Oregon Labor Market Information System
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Medical Secretaries - Keeping the Health Care Industry Running
by Andrew R Crollard
Published Sep-21-2012

Medical secretaries are generally the first point of contact in doctors' offices, hospitals, and other health care establishments, dealing with sensitive, private information in environments that are often hectic. They do the behind-the-scenes work that keeps health care provider establishments running smoothly, allowing co-workers to focus on the job duties of their specialized occupations.

The health care industry was one of the few industries to experience growth during the Great Recession, expanding 3.9 percent between the start of the recession in December 2007 and the end in June 2009. Of all the broad industry groups, the health care and social assistance industry is projected to grow the fastest, at a rate of 30 percent during the 2010 to 2020 period. This is largely due to an aging population - 27 percent of Oregon residents are age 55 or older according to the 2010 Census. With the expansion of the health care industry comes growth in occupations commonly found within the industry. More than 90 percent of all medical secretaries employed in Oregon are employed within the health care industry.

One of the Fastest Growing Occupations
During the 2010 to 2020 period, medical secretaries are expected to grow 29.5 percent, faster than Oregon's average of 18.2 percent. This only includes growth openings - jobs that are newly created due to economic growth. Medical secretaries are projected to rank 16th in terms of the most growth openings out of the 718 occupations for which projections are calculated in Oregon. In addition, five other office and administrative support occupations and three occupations largely employed in the health care industry rank in the top 20 for projected growth openings.

In addition to growth openings, ample replacement openings are expected for medical secretaries. A replacement opening is created when someone leaves their occupation, primarily due to retirement. Medical secretaries ranks in the top 10 percent of occupations for replacement openings during the 2010 to 2020 period. Growth plus replacement openings comprise total openings. Medical secretaries rank in the top 5 percent of occupations by that measure, with 4,776 projected total openings statewide over the 10-year period.

Statewide Importance
Two regions are projected to have a growth rate of less than 20 percent while three regions are projected to grow at least 30 percent over the decade, a very high growth rate compared to the 18.2 percent average for all occupations (Table 1).

More than one-third (36.6%) of all medical secretaries in Oregon were employed in Multnomah and Washington counties. Only one region had fewer than 100 medical secretaries in 2010 - the eastern Oregon region including Grant, Harney and Malheur counties.

Table 1
Occupational Projections for Medical Secretaries, 2010-2020
Region 2010 Employment 2020 Employment Percent Change Total Openings
Oregon 10,638 13,777 29.5% 4,776
Marion/Polk/Yamhill 1,009 1,331 31.9% 479
Morrow/Umatilla 129 169 31.0% 60
Multnomah/Washington 3,900 5,108 31.0% 1,812
Douglas 233 302 29.6% 105
Crook/Deschutes/Jefferson 598 775 29.6% 269
Lane 1,027 1,316 28.1% 446
Clackamas 828 1,055 27.4% 353
Gilliam/Hood River/Sherman/ Wheeler/Wasco 166 211 27.1% 70
Clatsop/Columbia/Tillamook 157 198 26.1% 65
Baker/Union/Wallowa 107 133 24.3% 42
Jackson/Josephine 976 1,205 23.5% 375
Benton/Linn/Lincoln 716 876 22.3% 267
Klamath/Lake 194 233 20.1% 68
Coos/Curry 201 240 19.4% 69
Grant/Harney/Malheur 93 108 16.1% 28
Skills, Education, and Wages
Some skills are common across all types of secretaries, regardless of their specialty, such as type letters and other correspondence; process and prepare business forms; maintain appointment calendars; and evaluate and prioritize incoming telephone calls. However, many skills are unique to medical secretaries.

Looking at the skills associated with various secretary occupations in the Occupational Information Center on QualityInfo.org, there is a 49 percent skill overlap between "medical secretaries" and "secretaries, except legal, medical, and executive", a 43 percent overlap with legal secretaries, and 42 percent with "executive secretaries and administrative assistants".

Table 2 shows some of the skills commonly utilized by medical secretaries that are not generally required to perform other types of secretarial work. As might be expected, the majority of these skills are specific to the medical field. Records and information within the health care industry are becoming increasingly dependent on technology, and medical secretaries are expected to utilize several computer programs and software packages to aid them in organizing, maintaining, and disseminating information within the organization and to insurance companies. Understanding and using medical terms and codes is another main difference between medical secretaries and their counterparts working in non-medical fields.

In 2012, the median wage for medical secretaries was $15.93 per hour ($33,000 annually). Median wages range from a low of $12.32 in the Baker/Union/Wallowa region to $17.63 in Multnomah/Washington. With significant experience, medical secretaries top out around $23.00 per hour in the state.

Several Oregon programs provide training and education for medical secretaries. Community colleges and private career schools offer both certificates and Associate degrees.

Table 2
Skills Unique to Medical Secretaries Compared With Other Secretaries
Complete patient insurance forms
Enter medical insurance billings
Follow medical office procedures
Interepret and apply medical billing regulations
Maintain and compile medical records and charts
Prepare billing statements
Process medical records
Use medical office management software
Use medical record coding systems such as icd9 or cpt codes
Use medical terminology
The health care industry, and most health care occupations, is projected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations between 2010 and 2020. With a significant number of total job openings expected between 2010 and 2020, employment opportunities appear very reasonable for trained medical secretaries. Most of the job openings will be due to growth, and the growth will be spread across all regions of the state. Individuals interested in becoming a medical secretary have several education options available in the state to increase or acquire the skills to make them competitive in the job market.