Pros and Cons of Medical Office Specialist Careers
Medical office specialists, also sometimes referred to as medical secretaries or medical receptionists, oversee the front desk areas of healthcare facilities, greet patients and maintain medical records. Take a look at the pros and cons of this field to determine if it might be a wise career choice for you.
|Pros of Medical Office Specialist Careers|
|Excellent job growth (projected 36% increase over 2012-2022 decade)*|
|Few educational requirements (37% had just a high school diploma, 41% some college without a degree as of May 2014)**|
|Opportunities for advancement*|
|Work in clean, well lit and comfortable office work spaces*|
|CONS of Medical Office Specialist Careers|
|Below-average yearly income (median wage of $32,240 as of May 2014)*|
|Possible mundane and tedious work duties*|
|Potential to work strange shifts or part-time*|
|Companies may prefer those with certification*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NET OnLine
Essential Career Information
Medical office specialists work in the healthcare industry, but don't provide clinical healthcare to patients. Instead, they work with patients as customers by assisting with scheduling appointments and billing issues, maintaining files and performing other related administrative duties. They might work with office equipment such as phone systems and word processing systems, and they may also be trained to fill out insurance forms or keep track of patients' medical records.
Salary and Career Outlook
While the healthcare industry is growing and can produce some high earnings, medical office specialist careers aren't known to stand out in this. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that medical secretaries earned median salaries of $32,240 in 2014 (www.bls.gov).
Job opportunity growth in the healthcare field is aided by an increase in elderly people in the U.S. and technological advances within the industry. Most medical and healthcare careers are growing much faster than the average across the economy. Medical office specialist careers are no exception in this case, with the BLS expecting opportunities for medical secretaries to grow 36% from 2012-2022.
It is possible to become a medical office specialist with just a high school diploma and on-the-job training, although you might also choose to prepare with a postsecondary certificate or associate's degree program. According to O*Net OnLine, 54% of medical secretaries have just a high school education, while 38% have some college education and 9% have an associate's degree.
Some programs that might prepare you for the field include a Medical Office Administrative Specialist Certificate program or an associate's degree in medical office administration. Such programs are commonly found at universities, vocational and technical institutes or community colleges. They can teach you about medical billing and insurance, medical coding and terminology, administrative functions applicable to medical environments, and medical records documentation. Computer keyboarding or data and word processing can also be learned.
What Employers Are Looking For
Employers look for medical office specialists who can handle a mix of billing, coding and medical office administration functions, and who have some medical office experience, though the length of time desired varies. Positions can typically be obtained with minimal education, though some employers prefer more advanced training. Listed below are some examples of real career postings as of May 2012:
- In Texas, an experienced medical office specialist was desired for a part-time position that focused heavily on administrative duties such as record-keeping and scheduling. Duties also included simple patient interaction. Candidates must have had at least a high school education.
- A medical office assistant and records specialist was needed in Ohio for a critical care transport company. The position required at least two years of administrative support experience and preferred candidates had medical records knowledge. This was a full-time job.
- A Texas healthcare facility sought a medical front office specialist for medical insurance verifications and admin work. Applicants needed 1-2 years of experience. This job was full-time and required the handling of sensitive patient data and knowledge of insurance plans. A high school education was a minimum requirement.
- In Colorado, a medical office specialist was needed for an OB/GYN practice with five doctors. Medical billing and coding and previous medical office experience were required. The position was full-time, and the employer preferred candidates with an undergraduate education.
How to Beat the Competition
Get More Education
While you may be able to access the field with as little as a high school education, in some cases, finishing at least a 2-year Associate of Medical Office Administration, an Associate of Medical Office Specialist or a similarly titled degree program can give you a leg up. These programs can be finished in 16-24 months on average, and if you hold another certificate, may be completed as an add-on education in even less time. Students learn areas such as medical billing and records management while also furthering their computer and software skills. Students must also complete general education courses. Graduates end up with a more balanced education and a potential boost to their profile when seeking employment.
Obtaining professional certification can prove valuable for those looking to advance their careers or stand out in the marketplace. Associations such as the American Academy of Professional Coders, the National Healthcareer Association, and the American Health Information Management Association offer billing and coding specialty certifications, attesting to desired skills for medical office specialists. Regardless of the certification you choose, all organizations require you to complete continuing education for the certification to remain valid over time. This also helps you stay abreast of changes in the industry and keeps your mind focused on getting ahead in your career.
Similar Careers to Consider
If you don't see being a medical office specialist as an ideal career fit, perhaps you could consider becoming a medical transcriptionist. Medical transcriptionists also work in healthcare administrative support, require similar levels of entry-level education, and earn about the same amount. Medical transcriptionists work with healthcare professionals' recordings, converting them into written reports for easier access and consumption. The BLS expects growth in the field to be a small 6% from 2010-20, due to their duties being more focused, as well as changes in technology that automate and thus, streamline, medical transcription.
Health Services Manager
You might also consider becoming a medical or health services manager, particularly if you are willing to complete more schooling and have a greater drive for career advancement. Health services managers must complete a bachelor's degree, but can achieve significant financial rewards, with a a mean wage of $96,000 per year and career opportunity expected to grow by 22% through 2020 according to the BLS. Health services managers do more detailed work, such as planning the methods of healthcare delivery for medical units or in some instances, entire facilities.
If you enjoy working with people in a healthcare setting, and would like to provide more hands-on care with career advancement possibilities, you may also look into becoming a registered nurse (RN). RNs are expected to see employment growth of 26% from 2010-20, and they earned $69,000 per year on average in 2011. RNs have to deal with some stress, as they may work hectic, round-the-clock schedules when delivering healthcare to patients. Education requirements can be completed in as little as two years through an associate's degree program.