Medical Secretary Degrees: Associate's & Online Training Info

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Medical secretary certificate, diploma and associate's degree programs can lead to a career supporting medical personnel. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your medical secretary certificate, diploma or associate's degree.
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Studying Medical Secretary Certificate, Diploma and Associate's Degree Programs: At a Glance

Programs leading to a medical secretary certificate, diploma or associate's degree provide students with the training necessary to work in hospitals, rehabilitation centers and medical facilities. Medical secretaries support doctors and nurses by successfully managing the day-to-day operations of the medical office. Common duties include reception, transcription and billing and coding.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected the need for medical secretaries to increase at a much faster than average rate of approximately 41% from 2010-2020. Graduates from a certificate or diploma program can expect excellent career opportunities during that time period. Most programs have few admissions requirements, and students can be ready for employment in less than two years. Here's a side-by-side comparison of these options:

Certificate and Diploma Programs Associate's
Who is this degree for? Individuals looking to immediately enter the workforce Individuals seeking supervisory or specialized positions or wishing to continue their education
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Medical secretary ($32,000)*
- Patient relations representative ($23,000-$59,000 in 10th-90th percentile range)**
- Health unit coordinator ($21,000-$39,000 in 10th-90th percentile range)**
- Medical secretary ($32,000)*
- Front office manager ($24,000-$52,000 in 10th-90th percentile range)**
- Medical office front desk specialist ($21,000-$37,000 in 10th-90th percentile range)**
Time to Completion Six months full-time1.5 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements Approximately 35 credits of coursework Approximately 60 credits of coursework
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **Payscale (May 2012 figures)

Medical Secretary Certificate and Diploma Programs

A medical secretary certificate or diploma program can prepare students to enter the workforce as medical secretaries in a short amount of time. Medical secretaries work in hospitals, doctor's offices and medical clinics, performing an array of receptionist and administrative duties.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Certificate and diploma programs can prepare students for employment in less than one year
  • Most medical secretary certificate and diploma programs have few admission requirements and accept students twice a year
  • Many certificate programs are available in an online format to accommodate the needs of busy students

Cons

  • Classes taken in a certificate or diploma program may not transfer toward an associate's degree program
  • Students who have not completed required prerequisites might need additional time to complete these programs
  • Employers might prefer candidates with an associate's degree for advanced positions

Common Courses and Requirements

Most medical secretary certificate and diploma programs can be completed in 2-3 semesters. Students enrolled in a certificate or diploma program can expect to take core classes in anatomy and physiology, medical transcription and keyboarding. Business communication, workplace human relations and employment search skills are commonly covered in certificate or diploma programs. The majority of programs require students to complete 35 credits before graduating. Courses you can expect to take in a certificate or diploma program include:

  • Medical terminology
  • Medical office administration
  • Word processing
  • Medical office procedures
  • Hospital ethics and law

Online Degree Options

Many medical secretary certificate and diploma programs are offered entirely online. The material covered in online classes is generally equivalent to what students are taught in a traditional classroom setting. Parents, returning students and individuals working full-time may benefit from the flexible schedule online classes offer.

Students should always check the accreditation of any school offering online certificates or diplomas. Some employers reimburse tuition for students who earn a medical secretary certificate or diploma.

Stand Out with this Degree

Students enrolled in a medical secretary certificate or diploma program can stand out by volunteering at a hospital or medical office. Gaining hands-on experience and getting to know members of the medical team can be beneficial when seeking a job. Students can list the experiences on their resume and have references in the medical field. Holding a part-time position as a receptionist while completing a program can help students gain office experience, computer and customer service skills.

Medical Secretary Associate of Applied Science

An associate's degree program can prepare you for a career as a medical secretary or front office manager. Most medical secretaries who hold an associate's degree are eligible to take on supervisory positions or more specialized roles. Associate's degree programs can be taken on campus or online. Graduates from an associate's degree program can expect ample career opportunities in hospitals, medical offices and rehabilitation facilities.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Most associate's degree programs are designed so students can transfer credits to other programs or colleges
  • Students who have completed an associate's degree program might be eligible for supervisory positions
  • Many programs leading to an associate's degree offer flexible schedules and allow students to attend classes part- or full-time

Cons

  • Students with an associate's degree might not earn more than those who have completed a certificate or diploma program
  • Students might need to meet a minimum keyboarding proficiency before enrolling
  • An associate's degree program can take up to two years to complete, which is significantly longer than a certificate or diploma program in this field

Courses and Requirements

Most associate's degree programs begin classes twice a year: once in the fall and once in the spring. Admission is usually not competitive, and most students who meet the minimum requirements are admitted. Students enrolled in an associate's degree program can expect to study human relations, medical transcription and microcomputer business applications. Before graduating, students need to complete roughly 60 credits of coursework. Common courses taken at the associate's degree level include:

  • Health care delivery systems
  • Medical secretary anatomy/physiology
  • Medical terminology
  • Quality issues for medical transcription
  • Medical office procedures

Online Degree Options

Online medical secretary programs leading to an associate's degree are available, but they're less common than programs on campus. Students enrolled in an online program typically complete the same classes they would in a traditional classroom setting.

Even if programs aren't offered fully online, certain general education or core classes leading to an associate's degree may be available via the Internet. It's important to check the transferability of credits before enrolling.

Stand Out with this Degree

Because employers might seek the most technologically-savvy medical secretary candidates, you can get ahead by taking as many computer courses as available through your associate's degree program. This might include learning programs such as Microsoft Access, Excel, PowerPoint and Word. You also might want to seek out a program that includes an internship component, which will allow you to gain practical experience in a health care setting.

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