A medical assistant career can take a wide variety of forms, depending on the size of the office where the assistant is working and the specific needs of the employing clinic or physician. This is one of the reasons it’s so popular among medical careers. Medical assistants help physicians and other medical professionals run their offices, treat patients, conduct lab work, schedule appointments, etc. In a smaller work environment, such as the office of a single physician, the medical assistant will often be something of a jack of all trades, performing both clinical and clerical duties. In larger doctor’s offices and clinics, however, most medical assistants will come to specialize in one area or another. There are many different aspects that make up a medical assistant career, and no two medical assistant jobsin the field are exactly alike.
On the clerical side, medical assistants will help to ensure that the office is run smoothly and efficiently, so that the doctor’s efficiency is maximized and patients get the best care possible. Clerical tasks can include taking medical histories from patients, updating patient records, medical coding, billing, and other tasks involved with insurance claims, answering the phone, canceling and scheduling appointments, and greeting patients. Medical assistants who focus on clerical tasks will usually spend part of the day on their feet, and much of it at a desk.
On the clinical side, medical assistants will usually be on their feet most of the day. A large part of the job will be taken up with working with the physician and patient during the examination or consultation, and also working with patients before the doctor sees them. Common tasks involved are taking vital signs and measurements (weight, height, pulse, blood pressure, etc.), taking and updating medical histories, preparing specimens, performing simple lab functions, drawing blood, taking EKGs, preparing patients for x-rays, instructing patients on prescriptions and giving other medical advice, dealing with pharmacies over the phone to handle prescriptions, etc.
A medical assistant career is truly wide ranging, and in a smaller office, an assistant might perform all of the duties mentioned above, in both categories, during a single day. There are also medical assistants who work with specialty physicians, such as a podiatrist or optometrist. In these cases, the work will be essentially the same, but details will vary due to the nature of the physician’s specialty. Regardless of whether a doctor is a general physician or a specialist, or how big or small the office, no doctor’s office can run smoothly without the vital help of medical assistants.
The education for a medical assistant career usually takes one or two years. One- year programs generally confer a certificate upon the graduate, while graduates of two- year programs are awarded an associate’s degree. Courses taken will cover both the clinical and clerical sides of the job, and will include courses in medical billing, accounting, typing, and medical transcription, as well as courses on physiology, anatomy, pharmaceuticals, business law, medical ethics, etc. Generally speaking, those job candidates with associate’s degrees will generally receive more and better- paying job offers than those with one- year diplomas; however, there is plenty of demand for both sets of skills. In either case, the prospective medical assistant will need to pass the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) Eexam from the American Association of Medical Assistants.
A medical assistant career is not only challenging, but well paid. Medical assistants make more than the average income in the U.S. for people without bachelor’s degrees; most medical assistant salaries are between $25,000 and $35,000 a year. As in most careers, pay will usually be higher in bigger cities, and lower in rural areas. For the next decade, demand for medical assistants is projected to be much higher than the average for all careers. Many medical assistants use their jobs as a stepping stone, and go on to become LPNs or RNs, but thousands of others find the job of medical assistant to be just what they were looking for in a career, and make a lifetime vocation of it.