What Is a Medical Assistant?
A medical assistant is an allied health professional who supports physicians, nurses and other health professionals, mainly in medical offices and in clinics. It's the medical assistant's job to perform routine administrative and clinical tasks to keep the offices they're working in running smoothly.
Individuals considering a career as a medical assistant should have excellent communication skills and possess the ability to translate medical lingo into layman terms for patients and their families. Additionally, they should exhibit compassion for all of their patients while being both nonjudgmental and good listeners. Prospective medical assistants should also know how to follow directions, be self-controlled, know how to problem solve, and be adaptable and organized.
What Are the Education Requirements for a Medical Assistant?
Generally, medical assisting is not a state-licensed or certified profession. This means that medical assistants do no typically need specific education or credentials to practice in the field. However, at the very least they should have obtained their high school diploma. Exceptions include medical assistants who perform special duties like x-rays or phlebotomy. State laws require specific training and certification in these areas.
Medical assistants can set themselves apart as highly qualified professionals with a certain degree of knowledge and expertise in the profession through a voluntary national certification process. Employers often seek medical assistants with national certification. For example, the AAMA has reported that an increasing number of managed care organizations are now placing specific mandates on employers to hire certified medical assistants.
Any Certification or Credentials Needed?
The most widely recognized national certification for medical assistants is the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA).
To become a Certified Medical Assistant, individuals must be able to meet a number of requirements:
- Candidates are required to have graduated from a medical assisting program (may be a one-year certificate or diploma program or a two-year associate degree program) that is accredited by either:
- Candidates must take and pass the CMA Certification Examination
Medical Assistants work in a variety of healthcare settings including but not limited to the following:
- Outpatient care centers
- Colleges and universities
- Medical research centers
- Diagnostic laboratories
- Insurance carriers
- Nursing care facilities
What Does a Medical Assistant Do?
The duties of medical assistants vary from office to office, state to state, and depend on the location and size of the practice and the practitioner's specialty.
What Are the Roles & Duties of a Medical Assistant?
- Taking medical histories
- Explaining treatment procedures to patients
- Preparing patients for examination
- Assisting the physician during exams
- Collecting and preparing laboratory specimens
- Performing basic laboratory tests
- Instructing patients about medication and special diets
- Preparing and administering medications as directed by a physician
- Transmitting prescription refills as directed
- Drawing blood
- Taking electrocardiograms
- Removing sutures and changing dressings
- Using computer applications
- Answering telephones
- Greeting patients
- Updating and filing patient medical records
- Coding and filling out insurance forms
- Scheduling appointments
- Arranging for hospital admissions and laboratory services
- Handling correspondence, billing, and bookkeeping
Medical assisting is one of the national careers growing much faster than average for all occupations, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, attributing job growth to the following:
- Advances in technology
- Growing number of elderly Americans (i.e. "baby boomers") who will require medical treatment
- Predicted surge in the number of outpatient care clinics and doctors' offices
Because medical assistants can work in a variety of health centers, salary is likely to differ from industry to industry. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for medical assistants in 2016 was $31,540. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,870, while the highest 10 percent earned more than $45,310
From 2016 to 2026, medical assisting employment is projected to grow 29 percent, which is much higher than the national average. As the baby boomer population ages, there will be an increased demand for preventive medical care. As a result, doctors will expand their practices to hire more medical assistants to handle administrative and clinical duties, which will allow care centers to see more patients.