Medical Assistant Career Overview

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Among health services professionals with crucial roles in the day to day running of healthcare facilities, medical assistants rank highly as some of the most important. Through a combination of administrative and clinical tasks, they ensure that medical facilities run smoothly, and the doctors and nurses don’t get overwhelmed.

As a career path, being a medical assistant is especially appealing thanks to the ease and speed with which one can get started in the field relative to others. Being a nurse, for instance, requires no less than 4 years of postsecondary education. Medical assistants only need a high school diploma and an optional 12-month training to become certified.

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

Medical Assistance is a rapidly growing field with a growth rate almost twice that of the national average. But what exactly do medical assistants do? Well, medical assistants perform both administrative and clinical tasks in any health-related environment.

As the name implies, it is the job of a medical assistant to provide assistance to healthcare personnel. Seeing as their duties are both administrative and clinical, versatility and flexibility are usually of great importance for a medical assistant.

Among general tasks you’ll find a medical assistant performing include taking a patient’s vitals, recording historical data and updating patient Information, along with injecting and administering vaccines as directed by the doctor.

Specialization Options for Medical Assistants

As a medical assistant working in a large facility, you are free to choose between a handful of areas of specialization within the field. These include:

Clinical Medical Assistant

While medical assistants are often tasked with both clinical and administrative duties, in a larger medical facility, it pays to specialize so as to increase efficiency. Clinical medical assistants perform basic laboratory tests and are responsible for sterilizing medical equipment.

Administrative Medical Assistant

Administrative medical assistants focus on administrative tasks instead of clinical ones. This includes recording and updating key information, scheduling appointments, filling insurance forms among others.

Obstetric Medical Assistant

An obstetric medical assistant works with an obstetrician or any medical personnel in the OB-GYN department. Among other things, they may help with breast exams, pregnant care and minor surgical procedures.

Ophthalmologic Medical Assistant

An ophthalmologic medical assistant works in the office of an ophthalmologist. Their duties may include administering eye medication or helping with eye surgery.

Where do Medical Assistants Typically Work?

Generally, one tends to find medical assistants working in clinics, either a private or public one. They are also found in hospitals and a handful of other medical environments.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that 58% of medical assistants work in a physician’s office, 15% are found in state, local or private hospitals, and 9% work in outpatient facilities.

4 percent of medical assistants work in chiropractic services.

What Does a Medical Assistant Do on a Day-to-Day Basis?

The exact day-to-day duties of a medical assistant vary based on a number of factors, not the least of which is the kind of setting they find themselves in - clinical or administrative. For instance, you’ll often find a medical assistant in an administrative setting having to perform a few of the following duties during the course of the day.

  • Greeting and welcoming patients
  • Scheduling examination, appointments and follow-ups for patients
  • Taking messages for medical staff
  • Recording, maintaining, and updating patient Information
  • Coding and filing insurance forms
  • Arranging admissions or diagnostic services with affiliate facilities
  • Bookkeeping

Conversely, you’ll find a medical assistant in a clinical setting having to perform a few of the following duties during the course of the day.

  • Preparing samples for use in laboratory tests
  • Drawing blood from patients
  • Measuring and recording vitals
  • Taking electrocardiograms
  • Dressing wounds and changing wound dressings when it’s time.
  • Removing stitches
  • Preparing patients for x-rays
  • Administering injection as directed by the physician
  • Teaching patients everything they need to know about their upcoming procedures

Work Environment

Even though all medical assistants belong to the same field, their experiences on the job may differ significantly based on the environment they find themselves in. Some work environments, for example, are extremely fast paced while some are much slower.

An example of the former is a public hospital where medical assistants are expected to be active and on the move all through their shifts. Administrative medical assistants in a private clinic, however, tend to fall into the latter category with much fewer tasking routines.

Also depending on the exact facility, medical assistants may be expected to work night shifts, weekend shifts and during the holiday.

Education, Certification and Licensing

As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest appeals of being a medical assistant lies in the fact that you can simply get started with a postsecondary degree. If you choose, you may also get certified to increase your prospect.

There are options regarding medical assistant certification. You may choose between any of five different agencies.

  • Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) awarded by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)
  • Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) awarded by the American Medical Technologists (AMT)
  • The National Center for Competency Testing awards a National Certificate Medical Assistant (NCMA),
  • The National Healthcareer Association awards the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) certificate, and lastly
  • Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) also awarded by the National Healthcareer Association

Some states require medical assistants to get licensed before they can practice. Licensing requirements also vary from state to state with some requesting completion of a specialized education program, taking and passing a national certification exam, submitting a completed application form, payment of an application fee, and completion of a mandatory background check.

Salary and Career Outlook

Wages for medical assistants differ based on a number of factors. Usually, the most significant factors include education range, certification, experience level, and of course the exact place of employment.

Currently, there are more than 700,000 medical assistants in the United States and they all earn an average of $38,190 a year.