Dental Secretary: Employment & Career Info

Learn about the work responsibilities of a dental secretary. Explore skills and education needed as well as job outlook and salary in order to make an informed career decision.

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Career Definition for a Dental Secretary

A dental secretary is responsible for performing clerical duties for dentists. Some of these duties include taking shorthand, typing, scheduling appointments, and filing patients' records. They also route incoming mail, answer routine letters, and operate office equipment. A dental secretary must be familiar with insurance rules and billing practices and must keep track of patients' payments. They work when the dentist works, and may have to work a few nights and weekends during the week.

Required Education A high school diploma or GED as a minimum; certificate and associate's degree programs available in medical and office administration
Job Duties Include taking shorthand, scheduling appointments, filing patients' records and answering routine letters
Median Salary (2015)* $33,040 (all medical secretaries)
Job Outlook (2014-2024)* 21% growth (all medical secretaries)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Required

According to the International Association of Administrative Professionals, most dental secretaries are required to have either a high school education or GED. It is essential for candidates to have word processing and computer skills. These courses can be found in medical and office administration certificate and associate's degree programs. Many of these programs will take from a few months to two years to complete.

Skills Required

A dental secretary must be familiar with dental terminology because they will have to communicate with patients about their symptoms and conditions. A dental secretary interacts with patients and dentists on a daily basis and must have outstanding interpersonal skills. Since secretaries frequently write memos or letters, they must have excellent writing and grammar skills, as well as computer skills to create emails and spreadsheets.

Career and Economic Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), secretaries working in a dental office earned a median annual wage of $33,040 in May 2015. Dental secretaries may receive benefits, including health insurance, paid vacations, sick leave, and holidays. There is a possibility of advancement, and some secretaries move on to become dental technicians or assistants. According to BLS statistics, employment of medical secretaries, including dental secretaries, is projected to increase by 21% between 2014 and 2024.

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Alternative Careers

Here are some examples of alternative career options:

Dental Assistant

For those who want to work with patients in a dental office but desire more involvement in their care, becoming a dental assistant may be the right option. Dental assistants perform many duties that include setting up patients for cleanings and procedures, assisting during treatments and exams, organizing equipment and instruments and providing office support with billing and scheduling tasks. Depending on the state, required education ranges from a high school diploma to completion of an accredited certificate or diploma program at a community college. Some states also require prospective dental assistants to pass a state certification exam. The BLS predicts much faster than average employment growth of 18% during the 2014-2024 decade, and these dental assistants can expect to earn a median salary of $35,980, as seen in BLS figures from 2015.

Dental Hygienist

Another career option with even more patient responsibilities in a dental office is a dental hygienist. These professionals capture x-ray images, clean teeth, instruct patients in oral care, apply sealants and administer treatments such as teeth whitening. Some states also allow hygienists to fill cavities. Those who want to work in this profession generally need to earn an associate degree in dental hygiene and must meet state licensing requirements which include passing practical and written exams. According to the BLS, employment in this field will be strong between 2014 and 2024, with over 37,400 new jobs created and a 19% increase in job opportunities for this career. In May of 2015, the BLS estimated that dental hygienists received a median yearly wage of $72,330.

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