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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Medical office administration

By David Chilton
Special to the Toronto Sun

To accelerate or not to accelerate, that's the question facing applicants to the medical office administration programs at Seneca and George Brown Colleges. Should they put their heads down and slog away for one year or ease up a bit, take summers off and complete their studies in two?
Seneca College

Nicole Riley chose the first option, graduating from Seneca last month. Riley, a patient representative at Toronto General Hospital and Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga, says the program wasn't so much difficult as challenging.

"If you don't like to do homework then this is not the course for you," Riley says. "You have to be willing to do the work. They're training you for the real world."

Elena Gessas, now in her second year at George Brown, took the longer route, finding the time to volunteer at Sunnybrook Hospital. Gessas too says the academics aren't hard but she cautions that would-be students shouldn't enrol in the course unless they like interacting with others.

Mature students assessed

The principal difference between the programs at Seneca and George Brown is one of duration. At the former, students work without a break for 42 weeks, beginning in January. At the latter, applicants have the choice of enrolling in January and going right through without a break for 101/2 months or signing on for a September start and completing their studies in two traditional academic years.

Admission to either school requires at least a high school diploma with a credit in English and it's strongly recommended applicants also have a Grade 12 credit in math. Mature students and anyone educated abroad will have their applications assessed case by case.

George Brown takes about 100 students in September and another 50 in January. Seneca accepts just over 100, with about 35 of them opting for medical office administration. The rest head for legal or executive office studies. Tuition at both colleges is about $2,200.

As an example of what students can expect, in the first semester at George Brown they will take two computer courses, a medical terminology course that begins on entry and runs for three semesters, English, basic math and an elective.
  • Both George Brown and Seneca offer programs in medical office administration.
  • Applicants need a high school diploma with Grade 12 credit in English, and a Grade 12 credit in math is recommended.
  • Virtually all applicants to the programs are female.
  • Employment prospects are generally good with jobs in hospitals, clinics, doctors' offices, insurance and pharmaceutical companies.
  • Starting salaries are unexceptional, with pay in Toronto hospitals starting at $28,000 or so.

  • Soft skills -- empathy, patience, conciliation -- are also emphasized, say Bonnie Palmer at George Brown and Velma McNulty at Seneca. In fact, says McNulty, an academic advisor and a professor, these soft skills are "paramount" for someone wanting a career in medical office administration.

    Students attracted to the programs at both colleges tend, unsurprisingly, to be similar. Palmer, a professor at George Brown, says 99% of her students are female, while McNulty pegs her classes at 95% women. The backgrounds of students at both colleges are a mixture of high school graduates, parents returning to school after caring for a child, recent immigrants, career changers, university graduates and so on.

    As for the age range, Palmer puts 25% of her students in the post secondary category, which would make them 18 or 19 when they start. At Seneca, McNulty says 60% to 70% of her students are 19 to 24 with the ages of the rest running up to 55.

    Job prospects for graduates of the course are generally quite good. McNulty puts the employment rate for Seneca grads in the 90% plus range, although Riley says she didn't find it easy to get a job.

    As for starting salaries, they're not particularly high speed. In Toronto, in a hospital with a union, graduates can expect to earn between $28,000 and $32,000. The pay in doctors' offices can be lower than that, with a few offering a paltry 10 bucks an hour.

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