Medical Secretary

The Job and What's Involved

Medical secretaries provide administrative support to doctors in general practice (GP's), hospital consultants and other senior clinical staff employed in the healthcare sector. As well as having strong secretarial skills, medical secretaries need an understanding of the medical terminology and special administrative practices required in a healthcare environment.

The work of a medical secretary varies from job to job. For example, a medical secretary employed in a GP surgery may have a great deal of patient contact, often supporting and working alongside a team of GP's, nurses, practice managers, medical receptionists and therapists. In contrast, a medical secretary working in a pharmaceutical company is unlikely ever to meet patients.

In a hospital setting, medical secretaries are often known as personal assistants, and support one or more specialist consultants. They are likely to be based in a specific department, for example paediatrics (child health), cardiology (heart care), or with a hospital director/chief executive.

General medical secretarial duties may include:

  • Typing letters and reports, either from audio tape or shorthand notes.
  • Preparing and sending documents, such as test requests or clinical notes.
  • Dealing with correspondence.
  • Updating patient records.
  • Making appointments for patients.
  • Managing diaries for senior medical staff and maintaining waiting lists of patients awaiting treatments.
  • Answering telephone queries, giving information or passing messages to colleagues.
  • Maintaining a filing system.
  • Checking medical test samples to make sure they are appropriately labeled and sent out correctly.
  • Dealing with new patient registration forms.
  • Preparing and circulating meeting agendas and notes.
  • Booking meeting venues.
  • Ordering stocks of stationery and other supplies.

In some jobs, particularly in complementary or private healthcare, medical secretaries may also have some financial responsibilities. These could include budgeting, liasing with medical insurers and accepting payments for treatments.

Medical secretaries usually work around 37.5 hours a week. In some jobs, this may include early morning, evening or Saturday work to cover surgeries and clinics. Part-time work and job sharing opportunities are often available.

Medical secretaries spend much of their working day sitting at a desk, using a computer and a telephone. They may spend time at a reception desk dealing with patients or they may collect and deliver files to other hospital departments.

Entry-level National Health Service (NHS) medical secretaries earn between £15,190 and £18,157 a year. With experience, this can rise to between £17,732 and £21,318 for NHS medical secretaries.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are fewer than 30,000 medical secretaries in the UK. Numbers are declining as existing medical secretaries retire and are not replaced. In some hospitals, aspects of medical secretarial work (such as audio tape transcription) are now outsourced to external companies.

Medical secretaries work in:

  • Hospital departments, community health centres and clinics.
  • GP surgeries and private medical practices.
  • Medical schools and university/research laboratories.
  • The pharmaceutical industry.
  • Medical charities.
  • Complementary medicine practices.
  • Military medical services and prison services.
  • Stand-alone health centres, for example airport or railway station walk-in clinics.

Some medical secretaries work on a temporary basis for employment agencies.

Job vacancies may be advertised in the local media and Jobcentre Plus offices and on www.jobs.nhs.uk.

Education and Training

Employers usually look for candidates with GCSE's (A*-C) or equivalent, including English and maths. A Higher or Advanced Diploma in business administration is also relevant.

Candidates should be able to demonstrate effective keyboard skills and competence in using IT. Shorthand is useful for some posts, and knowledge of medical terminology is important.

Although not essential, many job advertisements specify that applicants need to have completed the Association of Medical Secretaries, Practice Managers, Administrators and Receptionists (AMSPAR) Advanced Diploma for Medical Secretaries (ADMS).

Courses for the Diploma can be taken full time, usually over one year, before entry to employment. Part-time courses, of varying length, are also available. A list of colleges offering the course is available from AMSPAR. For young people without appropriate experience, course entry requirements are typically four GCSE's (A*-C) or equivalent.

An Advanced Apprenticeship in business and administration, leading to an NVQ Level 3 in business administration, may provide an alternative route to becoming a medical secretary.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

Many people enter this area of work after gaining experience in another administrative role in the NHS, or after working as a general secretary. Entry qualifications to the ADMS may not be required for students with existing secretarial skills or those already employed as receptionists, administrators or clerical assistants in the healthcare sector.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Medical secretaries develop their skills on the job, working alongside experienced colleagues. Many employers encourage medical secretaries to study part time for qualifications, including:

  • AMSPAR Advanced Diploma for Medical Secretaries (ADMS)
  • British Society of Medical Secretaries and Administrators (BSMSA) Certificate in Medical Secretarial Studies.

The BSMSA certificate is aimed specifically at people with experience in either a secretarial or healthcare clerical setting. It can be completed within a year and is available through distance learning. This allows students to study in their own time and at their own pace.

AMSPAR courses are available on a part-time basis at several colleges throughout the UK.

The BSMSA also offers online courses in medical terminology.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Medical secretaries should have:

  • Excellent organisational skills.
  • Good spoken and written skills.
  • Accuracy and attention to detail.
  • Computer, information technology (IT) and administrative skills.
  • The ability to work as part of a team and on their own initiative.
  • A flexible attitude and the ability to prioritise a number of different tasks under pressure.
  • Tact and empathy in conveying information to patients and their families who may be feeling anxious or upset.
  • Discretion and respect for confidential medical information.
  • The ability to work well with professional medical personnel at levels of seniority.

Your Long Term Prospects

Medical secretaries in GP surgeries can, with further training and experience, become practice managers. AMSPAR offers a Diploma (Level 5) in Primary Care Management. This covers key management skills that can be applied in a variety of work environments.

In larger healthcare trusts, there may be senior medical secretarial or junior management opportunities. Promotion to personal assistant or secretarial management roles is also possible.

There are opportunities to work overseas, particularly in the Middle East.

Get Further Information

The Association of Medical Secretaries,
Practice Managers, Administrators and
Receptionists (AMSPAR),
Tavistock House North, Tavistock Square,
London WC1H 9LN
Tel: 020 7387 6005
Website: www.amspar.com

British Society of Medical Secretaries
and Administrators (BSMSA),
132 Mayfield Road, Edinburgh EH9 3AH
Tel: 0131 466 0682
Website: www.bsmsa.org.uk

NHS Careers, PO Box 2311, Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 6060 655
Websites: www.nhscareers.nhs.uk and www.stepintothenhs.nhs.uk

Skills for Health, 2nd Floor,
Goldsmiths House, Broad Plain,
Bristol BS2 0JP
Tel: 0117 922 1155
Website: www.skillsforhealth.org.uk

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