Professional secretaries perform administrative duties in the offices of businesses, law firms, healthcare institutions, governmental offices and nonprofit organizations. They may be involved in scheduling appointments, transcribing information, financial accounting and information organization. Training programs are offered as associate's degrees or undergraduate certificates by community colleges and technical colleges. The most common program title is administrative assistant associate's degree or certificate. Some schools also offer specific degree or certificate programs for legal and medical assistants. The minimum admissions requirement is a high school diploma or GED. Programs can be found on-campus or online.
Administrative Assistant Associate's Degree
In associate's degree programs for aspiring secretaries, students take general education courses and build traditional office skills, such as typing and correspondence, and technical office skills, such as bookkeeping and database management. They also gain familiarity with business software programs, including database, spreadsheet and presentation software, as well as common office equipment, such as printers, copiers, fax machines and phones. Common course topics include:
- Microsoft Office (including Outlook) and QuickBooks
- Web page development
- Voice recognition software
- Document processing
- Business professionalism and ethics
Medical Administrative Assistant Associate's Degree
There are also specific associate's degrees offered for those who want to work as secretaries in medical facilities. Aspiring medical administrative assistants may find Associate of Science (AS) and Associate of Applied Science (AAS) programs in the field. In addition to general education and basic administration courses, students take healthcare office-specific courses. For instance, they may find some of the following courses offered:
- Medical terminology
- Medical transcription
- Medical coding
- Medical office procedures
Medical Secretary Certificate
Some schools offer certificate programs for students who want to become medical secretaries. These programs offer a series of courses that cover the same office and medical topics as associate's degree programs, but they do not include general education coursework. They may also offer more flexible scheduling; for instance, some programs allow for courses to be taken in any order and over any time frame. Depending on the program, students who finish may be eligible for professional certifications, such as the Administrative Health Assistant certification offered by the National Healthcare Association.
Legal Secretary Certificate
Legal secretary certificate programs are aimed at beginning secretaries, experienced secretaries who want to work in law offices and paralegal, and administrative assistants who are looking to boost their skills. These programs consist of a series of courses that are specific to the legal field. Some also offer a legal secretary practicum. Possible course topics include:
- Legal terminology and process
- Preparing legal communications (letters, pleadings, discovery, notices, motions)
- Filing procedures and records management
- Billing and accounting
- Computer use in the law office
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for secretaries and administrative assistants will decline by 9% from 2019 to 2029. The median annual salary for secretaries and administrative assistants, except legal, medical and executive secretaries, was $38,850 as of May 2020. For legal secretaries, it was $48,980, and for medical secretaries, it was $37,350.
Graduates who are interested in certification can receive the Certified Professional Secretary (CPS) credential from the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP). The IAAP awards the CPS credential to candidates who pass a credentialing examination and who have received college credits in secretarial or administrative science.
For individuals interested in gaining the skills necessary to be successful as professional secretaries, associate's degree and certificate programs are available that provide general as well as industry-specific administrative training.