In the world of office administration, the words ‘secretary’ and ‘assistant’ are often used interchangeably (think of how much the job of a ‘personal assistant’ and that of an ‘executive secretary’ might overlap). But when it comes to the healthcare sector, there is a big—and important—difference between a ‘medical secretary’ and a ‘medical assistant’.  

What exactly is a medical secretary?

A medical secretary is an administrative assistant in a medical office When you walk into a doctor’s practice (or any other healthcare facility), the first person you’ll interact with will be the medical secretary. A medical secretary is part receptionist, part PA, and part office administrator. His or her duties usually include:

  • Scheduling patient consultations
  • Sorting out patient billing
  • Ordering medical and office supplies
  • Liaising with medical equipment suppliers
  • Managing the doctors’ schedules
  • Managing the day-to-day functions of the office
  • Answering the office phone
  • Dealing with all administrative queries

As you can see, a medical secretary is much more than just an office receptionist. Moreover, he or she needs a working knowledge of medical terminology and a familiarity with medical procedures to do his or her administrative job satisfactorily. This is why medical secretaries need specific training, as well as experience in a healthcare environment, if they want to work in this field.

What exactly is a medical assistant, then?

Medical assistants assist doctors with their dutiesUnlike the medical secretary, the medical assistant is there to assist the doctor (or other healthcare professional) in his or her duties. Medical assistants are often found in clinics and laboratories, rather than in private practices, and are responsible for things like:

  • Assisting the doctor in his or her practical duties
  • Performing routine clinical procedures (such as taking a patient’s blood pressure)
  • Managing and maintaining medical equipment
  • Explaining treatment procedures to patients
  • Preparing patients for examination
  • Collecting and preparing laboratory samples

A medical assistant will probably find him- or herself specialising as a medical laboratory assistant, or as a clinical assistant in the healthcare sector.

How do you enter these professions?

To become a medical assistant, you need to take an accredited course from an institution that specialises in medical training or that has an accredited medical department. This is because ‘medical assistant’ is a formal designation, which means that there are specific laws dictating who can be called a medical assistant and who can’t. To earn this professional designation, you have to have an accredited and relevant qualification, and you have to be registered with the HPCSA’s Medical and Dental Board.

To become a medical secretary, however, you do not necessarily need an accredited qualification. Vocational training, along with the necessary skills and relevant work experience, should in most cases be enough to enable you to fill this role. At Oxbridge Academy, however, we offer the following National Qualifications to help you start your career in this direction:

Find out more about how to get the right training: Secretarial Courses via Distance Learning