A Medical Assistant was historically a member of the medical support staff who did on-the-job training. Medical Assistants only received a group identity in 1956, when the American Association of Medical Assistants was founded. A Medical Assistant was originally almost exclusively found in clinics, urgent care facilities, and ambulatory care centers. These days this has changed drastically; their worth has been realized they can now be found in inpatient and outpatient facilities and in both public and private hospitals.
There is a great need for medical assistants due to the fact that more people are living longer and therefore more medical interventions are required. The more diagnostic medical and technological breakthroughs that there are, the longer people are living. The medical industry is also vigorously encouraging preventive healthcare, which means that people are living longer but require ongoing medical attention.
This longevity means that physicians, doctors, dentists and many others in the medical and healthcare fields are in dire need of a skilled certified medical assistant. A medical assistant carries out various tasks which ensure the comfort and understanding of the patient whilst leaving the medical professional to deal with the healing side of patient-care. A medical assistant needs to be flexible as they will have to seamlessly jump between explaining a procedure to a patient, to assisting a patient to get ready for a procedure, to assisting a doctor with a procedure or conducting laboratory tests.
What Is A Medical Assistant?
Medical assistants are healthcare workers who work in various fields in the medical health profession under the direct supervision of medical doctors and other licensed healthcare practitioners. They undertake many various tasks, depending on the size of the facility in which they are employed and their years of experience.
Although a medical assistant's main job is to attend to the needs of a patient, their tasks can run the gamut from answering the telephone to assisting the physician during diagnostic examinations. Some states in the US allow a registered medical assistant to perform more advanced procedures such as taking x-rays or administering injections once they have undergone further training.
The Role Of A Medical Assistant
The chief role of a certified medical assistant is to assist the physician or other licensed medical practitioner, allowing them to focus directly on the patient's medical needs. Medical assistants generally prepare the patient for the examination or procedure they will be undergoing, and undertake a number of other supporting tasks which are necessary to ensure the comfort of the patient.
A medical assistants job description can vary depending on the state in which one practices, according to the laws of the jurisdiction. In some states there is almost no distinction between a registered medical assistant and a surgeon's assistant, in that both may assist the surgeon in whichever task he sees fit, including administering a local anaesthetic, directly supervised incisions, aspiration of hypodermic fat, ablative laser dermal resurfacing and various other cosmetic procedures.
Types Of Medical Assistants
The duties of medical assistants can vary quite a bit depending on the location, type and size of office in which they are employed. In smaller practises medical assistants tend to perform a combination of administrative and clinical duties and report directly to the physician, office manager or health practitioner. In larger practises they tend to specialize in a particular area, and usually work under a supervisor or departmental administrator.
Administrative Medical Assistant
- Updates and files patient medical records and completes insurance forms.
- Arranges for laboratory services and organizes hospital admissions.
- Is responsible for scheduling patient appointments and handling telephone calls.
- Greets the patients, handles correspondence, does the billing and often does the bookkeeping too.
Anaesthesiology Medical Assistant
- This is a good specialty for those who are interested in health care and pharmacology.
- The American Medical Association has predicted that jobs in this field are expected to grow exponentially over the next 20 years.
- This position requires two years of studies and those who wish to do this course need to have completed a four-year bachelor's degree, preferably with majors in biology or chemistry.
- The course will include physiology, anaesthesia, and anatomy, and will include practical training under clinical settings.
- A certified medical assistant in this field will work very closely with the anaesthesiologist and monitor a patient's vital signs whilst they are under anaesthesia.
- Taking a patient's medical history, administering anaesthesia and attending to pain management after surgery are also vital roles that the medical assistant undertakes.
Clinical Medical Assistant
- Duties can differ depending on State Law, but generally include recording vital signs and taking medical histories, preparing patients for examinations, explaining various procedures to patients, and assisting the physician during a medical examination.
- Medical assistants also collect, prepare, and sometimes even perform basic laboratory tests as well as sterilizing medical instruments and disposing of contaminated supplies.
- A physician may also direct a certified medical assistant to instruct patients regarding special diets or medication regimens or to prepare and administer medications, authorize prescription refills, and phone prescriptions in to pharmacies.
- A registered medical assistant working in a clinic may also prepare patients for x-rays, remove sutures, change dressings, draw blood, and take electrocardiograms.
- The purchase and maintenance of supplies and equipment, housekeeping of waiting and examining rooms and arranging examination room equipment and instruments also fall within a Clinical Medical Assistant's scope.
Ophthalmic Medical Assistant
- This is a specialty medical assistant position wherein the registered medical assistant measures and records vision, tests eye muscle function, and conducts diagnostic tests.
- Ophthalmic medical assistants also show patients how to insert, remove, and take care of their contact lenses, apply eye dressings, and take care of optical and surgical instruments
- They may also, under direction of an ophthalmologist, administer eye medications and may assist the physician in surgery.
Optometric Medical Assistant
- A certified medical assistant in this field may also be referred to as a Para-optometric assistant.
- They work directly with an optometrist and duties include administrative and medical work.
- They help patients to get ready for eye-examinations, sell eye-care products and educate patients about the products.
- They handle the telephone, schedule appointments, keep patient records, and control the inventory.
- Instructing patients on contact lens use and care, providing chair-side assistance and conducting preliminary tests on patients are part of their duties.
Podiatric Medical Assistant
- Podiatric medical assistants are invaluable to a podiatrist and perform both administrative and medical tasks.
- They take vital signs, document medical histories, and prepare the patient and examination rooms for the podiatrist.
- They perform laboratory procedures such as specimen collection, wound culture and strep tests whilst using infection control guidelines/ standard precautions.
- They take of the quality monitoring and maintenance of all clinic equipment; they clean, sterilize and care for instruments and other equipment.
- They make castings of patient's feet, and expose and develop x-rays.
- A Podiatric medical assistant may also assist the podiatrist with surgery.
Radiology Medical Assistant
- A radiologist assistant works directly under a radiologist and assists in advanced medical diagnostic techniques.
- They are responsible for patient-care before a medical imaging procedure; they explain what the procedure is and what they are going to do.
- They are also responsible for patient-care after the medical imaging procedure.
- A radiology medical assistant collects evidence through various imaging techniques, which allow doctors to run a differential diagnosis to ascertain the cause of the health problems a patient is having.
- They carry out a variety of non-invasive radiology procedures and imaging tasks under the direct supervision of a radiologist, and may also assist in the evaluation f the image results, but the radiologist is responsible for the final report.
There are also other types of medical assistants, as they are integral to the good management of patients in many various medical disciplines. The above represent just a few directions in which you can specialize, and are only meant to give you an idea of what medical assistants who specialize in various fields may be asked to do. If you are thinking of specializing then it should be in a field in which you have a personal interest, as that would make your job so much easier and more interesting.
Medical Assistant Job Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job prospect for medical assistants is very rosy. It was projected that the employment of medical assistants is going to grow by 34% in the 2008 - 2018 decade. This will be particularly beneficial to those who have many years of experience or have done formal training. A certified medical assistant is a sought-after commodity by many in the healthcare system as the prevalence of certain conditions such as diabetes and obesity will require an increased amount of care from physicians and other healthcare workers, including medical assistants.
National Employment Matrix Projections Data: Medical assistants
|Projected Employment 2018||647,500|
The amount of new clinics, group practices, and other healthcare facilities which are opening each year and which require a large proportion of support staff, including medical assistants is a force which will continue to drive the demand for qualified medical assistants. A registered medical assistant is very valuable to the healthcare system as they are in the unique position of being able to handle both clinical and administrative duties.
Where Do Medical Assistants Work?
Human capital is the most valuable capital in any business, and this is so in the healthcare business too. Medical assistants are an integral part of the team in many institutions as they do valuable work which frees the physician or other healthcare professional up to give their attention to the medical care of a patient, and thereby also allows them to attend to more patients.
Medical assistants are employed in the following facilities, amongst others:
- Home Health Agencies
- Insurance Providers
- Medical offices
- Medical Supply Businesses
- Nursing Homes
- Pharmaceutical Companies
- Urgent Care Centres
Many Medical Assistant Schools have relationships with employers seeking to hire their graduates. These schools will normally put you in touch with their network and it is then up to you to decide in which field you would like to specialize and whether you would prefer to concentrate more on the administrative side of the job or clinical duties.
Medical Assistant Training
Some Medical Assistants do their training whilst on the job, whilst others complete a one or two-year training course. There are various courses offered by colleges and schools, and you can also do a medical assistant course online. Some employers do not mind doing on-the-job training, but there are also employers who prefer to employ a medical assistant who has had formal training and is either a registered medical assistant or a certified medical assistant.
Medical Assistant Training - Curriculum
A typical medical assistant training program will consist of:
- Cardiopulmonary and Electrocardiography
- Digestive System, Nutrition, and First Aid
- Endocrinology and Reproduction
- Hands-on Training
- Laboratory procedures
- Medical Law, Ethics and Psychology
- Patient Care and Communication
How to choose the right Medical Assistant School/Program
There are important factors that you need to be aware of and look out for when choosing a school:
- Accreditation - this is important as you do not want to do your training through a school only to find that it is not recognised. The school also needs to be accredited in order for you to get certified. The school needs to be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools.
- Extensive Hands-On Training - hands-on training is important, as you can learn all about how to take a patient's blood pressure or how to draw blood out of a book, but nothing beats physical experience. When graduating from a training program which offers adequate hands-on training, you will feel far more confident about dealing with patients and laboratory tests than if you had only had book-training. This hands-on experience is normally done on fellow-students in the classroom.
- Externship/Internship - is part of the hands-on training offered by most schools/programs. These internships or externships are periods spent in an actual medical office, gaining real-world experience. This will be done under the direct supervision of a medical professional. Internships can also often lead to job offers if you have impressed the medical professional at whose office you were placed. At the very least they could provide you with a reference.
- CMA & Job Placement - if you are going to do a formal medical assistant's program/training course, then you should also get certified. To become a Certified Medical Assistant you will need to sit for the CMA exam. The exam will cover lab procedures, clinical procedures, patient relations, pharmacology, medical terminology, first aid, and office practices. It is for this reason that it is important that the school you choose prepares you for the exam.
You should ask prospective schools admission offices the following questions to ascertain how well they prepare their students for the CMA exam:
- How many of your graduates pass the CMA exam?
- What are their scores like as compared to the National Average?
- What percentage of your graduates finds full-time employment?
- Do you assist your graduates in finding employment?
Certificate vs. Associate Degree
There are various options available to you if you decide to follow a career in medical assisting. A certificate course will take about 1 year to complete and an associate degree takes 2 years. Both programs will afford you entrance into the medical assistance field, and the curriculum for both is quite similar.
The advantage of obtaining a two-year degree may give you an advantage over a certificate, but the biggest advantage of an associate degree is that it is very beneficial if you decide to earn a more advanced degree further down the line.
Registered Medical Assistant vs. Certified Medical Assistant
There seems to be a bit of confusion as to whether it is better to become a certified medical assistant or a registered medical assistant, and what the difference is between the two, so here are some quick facts:
- The American Registry of Medical Assistants is one of the associations which register medical assistants. They are a duly incorporated and chartered non-profit, National Registry of and for Qualified Medical Assistants. They do not require a further exam to be taken for graduates to either be registered or certified, but you will need a recommendation to them from your school or employer.
- A medical assistant may choose to be either registered or certified; the only difference in the two designations is that different organisations use different terminology.
- Both R.M.A. and C.M.A. are national credentials which acknowledge the individual as being qualified to perform clerical and clinical duties as a medical assistant.
- Neither the state nor federal governments require that a medical assistant be either registered or certified in order to perform his or her duties.
- Many employers prefer that their employees are either registered or certified.
- The American Association of Medical Assistants offers certification via a Certified Medical Assistant Exam.
Medical Assistant Salary
The salary that you will earn as a medical assistant will depend on the area in which you are based, your years of experience, your level of skill, and degree level. According to research, the pay can start at $16,570 for an assistant with less than 1 year's experience to $45,958 for those with many years of experience. The salaries differ throughout the different states, so it is very difficult to give you a definite salary, but the certified medical assistant salary is growing year on year, and is sitting at around $30,000 per year in 2011.
There are also many certified medical assistant salary bonuses for overtime, best achievement in job, and hospital high surplus in a month to mention a few. Being employed as a registered medical assistant also normally includes benefits such as health care, social security cost, pension salary, and disability.
Medical assistants generally work in a well-lit, hygienic and clean environment and constantly interact with other people such as suppliers, laboratory technicians, patients and other members of their medical team. This means that they need to be able to communicate well, work well within a team and be flexible, as the nature of their work means that they jump form one task to another all day.