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A hospital ward clerk, also known as a medical secretary, has lots of responsibilities to juggle, what with ringing phones, concerned loved ones of patients and the needs of doctors and nurses to tend do. The position can be hectic, but it also gives you a way to enter a health care field without the training required of a nurse.
Making Your Way to the Ward
As a ward clerk, you need the mental discipline to move smoothly between tasks such as filing, manning your desk and helping nurses and doctors. A good clerk maintains a warm personality despite the job stress because patients and their families will look to the clerk for direction. Time management skills are important as well. You’ll need to prioritize which medical records need your immediate attention and which don’t. Computer skills are also crucial because nearly all records are kept digitally.
In a typical day you’ll answer the phones, set up patient records and enter basic medical data such as a patient’s temperature, pulse and blood pressure. You'll also record medical diagnosis information. For many patients’ families, you’re the face of the hospital. You're the policy expert and you know which room contains which patient. It's your job to fill out requisition forms if a patient needs pharmaceuticals or a lab test performed. Ward clerks keep track of patient transfer records. You’ll make sure flowers and other “get well” deliveries make it to the proper room.
Medical Background a Bonus
A rising number of ward clerks are called on to perform basic medical functions, according to the Education Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates. If you’re trained as a nursing assistant, you can fill in during a staff shortage. Some hospitals will staff only one ward clerk with nursing assistant training if the ward has a low patient population. Having skills as a clerk and nursing assistant makes you more employable. Certification for medical recordkeeping is also a plus and is offered by the National Association of Health Unit Coordinators.
Charting Your Future
Most ward clerks don’t need college degrees. The Education Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates says most learn on the job and some take a few technical courses. Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C., for example, offers a one-year program for hospital nursing unit secretaries. Forty-one percent of medical secretaries had some college experience in 2013, according to O*Net OnLine, while 37 percent had only a high school diploma and 20 percent had a post-high school certificate. The median salary for 2013 was $31,890 a year.
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