A career as a medical assistant is a great choice if you love working with people and are looking for a role in the healthcare industry. Becoming a medical assistant takes two years or less. Once certified, you can do things like greet and schedule patients, assist during exams and even provide some basic healthcare like collecting blood and taking vital signs.
Medical Assistant Responsibilities and Duties
Careers for Medical Assistants
With a degree or certificate in medical assisting and as a certified medical assistant, there a few options for jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 57 percent of medical assistants are employed in physician offices. The next most common employers are hospitals, outpatient care centers and chiropractic offices.
There isn’t much variety in this career beyond where a medical assistant works. In addition to the above, you may find a job assisting a school nurse, working in a retirement home or assisted living facility, in surgery centers or urgent care facilities, for home health care companies or for government health agencies.
Depending on the employer, there can be slightly different roles for medical assistants. For instance, some work purely in a clinical setting, working with patients and assisting physicians. Others spend more time doing administrative tasks, while others have a combination of these two roles. It is also possible to specialize in different types of care as a medical assistant. You may train to work with kids in a pediatric office or to work with ophthalmologists or podiatrists.
Typical Duties of a Medical Assistant
The duties of a medical assistant will vary depending on employer. However, there are some responsibilities that generally fall to medical assistants:
- Filing, updating and maintaining patient records
- Answering the phone and scheduling
- Greeting patients
- Making arrangements for lab tests and hospital admissions
- Taking patient medical histories
- Getting patients settled ahead of an exam or procedure
- Taking vital signs
- Explaining procedures, treatments and medications to patients
- Assisting physicians during exams and certain procedures
- Collecting lab specimens
- Using electrocardiograms (often performed by an EKG Technician)
- Drawing blood and preparing samples for laboratory tests
- Removing sutures
- Changing dressings
- Administer medications with supervision, including injections
While a medical assistant can help a physician during many procedures, they generally don’t assist during surgeries. Specially-trained professionals known as surgical assistants or technologists perform these duties.
Limitations of Medical Assistants
A medical assistant does not have as much education or training as a nurse or a physician, and as a result their duties are limited. There are certain things that you cannot do as a medical assistant, even if supervised by a physician. Tasks that medical assistants cannot complete vary by state.
For example, in some states a medical assistant can start an intravenous (IV) line in a patient, under supervision or with special extra certification. Other states do not allow medical assistants to perform this task, even with physician supervision or training.
Some other tasks that medical assistants generally cannot perform include diagnosing and treating patients, performing telephone triage, assessing a patient, refilling prescriptions, interpreting test results, advising patients on treatment or administering anesthetics. Some things, such as providing treatment or refilling prescriptions, can be done with a supervising physician. Other duties are never allowed, such as performing any tests on a patient beyond blood withdrawal or skin tests.
Most importantly, a medical assistant’s job is to help the office run more smoothly and safely. They take care of patients and assist doctors so that they can provide better care.