Medical Assistant

Career Information

Nurse helping patient
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A medical assistant performs administrative and clinical tasks in the office of a physician or other medical practitioner. He or she may be responsible for either clinical or administrative tasks, or a combination of the two. Which one depends upon the size of the practice. Medical assistants in larger practices tend to specialize, while those in smaller practices do everything. Specific clinic tasks depend on what they are legally allowed to do in the state in which they work.

Quick Facts

  • In 2016, medical assistants' median annual salary was $31,540.
  • 591,000 people held this job title in 2014.
  • Doctor's employed most medical assistants, but some worked in hospitals or the offices of other healthcare professionals.
  • Jobs are usually full time and schedules sometimes include weekends and evenings if facilities are open during those times.
  • This is a "Bright Outlook" occupation according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It has an excellent job outlook, with employment predicted to increase much faster than the average for all occupations through 2024.

A Day in the Life of a Medical Assistant

Learn what job duties you can expect to have if you choose this career.  We found these in job announcements on Indeed.com.  Medical assistants:

  • "Greet and escort patients to exam rooms"
  • "Prepare patient for physician exam by taking blood pressure, temperature, weight, height, and updating patient chart with current health information"
  • "Order supplies as needed or inform responsible part of the need for supplies"
  • "Make appointments, take prescription refills, document clearances & medical records"
  • "Records patient care documentation in the medical record accurately and in a timely manner"

How to Become a Medical Assistant

While you aren't required to have formal training to be a medical assistant, many employers prefer to hire job candidates who have completed a post-secondary program.

You can find a one to two year training program at a college or vocational or trade school. Upon completion, you will earn a certificate or diploma. If you get your education through a two year training program at a community college, you may earn an associate degree.

There are several organizations that grant certification to medical assistants. Becoming certified is voluntary, but it signals to prospective employers that you have met certain criteria including completing appropriate training and having work experience. This may lead to better employment opportunities and higher pay. Certification is available from several professional organizations accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), part of Institute for Credentialing Excellence. NCCA maintains a searchable directory of agencies that offer certification.

What Soft Skills Do You Need to Succeed in This Career?

  • Interpersonal Skills: As a medical assistant you will need the ability to interact with people with ease, making them feel comfortable in a stressful situation.
  • Detail Oriented: You will be responsible for accurately recording information about your patients. Mistakes can have serious consequences for their health and safety.
  • Customer Service Skills: You must make welcome patients and treat them with kindness and compassion.
  • Communication Skills: Excellent listening and verbal communication skills will allow you to share information with both patients, physicians, and coworkers.

The Difference Between a Medical Assistant and Physician Assistant

Like a physician assistant, a medical assistant works in a healthcare facility, but the differences between them professionally are just as significant as those between a medical assistant and a physician. A physician assistant is a healthcare professional who provides primary care while a medical assistant has limited clinical duties.

Medical assistants are not required to receive any formal training or be licensed, but physicians assistants cannot work without both a degree and a state-issued license.

That is not to say a medical assistant does not play as vital a role in the provision of medical care as a physician assistant does. He or she helps keep a doctor's office or other facility running smoothly. 

What Will Employers Expect From You?

Here are some requirements from actual job announcements found on Indeed.com:

  • "Must be able to multitask in a fast pace environment"
  • "Ability to react calmly and effectively in emergency situations"
  • "Consistently demonstrate excellence in patient care and service"
  • "Maintain a professional appearance and demeanor"
  • "Excellent computer skills such as Microsoft Word, emailing, scanning, etc."
  • "Able to interact and treat all persons with fairness, respect and sensitivity to cultural/social difference"

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

Related Occupations

 DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2016)Minimum Required Education/Training
Veterinary AssistantPerforms basic tasks in an animal clinic or hospital$25,250HS or Equivalency Diploma
PhlebotomistDraws blood from people to be used for medical tests and donations$32,710Post-secondary training from a community college, trade school, or vocational school (<1 year)
Dental AssistantPerforms office and laboratory duties in a dentist's office$36,940No Formal Training or 1-year Accredited Program at a Vocational or Trade School (Varies by State)

Sources:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 (visited August 9, 2017).
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online (visited August 9, 2017).

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