Medical assistants perform clinical and clerical tasks that help other healthcare professionals provide a high quality of care to their patients. Clinical duties vary according to state law, but generally include:
- Taking medical histories
- Recording vital signs
- Preparing patients for examination
- Assisting during healthcare exams
Medical Assistants [MA] perform day-to-day administrative and clinical tasks in a variety of healthcare facilities. Many MAs are employed by primary care and specialty care physicians, chiropractors, podiatrists and optometrists. Medical Assistants are the only allied health professional specifically trained to work in these settings. Individual healthcare providers value this specific training because MAs can help them run an efficient and productive clinic. In addition, each healthcare provider trains their individual MAs on specific duties that will help the provider provide high quality patient care for as many patients as possible during a work day. Entering the healthcare field as a medical assistant can be the first step to exploring other careers, especially in nursing.
- Physician offices
- Podiatrist, chiropractor, optometry offices
- Outpatient care centers
- Long-term care facilities
Medical assistants constantly interact with other people and may have to handle several responsibilities at once. “Multi-tasking is a very big thing. You’re going to be working with one patient and you may have to drop what you’re doing at any second and deal with a different one. But then know that you have to go right back to where you left off and finish up,” explains Millie Byron, certified medical assistant.
The work schedule is generally a regular 40-hour work week, but may include evenings or weekends in hospitals or facilities with extended hours. Medical assistants must observe strict infection control standards to protect themselves and their patients.
Employment of medical technologists is expected to increase 34 percent through the year 2018, ranking it among the fast growing occupations. As the healthcare system expands because of technological advances, a growing elderly population, and expanding insurance covereage due to healthcare reform, there will be increasing demands on the healthcare system. Increasing use of medical assistants will allow doctors and other practitioners to care for an increasing number of patients.
- Ability to work with a variety of people
- Ability to communicate technically with physicians
- Ability to explain procedures simply to patients
- Ability to maintain a pleasant, relaxed manner for putting patients at ease
- Good manual dexterity, space and form perception
- Ability to learn scientific as well as mechanical information
Most employers prefer to hire individuals who have completed a one or two-year specialized program of study. It is possible to receive on-the-job training to become a medical assistant with a high school diploma especially if you have knowledge of medical terminology and anatomy, and are competent in current office computer technology.
For professional recognition, a person may become a registered or certified medical assistant by passing an exam. Both the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and Association of Medical Technologists (AMT) award certification credentials to medical assistants. It is also possible to become certified in a specialty, such as optometry, ophthalmology or podiatry.
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Medical assistants may perform primarily administrative or clinical work, although assistants working in smaller offices may perform both. Careers similar to administratrative medical assistants include:
Careers similar to the work performed by clinical medical assistants include:
- Dental assistant
- Dental hygienist
- Licensed practical nurse
- Nurse aide
- Occupational therapist assistant
- Physical therapist assistant
- Pharmacy technician
- Surgical Technologist
For information about career opportunities and certification for medical assistants:
- American Association of Medical Assistants
- American Medical Technologists
- National Healthcareer Association
For information about career opportunities and requirements in specific specialty areas:
- Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Opthalmology
- American Optometric Association
- American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants
Career information adapted in part from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handook, 2010-2011 Edition, Medical Technologists, on the Internet at www.bls.gov