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Medical Assistant Careers, Jobs, and Training Information

Medical Assistant Career and Job Highlights

  • A few medical assistants receive on-the-job training; however, numerous complete a program of one or two years in vocational-technical high schools, postsecondary specialty schools, and junior and community colleges.
  • From 2002-2012, the occupation of medical assistants is estimated to be the single fastest growing career.
  • The best candidates for this profession are individuals who are properly trained, experienced, and certified.

Medical Assistant Career Overview

Medical assistants perform routine clerical and clinical duties in order to maintain efficiency in offices of physicians, chiropractors, podiatrists, and others. Medical assistants are different than physicians' assistants. A physician assistant’s job requires examining, diagnosing, and treating patients under the direction of a physician.

Many factors affect the duties of medical assistants including location and size of the practice as well as the physician's area of specialty. Where practices are small, medical assistants are termed "generalists" with medical and administrative duties. They report directly to an office manager or physician. On the other hand, those in larger practices usually specialize in a certain area and remain supervised by department administrators. Some administrative responsibilities include: greeting patients, answering the phone, keeping medical records, completing insurance forms, handling correspondence, making appointments, setting up hospital admission and laboratory services, and managing billing.

State laws cause medical assistants to have differing clinical duties. These duties include: retrieving patient history, taking vital signs, informing patients about treatments, assisting patients and physicians with examinations, conducting general laboratory tests, preparing laboratory specimens on the jobsite, disposing of used materials, and sanitizing medical supplies. Medical assistants educate the patients about treatments such as medication or eating habits, prepare and give medications, permit refills under physician supervision, submit prescriptions to the pharmacist, take blood, perform electrocardiograms, prepare patients for x-rays, take out sutures, and adjust dressings.

Additional tasks require medical assistants to organize, maintain, and purchase instruments and materials for examining rooms. They also clean waiting and examining rooms.

Specialized assistants perform more duties. For example, podiatric medical assistants' duties include: surgery assistance, x ray exposure and developments, and cast making. Ophthalmic medical assistants aid ophthalmologists in giving eye care. They perform eye tests to diagnose, measure and document vision and muscle function of eyes. They also assist patients with their contacts ensuring proper insertion, removal, and basic contact care. As directed by the doctor, these specialized assistants may also give medications for eyes. Further duties are to help in surgical procedures, to ensure maintenance of optical materials and devices, and to administer eye dressings.

Medical assistants can work in a variety of areas. Nearly 60 percent of medical assistants have worked in doctor's offices and approximately 14 percent in both inpatient and outpatients departments of public and private hospitals. Additionally, 10 percent worked in specialized health care offices with physicians, such as chiropractors and podiatrists. The remaining assistants administered their skills in facilities for outpatient care, in public and private education, in state and local government agencies, in nursing centers, and in employment services.

Medical Assistant Career Training and Job Qualifications

Graduates of recognized programs are preferred by the majority of employers. These programs can be attended through vocational-technical high schools, as well as postsecondary vocational schools. Community and junior colleges may also offer medical assistant programs. One year is required to obtain a diploma or certificate through postsecondary programs and 2 years provides an associates degree. The curriculum covers an array of training in anatomy, physiology, medical terminology, typing and transcription, record keeping, accounting, and insurance processing. They also learn laboratory methods, procedures in diagnosing, medicine and drug related principles, administration of medicine, and basic first aid. They must also study practice for offices, communication with patients, health laws, and ethics. An internship may be necessary to complete for individuals in accredited programs to receive useful experience in healthcare facilities, like offices and hospitals.

The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) approve of medical assistant programs. There were 495 medical assisting programs approved by CAAHEP in 2002 and about 170 approved by ABHES. In ophthalmic medical assisting, the Committee on Accreditation for Ophthalmic Medical Personnel approved 14 programs.

Formal training is most likely preferred, but not mandatory. Some medical assistants learn skills through on-the-job training; however, this has progressively become outdated. Graduation from high school, or an equal diploma, is usually required. Preferred courses in high school to take are math, biology, typing, bookkeeping, computers, and clerical skills. It may also be beneficial to obtain experience through volunteer work.

Disregarding the fact that medical assistants aren't licensed, various practices still require a test or course to be taken before performing such tasks as x-raying. Employers hiring assistants prefer those with experience or those who have passed a national examination that ensures adequate certification and competency. The Certified Medical Assistant credential is presented by the American Association of Medical Assistants, the Registered Medical Assistant credential is presented by the American Medical Technologists, and the Podiatric Medical Assistant Certified credential is presented by the American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants awards. The Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology honors credentials at three degrees: Certified Ophthalmic Assistant, Certified Ophthalmic Technician, and Certified Ophthalmic Medical Technologist.

Medical assistants must present themselves to the public as neat, well-groomed, polite. They must make patients feel comfortable and verify what the physician has instructed. It is required that they keep medical information confidential. They must also be able to work well with their hands and possess visual perception.

A promotion of medical assistants is to become an office manager. Others may include differing administrative support occupations or instruction in medical assisting. As they acquire further education, some may also become nurses or medical technicians.

Medical Assistant Job and Employment Opportunities

With the health field growing from advancing medical technology and an increasing and aging population, the job of medical assistants is estimated to grow faster than other occupations' averages through the year 2012. As more and more medical assistants are being employed to keep up with a growing medical industry, employment will soar for the occupation. It is projected that this particular job will grow the quickest between the years 2002-12.

This expansion will be caused by a number of factors which include more group practices, clinics, and other medical centers. These facilities must have a supportive staff, especially medicals assistants who are flexible and can manage clinical and secretarial tasks. The main work of assistants is in outpatient areas that are estimated to growth faster than average.

Healthcare employers are hiring medical assistants who are trained with accredited programs or experience, and especially those who are certified.

Historical Earnings Information

A few factors affect how much money medical assistants make. They include: experience, level of abilities, and location. In 2002, the median for yearly earnings was $23,940. For the mid 50%, earnings ranged from $20,260 to $28,410. Medical assistants earned as little as $17,640 (the lowest 10%) and earned as high as $34,130 (the highest 10%). Earnings increases with more experience as a medical assistant.