Most educational programs for secretaries are at the certificate level, with some associate's degrees available. Certificates could be pursued for general, legal and medical secretary positions. Programs focus on helping students develop basic skills, such as keyboarding and word processing, while also allowing them to establish an understanding of various business disciplines, including accounting and business law. Passing certification exams can allow someone to earn professional credentials in general secretary or legal secretary work.
General secretary certificate programs develop skills in maintaining company records, managing office calendars, taking dictation and transcribing documents. Most programs also stress confidentiality and ethical behavior. Students should have a high school diploma or GED. Common classes include:
- Business law for secretaries
- Economics and money management
- Office administration
- Accounting for administrative assistants
- Behavioral science for the professional secretary
- Office technology for office professionals
Secretarial certification is obtained by taking the CPS (Certified Professional Secretary) or CAP (Certified Administrative Professional) exams. The International Association of Administrative Professionals (www.iaap-hq.org) offers these credentials. Both exams cover office technology, office systems, administration and management. The CAP exam adds advanced organizational management material.
Office work experience, full-time or part-time, is required of all candidates. Less work experience is required of candidates with associate's or bachelor's degrees. A certified secretary needs to renew the credential every five years by participating in educational programs.
Certified Professional Secretary (CPS) certificate programs are designed to train individuals already working in the secretarial field to earn CPS certification. This could help them advance to higher administrative assisting or managerial positions.
Legal Secretary Certificate
Legal secretary certificate programs are designed to train individuals to work in legal and judicial offices. In addition to keyboarding and proofreading skills, they learn how to research legal briefs and motions and how to use the proper formatting techniques for legal documents and process legal fees. They're also taught to transcribe legal depositions, schedule witnesses and other appointments, record trial dates and maintain office calendars for attorneys. Students wishing to enroll in a legal secretary certificate program or associate's degree program should have a high school diploma or a GED. Courses may address:
- Structures of federal and state court systems
- Preparation of briefs, motions, wills, orders and other legal documents
- Court filing procedures for legal secretaries
- Law office managerial duties
- Legal ethics
- Law office filing and document processing
Legal Secretary Certification
The NALS offers a secretarial certification with a legal focus. The 3-hour exam leads to the Accredited Legal Secretary, and it evaluates candidates' knowledge of office record-keeping and scheduling, business communication, law office protocols and legal terminology. Applicants must have completed a legal secretary certificate or degree program. The 5-year initial ALS certification may be extended by one year with continuing education. NALS has the PLS certification, Professional Legal Secretary, for advanced workers.
Medical Secretary Certificate
Medical secretary certificate programs train students to maintain medical records, schedule appointments, transcribe medical documents and perform light bookkeeping duties. As with the other programs, applicants need to have completed high school. Related programs may help a practiced secretary transfer his or her skills to the hospital, clinic or doctor's office. Medical secretary certificate programs often include the following classes:
- Medical transcription and terminology
- Word processing in medical offices
- Financial accounting and bookkeeping procedures
- Medical assisting techniques
- Medical insurance and billing procedures
- Effective communications for medical secretaries
Popular Career Options
Students who have completed a secretary certificate program may hold the following career titles:
- Administrative assistant
Students who have completed a legal secretary certificate program will likely pursue the following career options. They must be supervised by a lawyer and cannot conduct law-related business on their own.
- Legal secretary
- Judicial assistant
- Clerk's office administrative assistant
Students who earn a medical secretary certificate can work in hospitals, physicians' offices or clinics. They may choose one of the following career options:
- Medical secretary
- Hospital receptionist
- Medical office manager
After completing a legal secretary certification program, students may wish to pursue an associate's or bachelor's degree in paralegal studies. Paralegals do more work with legal research teams, conduct deed searches, prepare medical chronologies and help their employers get ready for trial.
Students who enjoy the medical aspects of the medical secretary certificate program and would like more patient contact may wish to enroll in a medical assistant or medical technician program. These clinical classes would let the student assist doctors and nurses in a more hands-on way, providing patient care.
Secretary certificate programs help students gain the necessary skills to work in administrative roles in a variety of professions. Gaining certification is optional, but can demonstrate proficiency in the field and may lead to administrative roles in similar industries.