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Medical Assistant Job Description

By: CareerFactsheet editors- Updated: Aug 21, 2012

Medical assistants work with medical and healthcare practitioners to complete a range of administrative and clinical tasks. Assistants can be asked to provide logistical and administrative support, including tasks linked in the day-to-day operation of a medical office or health clinic. Medical assistants may also perform routine medical procedures and clinical duties, such as taking a patient’s medical history or drawing blood.

A formal education is not required to become a medical assistant and training is often delivered on the job, although a high school diploma or equivalent is usually required to be employed as a medical assistant. There are several degree, diploma, and certificate programs available from colleges and schools that provide in-class and online education in medical assisting. Similarly, certification is also available for medical assistants interested in becoming formally recognized be an accredited certifying body. Often employers look for medical assistants with formal training and education, as well as certification. Formal education and certification can also help you with obtaining a higher paying position and with career progression.

A Comprehensive Look At Their Duties and Specialties

From taking a patient’s history to administering an x-ray, the roles and responsibilities of a medical assistant are vast. The duties of a medical assistant can be divided between administrative and clinical tasks. Depending on how large a physician’s office, hospital or health clinic might be, medical assistants may be required to specialize in either administrative or clinical work. The ability to complete specific tasks can also depend on the laws and regulations of the state where you work. For example, some jurisdictions restrict what a medical assistant can and can not do, and may also require assistants to be certified or complete formal education in medical assisting in order to undertake clinical procedures.

Medical Assistant Duties

Administrative tasks include a range of office-related duties, including answering phones, booking appointments, arranging laboratory tests and medical procedures, greeting patients, and responding to any correspondence the office receives. Duties may also include bookkeeping, billing, completing insurance forms, updating patient records, coding medical information, and stocking supplies and office equipment. A medical assistant also shows patients to examination rooms, and prepares examination and treatment rooms by keeping them clean and organized.

Medical assistants can also provide clinical support to health professionals by undertaking routine medical tasks and procedures. Clinical tasks may include recording a patient’s medical history, taking vital signs such a blood pressure and heart rate, and measuring a patient’s height and weight. Medical assistants may also be asked to assist physicians in preparing patients for examinations and medical procedures or tests, and assist in examining and treating patients. For example, assistants are called on to hand instruments as examinations or procedures are performed by a physician or other health professional. Medical assistants can also prepare and administer medications, remove stitches or sutures, administer injections, sterilize medical equipment, dispose medical supplies, authorize medication refills, and administer x-rays. You may also be required to collect specimens such as blood, tissue, and other samples, as well as log these specimens and prepare them for laboratory testing.

A medical assistant might also provide advice and information to patients, including information on medication, diets, medical procedures, and other instructions as directed by the physician. Any medical procedure or test that a medical assistant undertakes is always done as directed by and under the supervision of a medical professional. A medical assistant does not diagnose or authorize medical tests or procedures on their own.

Medical assistants can also decide to specialize in a specific health fields. With increased specialization, you may be permitted to assist in surgery. Podiatric medical assistants work with podiatrists or foot doctors. Podiatric medical assistants regularly make castings, and expose and develop x-rays. An ophthalmic medical assistant works with ophthalmologists and optometrists, and can undertake specialized tasks related to eye care. Examples of what an ophthalmic medical assistant might do include assisting in eye surgery and providing patients with instructions on how to use and clean contact lenses.

Becoming a Medical Assistant

Becoming a Medical Assistant
A high school diploma or equivalent qualification is generally the minimum requirement to become a medical assistant. If you are in high school, studying biology, chemistry, and anatomy can provide you with the basic knowledge needed to prepare you for a job as a medical assistant.

For many medical assistants, training is provided once they begin their first job. On-the-job training is often delivered by a medical professional, such as a physician. An experienced medical assistant, office manager, or clinical supervisor may also provide on-the-job training. This training generally occurs over a course of weeks or months, during which time new medical assistants learn about their administrative and clinical roles and responsibilities. Basic training includes instruction on medical terminology, as well as orientation on the use and names of tools and instruments. On-the-job training also provides you with instruction on interacting with patients, taking patient medical histories, coding paper and electronic health and medical records, maintaining accurate records, and completing billing and insurance forms.

Formal education in medical assisting is available in many community and junior colleges, as well as technical and vocational schools. Distance and online education programs for medical assistants can also offer you a convenient way to get your qualifications. Although formal education is typically not required to become a medical assistant, many employers prefer to hire assistants with some formal education and training. Completing a medical assistant program can help you get an edge over other candidates when you apply for jobs, and can also benefit you in the longer-term in terms of obtaining promotions or advancing into other healthcare and medical professions. In some states, formal training is also required for medical assistants if they wish to perform certain clinical tasks and procedures, such as taking x-rays.

A diploma or certificate medical assistant program provides the basic education necessary to be successful in medical assisting. These programs generally take up to one year to complete. You also have the option to complete an associate degree program in medical assisting, which can last up to two years. While with a certificate or diploma you can undertake tasks such as updating medical records and collect specimens for laboratory testing, with an associate degree you can perform more advanced clinical duties such as removing sutures and stitches, drawing blood, administering injections, and other tasks. Students completing formal education and training programs receive in-depth classroom and practical instruction, including lessons in anatomy and medical terminology, laboratory training, and hands-on work experience in a healthcare setting.

Some states may require medical assistants to be certified if they perform certain clinical tasks and procedures, such as taking x-rays. Just as some employers prefer to hire assistants with formal education, employers may also favor candidates who have obtained certification in medical assisting. Certification is provided by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), the American Medical Technologists (AMT), the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT), and the National Healthcareer Association (NHA). In order to become certified, you must pass a test and be at least 18 years of age. In some cases, you may also be required to complete formal training or obtain work experience as a medical assistant before writing the certification exam.

Working as a Medical Assistant

Becoming a Medical Assistant
Medical assistants work in the offices of health professionals, including physicians, dentists, podiatrists, chiropractors, ophthalmologist, and other health practitioners. Assistants work under the supervision of a health professional, who delegates duties to medical assistants. Medical assistants interact regularly with patients, which can be stressful when dealing with patients who are in distress or pain. An assistant’s day-to-day duties require strong inter-personal skills and high attention to detail to ensure accurate records and correct information is relayed to medical staff.

The majority of medical assistants work in health practitioners’ offices and healthcare facilities, such as hospitals, outpatient care centers, and health clinics. In addition, medical assistants can work with insurance providers, scientific research and development firms and institutions, universities, colleges, and other educational institutions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than half of all medical assistants work in doctors’ offices.

Typically, medical assistants work full-time. Assistants may also be employed part-time where they are required to work within a shift schedule. From time-to-time, medical assistants may also be asked to cover shifts in medical facilities on weekends and evenings, especially if you are employed at a hospital.

When you work as a medical assistant, you will be required to use a number of medical tools and technology. Medical assistants often use hypodermic needles, mercury blood pressure units, nebulizers, ophthalmoscopes or otoscopes, spirometers, and other related equipment and accessories. These tools are used to perform clinical tasks, including taking vital signs and statistics, and administering medication. Medical assistants also use accounting software for bookkeeping, medical software for electronic patient record management, and software related to the day-to-day operations of a medical office, including word processing and email applications.

Progression Opportunities

Although obtaining a formal education in medical assisting or being certified as a medical assistant is not required to be employed as an assistant in most states, securing these qualifications can assist with your career progression. Many employers look for candidates with formal training and education in medical assisting, as well as certification from a recognized association. Certifying associations include the American Association of Medical Assistants (Certified Medical Assistant certification), the American Medical Technologists (Registered Medical Assistant certification), the National Center for Competency Testing (National Certified Medical Assistant certification), and the National Healthcareer Association (Certified Clinical Medical Assistant certification).

A formal training and education are strong foundations for progressing within the medical assisting field. Formal education and certification can also give you an advantage in terms of better salaries and wages, in addition to securing promotion opportunities. With a combination of training and work experience, you can advance into senior positions with greater administration and management roles and responsibilities. For example, medical assistants can pursue positions as a medical office manager or a clinical supervisor. You can also train and educate prospective medical assistants and new hires as an instructor at a school, college, or other training and education provider.

Work experience as a medical assistant, as well as completing a medical assisting education and training program, can be a stepping stone to pursue other healthcare and medical careers. In many cases, the skills and knowledge you obtain as a medical assistant are transferable to a wide range of professions. You use this experience and skill set as a foundation for pursuing a career as a registered nurse, nurse practitioner, medical laboratory technician, medical technologist, paramedic, or other medical practitioner.

Resources

The following links provide more information about medical assisting and how to become a medical assistant:

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