Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Reviews Personal views

Life as a medical secretary—a new learning experience for the aspiring consultant

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 15 February 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:403

Rapid Response:

The importance of a well trained medical secretary.

The medical secretary is a pivotal member of the clinical team, both
in primary and secondary care. Unfortunately, the medical secretary is
usually only conspicuous in the event of mistakes, as with many other
health care professionals. My own unfortunate experience in secondary care
was of absent GP and clinic letters, absent bronchoscopy letters, missed
urgent radiology results and missed referrals. This, unfortunately,
resulted in making my hardworking, organised and dedicated consultant
appear completely the opposite with obvious dangers for patient care.

Unfortunately, there seems to be very little recognition of the vital
role medical secretaries play within a clinical team. Even more
worryingly, many medical secretarial posts are being filled with
unqualified individuals who may possess adequate secretarial skills but
lack knowledge of medical terminology and the NHS processes required to
take on such an essential role. Also, many experienced medical
secretaries, who currently end up training new recruits, are of retirement
age, which is going to leave a vast skills shortage for the future.

We feel the main problem is the lack of knowledge about the exact
role of medical secretaries, particularly on the part of NHS management.
Many Trusts do not even ask for AMSPAR or BSMS qualifications, let alone
appropriate experience.

I am sure every doctor would support the BSMS in its aims to act as a
professional body representing medical secretaries across the country. It
is essential that such an organisation is there to promote and preserve
the recognition of medical secretaries as a key member of a clinical team.

The only way forward is for management to realise the importance of
appropriate qualifications and experience needed for the job and design a
pay and career structure commensurate with their significant training and
skills. Until this happens many suitable candidates will be lost to other
more lucrative sectors leading to potential problems for consultants,
other medical staff, other health care professionals and, most
importantly, patients.

Competing interests:  
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

04 September 2003
Andrew RL Medford
Clinical Research Fellow
Sharon Standen
Southmead Hospital, Bristol BS10 5NB