How to Be a Unit Secretary

In big ways and small ways, a unit secretary ensures that a medical unit runs smoothly.
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It’s one thing to know what you have to do to be a successful medical unit secretary; it’s something else to know how to be successful. To a large extent, many unit secretaries learn the hows on the job and through the counsel of workplace mentors. Still, you can position yourself one step ahead of the learning curve by absorbing all you can about the job before you start it. Many unit secretaries work in hospitals, nursing centers and assisted living communities and enjoy the fast pace and diversity of the job.

    Step 1

    Provide administrative assistance to the doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners in the unit. Secretaries answer phone calls, make copies, file documents and files, send and receive faxes and order supplies. Good typing, computer and basic math skills are often a prerequisite for the job; so are phone etiquette and communication skills.

    Step 2

    Schedule tests and procedures for patients at the behest of the medical team. This responsibility allows little margin for error, so a unit secretary must listen carefully to instructions, ask questions if she doesn’t understand and always double-check directives to ensure quality care for patients.

    Step 3

    Display a good grasp of basic medical terminology. Although this skill often is honed on the job, a conscientious unit secretary will be alert to the myriad opportunities she has to enhance her knowledge every day. Some unit secretaries also may be expected to possess a basic knowledge of medical coding. While coding requires an entirely different skill set, and training, it may enter a secretary’s domain when she has to schedule tests and procedures.

    Step 4

    Maintain the unit’s patient records in an orderly, efficient manner so that the medical staff can access them quickly. Many healthcare centers are transitioning from paper records to electronic records, and it may fall to a unit secretary to play a key role in this conversion. These records are the bane of a medical unit’s existence, so a unit secretary must demonstrate sensitivity and confidentiality and her work must be accurate and precise.

    Step 5

    Represent yourself as a caring and compassionate member of the medical team. A unit secretary often works behind the main desk on a floor and in tandem with the nurse or nursing assistant on duty. Although she is not responsible for patients, per se, a unit secretary may have to answer patient call lights or greet and assist family members. Her poise, demeanor and attitude set an important tone for the unit.

    Step 6

    Follow the healthcare center’s rules and procedures to the letter. Unit secretaries usually must attend an orientation session before they begin work and stay up-to-date on forthcoming changes. Medical centers not only respond to emergencies; they are the “victim” of them too, such as when tornadoes strike. Unit secretaries often are called upon to assist with such emergencies.

    Step 7

    Possess self-discipline and good organizational skills. With so many events taking place simultaneously, a successful unit secretary knows how to prioritize, never forgetting about an assignment she may put aside for a few minutes to tend to a more urgent matter. No one has nerves of steel, but a successful unit secretary knows that tempers and tensions can flare and so allows minor nuisances to roll off her back.


    • The job outlook for unit secretaries is promising. They are categorized as “medical secretaries” by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the need for them is expected to grow by 41 percent from 2010 to 2020. This growth rate is much faster than the average for the thousands of other occupations the BLS tracks.

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