Unit Secretary Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a unit secretary career? Get real job duties, career outlook and salary info to see if becoming a unit secretary is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Unit Secretary Career

Unit secretaries answer phones, make appointments, keep track of patients and perform the clerical work needed in a hospital or nursing home unit. Here are some of the pros and cons of becoming a unit secretary:

Pros of a Unit Secretary Career
Average job growth (36% for medical secretaries between 2012 and 2022)*
Opportunity to assist patients, families, and other health professionals**
Requires only 1-2 years of postsecondary training***
Opportunity to use multiple skill sets***

Cons of a Unit Secretary Career
Median pay below national average for all careers ($32,240 for medical secretaries in 2014)*
Potential exposure to blood, body fluids or infectious diseases**
May have to deal with anxious or angry patients or in other high-stress situations***
May be required to work weekends, evenings or holidays**
CPR certification often required**

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Career Builder, ***iSeek.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Unit secretaries use medical terminology, technical and communication skills to keep a hospital or nursing home running smoothly. Unit secretaries assist patients and their families, as well as doctors, nurses and other health professionals who work in the unit.

According to job descriptions for the career, a unit secretary answers the phone in the unit and routes calls as required. They may assemble, purge and beak down patient paper charts, transcribe physician orders, and keep track of patient appointments for laboratory or diagnostic tests. Other tasks include collecting and distributing mail, moving or storing medical supplies, making sure rooms are ready for new patients, and helping to prepare patient paperwork when a patient is ready to be discharged from the unit.

Career Prospects and Salary Info

Due to the increasing elderly population and an expected increase in need for medical care, the job outlook for secretaries in the medical field is positive. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for medical secretaries are expected to increase 36% between 2012 and 2022 (www.bls.gov). Also according to the BLS, in 2014, medical secretaries earned a median annual salary of about $32,000.

Career Skills and Requirements

Most individuals in this field have at least a high school education or the equivalent. Many medical secretaries have additional training, particularly in medical terminology. One-year certificate courses and two-year associate degrees are offered at technical schools and community colleges.

In addition, to work as a unit secretary, you will also likely need on-the-job training in the software or technologies commonly used in most facilities and be certified in basic CPR. Some employers prefer to hire unit secretaries who are certified nursing assistants.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers are looking for unit secretaries with excellent communication and organizational skills, and the ability to maintain a professional demeanor regardless of the situation. Here are a few of the postings found in April 2010:

  • A healthcare network in Illinois was hiring a unit secretary to work in an intensive care unit. The successful candidate would function as a receptionist and perform clerical work. Duties included maintaining patient charts and census reports and managing the office supply inventory. A high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) credential, proficiency in medical terminology and current CPR certification were necessary to apply. The employer preferred someone with three to six months experience or a one-year certificate from a college or technical school. Being bilingual was a plus.
  • A regional medical center in California was looking for a unit secretary to work 12-hour shifts. Duties included transcribing physician orders, maintaining patient charts, and preparing paperwork for patient transfers. Applicants needed to understand medical terminology, have good computer skills, and have at least one year of experience as a unit secretary in an acute care hospital.
  • A hospital in Florida wanted to hire a unit secretary with a high school education or the equivalent who possessed basic computer and clerical skills. Applicants needed to know medical terminology and have six months to one year of related work experience. CPR certification, good communication skills, and an ability to work in stressful situations were required. The employer preferred someone who could speak a second language.

How Can I Stand out?

Develop Related Skills

In addition to good clerical skills, having skills in the following areas will help you stand out in a career as unit secretary:

  • Oral and written communication
  • Listening
  • Customer service
  • Time management
  • Organization
  • Problem-solving

Alternative Career Paths

Medical Records and Health Information Technician

If you like the idea of working in a health-related field, but would prefer less patient contact, you might want to become a medical records or health information technologist. In this field, you'll work with doctors and other health professionals to ensure that medical records are accurate, secure, and complete. Duties may include assigning codes to patient diagnoses for insurance billing purposes, making sure records are complete, and following patient outcomes after release from the facility to gauge the level of care provided. Medical records and health information technologists are also concerned with the security and confidentiality of medical records.

Individuals in this career may have as associate's degree, but can also have a certificate in health information. Passing a certification exam to become Registered Health Information Technician may increase job prospects. The BLS expects 21% job growth in this field between 2010 and 2020. In 2011, the median salary for these salaries was about $33,000, according to the BLS.

Court Reporter

If you like recording and keeping track of information, but are not interested in the health field, you might consider becoming a court reporter. Court reporters may use digital recordings or steno machines to create verbatim recording of court proceedings. To earn a certificate in using a stenotype machine, you must complete 2-4 years of postsecondary training. Some states require that court reporters be licensed. The BLS reports that the 2011 median salary for court reporters was about $49,000. The agency expects 14% job growth in the field between 2010 and 2020.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Health Information Management
      • Master of Health Informatics
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Healthcare Admin
      • Bachelor: Health Science
      • BS in Health Information Management
    Certificate
      • Medical Office Administration Certificate
      • Medical Billing and Coding Certificate
  • Campus Locations:
    2. American National University

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Medical Office Professional - Diploma
      • Medical Billing and Coding - Diploma
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Regent University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Public Administration - Healthcare Policy and Ethics
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Penn Foster

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Career Diploma - Virtual Assistant
  • Campus Locations:
    5. College of Health Care Professions

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Medical Coding and Billing-Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Queens University of Charlotte

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Health Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration
      • MS - Healthcare Admin and Management
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Healthcare Admin and Management
  • Campus and Online Programs
    8. Southern Careers Institute

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Medical Billing and Coding Specialist
  • Campus Locations:
    9. CDI College

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Diploma in Medical Office Administration
      • Diploma in Medical Office Administrator
      • Diploma in Medical Office Assistant
      • Diploma in Medical Office Assistant - LCE.3V (Spcialiste en Technologies de L'Information Appliques la Bureautique - LCE.3V Concentration: Assistant Administratif en Milieu Mdical)
      • Diploma in Assistance in Health Care Facilities - Assistance la Personne en tablissement de Sant
      • Diploma in Health Care Assistant
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • HS Diploma

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master of Health Information Management
  • Bachelor: Healthcare Admin
  • Medical Office Administration Certificate

Which subject are you interested in?

American National University

  • Medical Office Professional - Diploma
  • Medical Billing and Coding - Diploma

What is your education level?

Regent University

  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
  • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
  • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Management

What is your highest level of education completed?

Penn Foster

  • Career Diploma - Virtual Assistant

What is your highest level of education?

College of Health Care Professions

  • Medical Coding and Billing-Certificate

What is your highest level of education completed?

Queens University of Charlotte

  • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Management
  • Master of Health Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

Colorado State University Global

  • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration
  • MS - Healthcare Admin and Management
  • BS - Healthcare Admin and Management

What is your highest level of education?

Southern Careers Institute

  • Medical Billing and Coding Specialist

What is your highest level of education completed?