The demand for medical assistants shows no sign of slowing, with growth of 31% predicted between 2010 and 2020 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
If you’re detail-oriented, adept at multi-tasking and get along well with people, this may be the job for you.
More than half of all medical assistants work in physician’s offices. Most work full-time and night and weekend shifts aren’t uncommon.
Medical assistants don’t lack for variety in their duties. They handle a laundry list of clinical and administrative tasks in physicians’ offices and other health care facilities.
According to the American Association of Medical Assistants’ (AAMA) website, administrative duties can include:
• Using computer applications
• Answering telephones
• Greeting patients
• Updating and filing patient medical records
• Coding and filling out insurance forms
• Scheduling appointments
• Arranging for hospital admissions and laboratory services
• Handling correspondence, billing and bookkeeping
Clinical duties vary according to individual state law, according to the AAMA site, and can include:
• Taking medical histories
• Explaining treatment procedures to patients
• Preparing patients for examination
• Assisting the physician during examinations
• Collecting and preparing laboratory specimens
• Performing basic laboratory tests
• Instructing patients about medication and special diets
• Preparing and administering medications as directed by a physician
• Authorizing prescription refills as directed
• Drawing blood
• Taking electrocardiograms
• Removing sutures and changing dressings
Doctors increasingly are turning to medical assistants to perform these tasks in order for the physicians to spend more time with patients.
In some offices, mostly larger ones, medical assistants will perform either administrative or clinical duties, while in smaller facilities they may be required to do both.
So, what qualities does it take to do well as a medical assistant? People skills may be the most important.
“Medical assistants give health care a human touch,” according to the AAMA site. “Medical assistants are instrumental in helping patients feel at ease in the doctor’s office and often explain the physician’s instructions. If you have good communication skills and are often appreciated for your caring manner, then you might be well-suited for a career in medical assisting.”
Further, a medical assistant is often the first and last person a patient interacts with during a visit to a physician’s office. A compassionate and calming presence can help ease the feeling of vulnerability a patient may experience, particularly if the physician in question lacks something in the area of bedside manner.
The BLS site adds that medical assistants “often interact with patients who may be in pain or in distress, so they need to be able to act in a calm and professional manner.”
Medical assistants also need analytical skills. They must understand and follow medical charts and diagnoses, and may be required to code patients’ medical records for billing purposes.
Medical assistants also must be detail oriented. They must be precise when taking vital signs and recording patient information.
Finally, medical assistants must have technical skills. Medical assistants use basic clinical instruments to take a patient’s vital signs, such as heart rate or blood pressure.
Most states have no formal requirements for becoming a medical assistant, although employers may favor candidates who have completed a medical assistant program. These usually are one-year programs offered by community colleges, technical and vocational schools, and universities.
Two-year programs offering an associate’s degree in medical assisting are offered by some junior and community colleges.
One- and two-year programs alike include classroom and laboratory portions with lessons in anatomy and medical terminology.
Certification also isn’t a requirement, but most employers prefer to hire medical assistants who are certified.
The AAMA offers a Certified Medical Assistant certification. Other certifications accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies are:
• Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) from the American Medical Technologists
• National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) from the National Center for Competency Testing
• Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) from the National Healthcareer Association