What It Takes To Be A Clinical Medical Assistant

There are many careers in the medical and medical support professions that one can enter into, but one of the most interesting is that of the Clinical Medical Assistant. This is because being a clinical medical assistant means that you assist the physician to carry out many varied procedures, administer medications, perform laboratory tests and do various other tasks within the ambit of your designation. Your day will be varied and there will always be new challenges for you to overcome and master so the job is satisfying and continuously challenging.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 483,600 clinical medical assistants in the United States in 2008, of which about 62 % were employed in physician’s offices, around 13 % worked in public and private hospitals, including inpatient and outpatient facilities, and 11 % of clinical medical assistants were employed in the offices of various other health practitioners, such as chiropractor’s and optometrist’s offices. The remainder was employed in nursing and residential care facilities and outpatient care centers.

Clinical Medical Assistant Job Description

Clinical Medical Assistants are also known as Medical Office Assistants, Certified Medical Assistants (CMAs), Medical Assistants, Doctor’s Assistants, Clinical Assistants, Ophthalmic Technicians, Outpatient Surgery Assistants, Optometric Technicians, and Optometric Assistants.

As a clinical medical assistant, your clinical duties will vary according to the state in which you practice, the type of practice in which you are employed, and the size of the practice in which you work, but duties can include:

  • Authorizing drug refills and providing prescription information to pharmacies
  • Administering medications via injection
  • Billing and coding for insurance purposes
  • Collecting blood, tissue and other laboratory specimens, logging the specimens and preparing them for testing
  • Detailing a patient’s vital statistics such as temperature, height, weight, blood pressure
  • Drawing blood, removing sutures, preparing patients for x-rays, performing electrocardiograms and changing dressings
  • Discussing diets, medications or treatment procedures with patients
  • Explaining physicians’ instructions to patients
  • Helping physicians to examine and treat patients by handing them instruments or materials
  • Interviewing patients in order to obtain their personal and medical information, vital statistics and results of previous medical tests, x-rays etc
  • Preparing and maintaining cleanliness and in patient examination rooms
  • Preparing and administering various medications as directed by a physician
  • Recording vital statistics and other information in patient files
  • Showing or helping patients to examination rooms and preparing them for the physician
  • Scheduling appointments, answering the telephone, and updating patient records
  • The cleaning and sterilization of instruments and the disposal of contaminated supplies

Electronic health records (EHRs) are being used by most medical facilities these days, so it is imperative that a clinical medical assistant learn how to use the computer software to do this.

Skills Required By A Clinical Medical Assistant

Clinical medical assistants work with a team of medical professionals and patients all day, performing crucial tasks, which mean that they need some very specific skills. It is not good enough to just speak English; you must be able to speak with clarity and convey important information to the patient or to the physician.Clinical Medical Assistant

It is also important that you are sensitive to patients and to your surroundings in order to be able to recognize that there is something wrong without being told. Being able to sense that something is likely to go wrong and being able to rectify things before they do is also really important.

  • Active Listening – is a very important skill for the clinical medical assistant, as it is important that one gives full attention to what others are saying. It is important because if one does not listen carefully to the instructions that are given by the physician costly mistakes can be made, and if one is not fully attentive to what the patient is saying, it could mean that incorrect diagnosis is made or incorrect information is passed on to the medical team which could result in major problems. Active listening includes understanding the points being made, not interrupting at inappropriate times and asking the right questions in order to clarify points.
  • Active Learning – is the understanding of new information and the implications thereof for current and future problem-solving and decision-making.
  • Analytical skills – are important as you must be able to understand and follow medical diagnoses and charts, and the ability to perform coding for billing and insurance purposes.
  • Coordination – is very important to a clinical medical assistant because of the fact that you work within a team and with patients, and means being able to adjust your actions in relation to other’s actions.
  • Critical Thinking – means using reasoning and logic to identify the strengths and weaknesses of conclusions, alternative solutions or approaches to problems.
  • Deductive Reasoning – is the ability to apply general rules to specific problems in order to produce answers that will make sense.
  • Monitoring – and assessment of your own performance and that of other individuals and organizations in order to make improvements or take corrective action is an integral part of being a clinical medical assistant.
  • Reading Comprehension – means the understanding of written sentences and paragraphs in relation to work-related documentation.
  • Service Orientation – means actively looking for ways to help individuals.
  • Speaking – may sound simple, as it is something that we all do every day, but speaking clearly and succinctly, and effectively conveying information in a way that the patient understands, is of the ultimate importance.
  • Social Perceptiveness – being aware of other’s reactions and the reasons that they are reacting as they are is very important.
  • Technical skills – are very important as part of your job as a medical assistant will be to use various basic clinical instruments.
  • Writing – is another thing we all do every day, but what is important for the clinical medical assistant is that they are able to write to suit the needs of the audience, being the other medical professionals with which you work and the patients.

Another important skill is information ordering, which merely means the ability to arrange actions or things in a certain pattern or order, according to s specific set of rules. Due to the nature of the job, it is very important that you are able to do this in order to perform your job to the best of your ability.

Educational Requirements

In order to become a clinical medical assistant you can either get a one-year diploma or a two-year associate’s degree. These programs are offered at vocational or technical schools and community colleges across the U.S.

There is no minimum state requirement for enrolment into either of these courses, although schools require that:

  • Students should be at least 18 years old and have earned a high school diploma or its equivalent.
  • Students must pass a math and English pre-screening test, which will be administered on the first day of class, prior to final admittance into any course. The test covers Basic Math (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals and percentages), and Basic English language, reading and comprehension.

The Salary And Job Outlook

A clinical medical assistant has a vast scope of knowledge and as such is invaluable to the members of a healthcare team. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual median wage for clinical medical assistants in 2010 was approximately $30,000.

The need for medical assistants is expected to grown by an astounding 34% in the 2010 to 2020 decade, which is must faster than the average for any other occupation. This means that employment opportunities should be excellent, especially for those who undergo formal training or experience, and certification.

Driving this need is the expansion of the healthcare industry due to the technological advances that are being made in medicine today and the aging of the baby-boomer population, who are requiring more medical treatment for longer. There is also an increasing prevalence towards certain medical conditions such as obesity and diabetes. This means that there is also an increasing number of clinics, group practices, and other healthcare facilities opening in order to service these needs. All of these institutions require the services of medical assistants who can handle both clinical and administrative duties.

How To Become A Clinical Medical Assistant

Although there are no formal educational requirements for becoming a medical assistant in most states, and many assistants learn through on-the-job training, high school students interested in a career as a clinical medical assistant should take courses in anatomy, biology, and chemistry.

On-the-job Training

Some medical assistants receive on-the-job training from a physician or another medical assistant in their office. This training would include medical terminology, the names of medical instruments and how to use them, how to interact with patients, how to perform various daily tasks such as coding both paper and electronic health records, and how to record patient information.  They will also be taught how to keep an office running smoothly, how to record the vital statistics of a patient, and how to draw blood and administer injections.

This type of training could take several months, depending on the facility and the dedication of the person mentoring them. On-the-job training is good, but the one thing to remember is that it does not include any type of qualification or certification which could prove to be problematic down the line.

Formal Clinical Medical Assistant Training

There are various community colleges, vocational schools, technical schools, and universities that offer formal Clinical Medical Assistant Programs such as a diploma or certificate course which takes approximately 12 months to complete or the associate degree program which takes 2 years to complete.

Although certification is not required by state law, many employers prefer to engage the services of clinical medical assistants that have gone through formal training and are certified. Some states also require that certain tasks may only be done by a certified medical assistant, such as administering injections or taking x-rays.

All of the programs offered by colleges and universities include laboratory and classroom training:

Coursework for the clinical medical assistant will include:

  • Anatomy
  • Clinical and Diagnostic Procedures
  • First aid
  • Medical terminology
  • Pharmaceutical Principles
  • Physiology

Participants will be required to provide proof of completion of the Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) for the healthcare provider course prior to placement in an externship. The CPR course must include one and two-person teams for adult, child and infant CPR. A current physical examination and tuberculosis screening will also be required.


Certification credentials for clinical medical assistants are awarded by several professional associations. Some of them require that the clinical medical assistant first take and pass an examination in order to be certified, whilst others require that the assistant graduate from an accredited program.

Four certifications for medical assistants are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, which is part of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence:

  1. Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) from the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)
  2. Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) from the American Medical Technologists
  3. National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) from the National Center for Competency Testing
  4. Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) from the National Health Career Association

The CMA Certification Examination requires that a clinical medical assistant must have first completed a postsecondary medical assisting program accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) and passed the certification exam.

No formal education is required to take the other three certification examinations in order to become a Registered Medical Assistant, a National Certified Medical Assistant or a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant.

The position of clinical medical assistant is changing as more and more physicians’ practices switch to electronic health records, and will continue to change as newer technology is introduced into the workplace and newer more innovative forms of medication are discovered; this means that the job is here to stay, it is going to continue to grow and will remain interesting and challenging.

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