How Can I Become a Medical Administrative Specialist?

Explore the career requirements for medical administrative specialists. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, salary, and the employment outlook to determine if this is the right field for you. Schools offering Administrative Assistant degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Medical Administrative Specialist Do?

Medical administrative specialists, also known as medical secretaries, are responsible for the day-to-day tasks needed to ensure that a medical office functions smoothly. This includes basic clerical tasks, like answering phones, scheduling appointments and handling financial transactions. They may also be involved in taking down a patient's medical history or transcribing audio recordings of doctors into text form so that they can be entered into health records.

The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required High school diploma (or equivalent)
Key Responsibilities Maintain patient record information
Oversee day-to-day office operation
Interact with patients and medical staff
Training Required On-the-job training
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 21%* (for medical secretaries)
Average Salary (2015) $34,330* (for medical secretaries)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Is a Medical Administrative Specialist?

Medical administrative specialists, according to the American Medical Technologists (AMT), are employed by a variety of healthcare facilities, such as clinics, hospitals and medical offices. They usually work in the front office and are responsible for the day-to-day tasks needed to ensure an office functions smoothly. In this position, you may greet patients, assist new patients with completing paperwork, manage files and handle billing.

You will need a strong background in medical coding, terminology, laboratory procedures and other relevant subjects. You'll also need word processing and writing skills in order to compose correspondence, transcribe dictation and write case histories. Additionally, bookkeeping skills are necessary for collecting and recording payments and billing insurance companies.

Medical administrative specialists may also assist patients who need to be hospitalized and taking patient medical histories. Other job tasks may include preparing reports and organizing conference materials.

What Should I Study?

If you're currently in high school, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates you may be able to develop office and computer skills through your school's vocational education program. If your school doesn't have a program, you may be able to take classes at a local community college or technical school. Other opportunities may be available through temporary placement agencies, some of which provide training.

If you have a high school diploma or its equivalent combined with relevant training, the AMT states you could qualify to become a medical administrative specialist. You may also want to explore accredited college or technical school programs in order to increase your opportunities. The purpose of these programs is to provide relevant coursework to prepare you to become a medical administrative specialist, medical office assistant or medical secretary.

If you're thinking about becoming certified, you might want to make sure you enroll in an AMT-approved program. You would need to have completed at least 720 hours of training that includes 160 hours in a practical externship. Additional educational requirements include coursework in medical records management, healthcare insurance processing, coding and billing, office financial responsibilities and information processing.

Some universities may also have diploma or associate's degree programs. A typical diploma program covers core subjects like computer and word processing skills, medical terminology and office procedures, business English and oral communication. You may also have a class in job search strategies.

A typical associate's degree program can take two years. In addition to coursework in computer fundamentals, office practices and medical terminology, you may take classes that focus on transcription protocols and voice recognition software. Job search preparation may also be included in a program of this nature. There are other programs that include additional technical topics, general education and core concepts, including business math, financial accounting, disease concepts, diversity studies, information management, insurance claims, medical externships and professional development.

What Certification Is Available?

Although not required by all employers, certification may give you an edge in getting a job. The AMT offers certification to many different types of medical technologists, including medical administrative specialists. Requirements for AMT certification as a medical administrative specialist include demonstrating a good moral character, meeting education eligibility requirements and taking a certification exam, which has approximately 200 questions. You would need a minimum score of 70 to pass this exam.

There are three basic routes to meet the education eligibility requirements for AMT certification as a medical administrative specialist. To qualify for the first route, you would need to graduate from an AMT-approved program in medical office administration that is also regionally or nationally accredited. You would also need to have graduated within the past four years. If you graduated prior to this, you would need to provide documented support of current work experience.

For the second route, you would need to meet alternate education requirements. These requirements include prior certification as a registered medical assistant (RMA) or a similar designation, along with at least two years of medical office administrative specialist experience. This route also requires that you have graduated from an academic program within the past four years. If not, you would need to provide documented support of current work experience.

The third route to eligibility is based primarily on work experience rather than formal education. To qualify for this route, the AMT states you would need to have worked as a medical office administrative specialist for at least five years within the past seven years.

How Can I Advance My Career?

One way to advance your career is to become certified. Since the AMT provides more than one type of certification, you could develop several specialties. This could potentially increase your employment choices as well as opportunities for advancement.

The AMT certification is nationally recognized, and it could assist you with being competitive in this growing field. After you're certified, you would become a member of the AMT and benefit from a variety of resources. These resources include professional growth opportunities such as continuing education modules, career assistance, conventions, seminars and access to journals.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Another medical office option is a job as a medical assistant. In addition to administrative duties, medical assistants also provide basic clinical care, such as taking vital signs and assisting with patient examinations. A high school diploma is the minimum educational requirement for this job, but it can help your job prospects if you complete a postsecondary certificate or associate's degree program. Another healthcare-related career possibility is a job as a pharmacy technician. In this job, you would help pharmacists fill prescriptions and distribute them to patients and healthcare facilities. You only need a high school diploma to enter this field.

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