If your heart’s desire is to help others by working as a healthcare professional, a career in medical assisting might be for you. Medical assistants perform routine clinical and administrative tasks to help ensure that the offices and clinics of physicians, chiropractors, optometrists and podiatrists run smoothly. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical assisting is one of the fastest growing careers in the nation.
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From greeting patients and measuring vital signs to scheduling appointments and performing lab tests, medical assistants are vital assets to a healthcare team, as they serve as an extra pair of hands to busy healthcare professionals. Medical assistants communicate with doctors, nurses, medical billing staff, pharmacists, insurance representatives and patients.
Medical assistants must be well-versed in both clinical and administrative duties and should have an eye for detail. Because things can be fast paced in medical offices and clinics, a good candidate for a medical assisting career should be both nimble and patient.
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The duties of a medical assistant will vary, depending on the office size, location and specialty (optometrist, physician, chiropractor, etc.).
In smaller practices, a medical assistant usually handles both administrative and clinical duties. The assistant reports directly to a physician, office manager or other health practitioner. Medical assistants working in larger practices are usually under the supervision of department administrators and specialize in a particular area of work.
Clinical duties may vary depending on state law. These duties can include explaining treatment procedures to patients, measuring vital signs, preparing patients for examinations and assisting the healthcare provider during the examination process. Medical assistants also collect and prepare laboratory specimens. Some basic laboratory tests may be performed on the premises by assistants. Assistants may also:
- Prepare and administer medications to patients as directed by physicians
- Instruct patients about medications and special diets
- Call pharmacies for prescriptions ad directed by physicians
- Prepare patients for x-rays
- Draw blood
- Dispose of contaminated supplies
- Remove sutures
- Sterilize medical instruments
- Prepare patients for x-rays
- Change dressings
Additional clinical duties may be required, depending on the specialty. Medical assistants who work for a physician may also set up EKG machines and take electrocardiograms. Those working for podiatrists may expose and develop foot x-rays, make castings of feet and assist in surgery. Ophthalmic medical assistants aid ophthalmologists to provide medical eye care like testing eye muscle function, administering diagnostic tests and measuring vision. They may also administer eye medications, show patients how to wear and care for contact lenses or assist the ophthalmologist during surgery.
Many medical assistants work 40-hour work weeks from Monday to Friday, while others work only part time, evenings or weekends. Some clinics offer extended evening and weekend hours.
Medical assistants work in clean, well-lighted environments. They have constant interaction with other individuals. Several responsibilities at once are often given to individuals in this position.
Medical assistants’ salaries vary, depending on skill level, experience and location. Administrative medical assistants’ duties and salaries may differ from those of clinical medical assistants. The median annual income for medical assistants was $31,540 per year in 2016, or $15.17 per hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a division of the United States Department of Labor.
Full-time medical assistants may be offered benefits packages that include health care, holiday pay, sick leave, vacation pay and a 401(k) plan.
Earning potential is high with this job. Many individuals find this position to be a stepping stone to a higher-paying job in the medical field.
The outlook for a career in medical assisting is great. This position indicates a faster growth prediction than other jobs in the medical field and across the United States overall. The projected growth rate is 29 percent through 2026.
Additional demand for medical assistants is also anticipated due to new and changing tasks for medical assistants. As more physicians switch their practices over to electronic health records, the job responsibilities of medical assistants will continue to change.
Although a degree or certificate is not required to obtain a job in the medical assisting field, a high school diploma or GED equivalent is. It is, however, recommended that individuals interested in this career path pursue some form of education, be it an associate’s degree or certificate from an accredited program. An associate’s degree in medical assisting can be a great stepping stone if you choose to further your career or education in the future. Degree-holding candidates are more appealing to employers as well.
Most states do not have any formal education requirements to work as a medical assistant. However, many employers do lean toward hiring candidates who have graduated from a medical assisting certificate or degree program.
Medical Assistant Training
A medical assistant training program can help to prepare you for the wide variety of roles you will perform in a clinic, private medical practice or hospital environment. To enter into a medical assistant training program, entry usually requires a diploma or certificate. You can attend a medical assistant training program at a local college, a career college or through an online education program. Laboratory and clinical sessions will likely be included in your training that offer hands on practice with the medical procedures you may perform in a work setting.
To stand out to potential employers, make time to obtain a certification in medical assisting. To qualify for the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) designation, you must pursue your certification through an accredited program. You must also pass a national exam that has been administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants.
A certificate or diploma program takes anywhere from nine months to one year to complete. You may be required to study physiology, anatomy, clinical procedures, medical law, clinical procedures and office administration. If the certificate program or diploma that you receive is accredited, you might qualify to take the Certified Medical Assistant exam.
An associate’s degree in medical assisting is acquired through a two-year program at a career or community college. Similar to the certificate program listed above, you will learn basic skills that are essential to a medical assistant role.
Making the decision to become a medical assistant is the first step through the door to a rewarding career path with many possibilities.