast-paced environments. Below are a few examples of job postings from real employers seeking medical administrative assistants in March 2012:
- A Massachusetts-based eye and ear care institution advertised for a candidate to schedule appointments, handle patient charts and oversee phone duties in a fast-paced office. The job called mainly for non-clinical administrative work and requested two years of experience in a medical setting as well as knowledge of healthcare scheduling software.
- A private group practice in Chicago was seeking full-time and part-time candidates to provide administrative support and communicate with patients in a busy office. The employer required two years of experience and preferred applicants with certification from a professional association.
- A neurological specialty office in Indiana looked for a medical administrative assistant with two years of secretarial experience to provide office support and assist the neurosurgeon with various non-medical tasks.
How to Get an Edge on the Competition
Get Formal Training
While higher education is not required to be a medical administrative assistant, many vocational schools and community colleges offer certificate and associate degree programs in medical administrative assisting. Such programs, which teach you about medical terminology, keyboarding, medical coding, transcription and other topics, can give you a considerable edge in the field and increase your potential for promotion to more clerical-focused medical assisting positions. Additionally, while in high school, you may benefit from taking courses in biology, anatomy, chemistry and health sciences to prepare for this field.
Certification is not legally required to become a medical administrative assistant; however, many employers favor those who are certified. You could pursue certification through any of several organizations such as the American Association of Medical Assistants, American Medical Technologists, American Registry of Medical Assistants or National Healthcareer Association. Some certification programs require you to have graduated from an accredited medical assisting program, while others accept a certain amount of professional experience in lieu of formal education.
Other Careers to Consider
If you want a job working more directly with patients, consider becoming a nursing aide. In this job, your work is less administrative in nature and more focused on direct patient care. You may take patients' vital signs, show them to exam or operating rooms, ready equipment for staff use and assist patients with various self-care procedures. These professionals typically complete postsecondary certificate programs and earn certification. Aides, however, tend to have lower earnings and job prospects; the BLS reported that nursing aides earned a median salary of $24,000 as of May 2011, and jobs were projected to grow by 20% from 2010-2020.
Physical Therapist Assistant
Another related career option is physical therapy assistance. Physical therapist assistants support physical therapists in working to increase patients' mobility and function after an injury, illness or medical procedure. Being a physical therapist assistant usually requires an associate degree and state licensure, but the earnings and job prospects are significantly higher than that of medical administrative assistants. According to the BLS, the median salary for this job was more than $51,000 as of 2011, and jobs were predicted to grow by 46% from 2010-2020.
Medical Records Technician
If you want a career that does not entail working with patients and the public, being a medical records technician might interest you. In this job, you'll compile and maintain comprehensive medical records, including patients' health histories, medical test results and symptom reports. You may enter this profession with as little as a certificate in health information technology, though most employers also prefer professional certification. The BLS reports that these technicians earned a median wage of about $33,000 as of May 2011, and jobs were expected to increase by 21% from 2010-2020.