Medical assistants play a crucial role in keeping health care facilities running smoothly. These professionals perform both clinical and administrative tasks and work both directly with patients as well as behind the scenes. Their tasks include:
- Scheduling patient appointments
- Gathering patient information and entering it into electronic health records
- Measuring vital signs such as blood pressure and heart rate
- Assisting physicians with patient examinations, administering medication and preparing blood samples
Medical assistant specializations
Some people choose to specialize their medical assisting career. When becoming a medical assistant, they may decide to pursue jobs in a certain medical field, such as ophthalmology or podiatry, or they may decide to work exclusively in one of the following capacities:
- Administrative medical assistants focus primarily on the "behind-the-scenes" work at a health care office. They may answer the phone, schedule appointments, fill out insurance paperwork and do other record-keeping.
- Clinical medical assistants have direct patient access, and their duties can vary depending on what is allowed by their state's laws. They may take vital signs, perform basic laboratory tests, sterilize medical instruments, answer patient questions and help with procedures such as removing stitches or taking x-rays.
How to become a medical assistant
If you want a career in medical assisting, you need to start with the right degree program and then look at how certification and continuing education can help you advance to leadership positions. Here's a look at the typical path used by those becoming a medical assistant.
1. Understand medical assistant degree requirements. You actually don't need a medical assisting degree to work in this field. Instead, you can earn a diploma or certificate to meet the medical assisting education requirements for many positions. However, some employers may prefer those with an associate degree, and online courses are available at some institutions to make earning this degree more convenient.
2. Pursue optional certification. Most states don't require people to be certified to become a medical assistant. Still, employers may prefer to hire those who have industry recognition. There are five certifications available for medical assistants, including that of Certified Medical Assistant and Registered Medical Assistant. Different industry organizations confer the certifications and each sets its own requirements. These may include possessing a medical assistant degree, passing an exam and having a certain level of experience.
3. Advance to a leadership position. With time, medical assistants may be promoted to supervisory or training roles within an office. Some workers in the field also choose to go back to school so they can become nurses or physician assistants.
Skills and abilities needed for a medical assistant career
To excel in this field, you'll need to do more than simply meet the minimum medical assistant education requirements. You also need to hone certain skills and abilities to do your work well. Since medical assistants perform a combination of administrative and clinical tasks, they need to have the following:
- Active Listening: Medical assistants are often the first workers in an office to greet a patient and gather information. They must be able to listen carefully and ask appropriate questions so they can adequately prepare a physician to address patient concerns.
- Social Perceptiveness: Visits to the doctor can make some people uncomfortable or embarrassed. A medical assistant needs to recognize body language or other cues to ensure they are putting patients at ease while also gathering complete information about a medical concern.
- Reading Comprehension: Medical assistants may be required to complete follow-up tasks after a patient visit and needs to be able to read and understand doctor notes to do so.
- Oral Comprehension: Medical assistants receive information from patients, physicians and other health care providers. It's crucial they be able to listen and understand details and instructions being conveyed verbally.
- Problem Sensitivity: Whether they are assisting a physician or completing documentation, medical assistants need to be able to identify and address potential issues before they arise.
- Oral Expression: Throughout their day, medical assistants will communicate with a variety of people. They need the ability to clearly and concisely convey information and instructions to others.
Career outlook and salary for medical assistants
As with any position, pay for medical assistants can vary by experience, education level, location and more. The same can be said for medical assistant career outlooks, though it's worth keeping in mind health care jobs in general are on the rise, as an aging population lives longer, healthier lives.Here's an idea of the job outlook and salary medical assistants might expect, using data from the BLS:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
Professional organizations for medical assistants
American Association of Medical Assistants: The AAMA administers the Certified Medical Assistant credential, provides members with education and networking opportunities, and advocates on behalf of the profession.
The American Registry of Medical Assistants: The ARMA offers a different credentialing opportunity in the field of medical assisting, that of a Registered Medical Assistant.
- American Medical Technologists: As another credentialing organization, AMT offers certification for medical assistants as well as a number of other allied health professionals.