Medical Assistant Scope Of Practice Varies In Every State

It will be understood if you have to say you are confused about the medical assistant scope of practice because even though they are trained to work as assistants to physicians, their duties vary greatly from state to state, and what may be permitted in one state may be unacceptable in another.  It’s often difficult to know what’s allowed because there aren’t any strong laws regarding medical assistants in place. In fact, the truth of the matter is that medical assistants actually have a rather narrow list of things they can and cannot do.

Yes, in the company of a doctor, they have more freedom, but it is often difficult to know what is allowed because there aren’t many laws regarding medical assistants in place. The problem regarding medical assistants is that no one really regulates them. Another problem is that since their duties vary from state to state, colleges have to provide students with a broad amount of knowledge and actually tailor certain classes to prepare students for the particular state they intend working in.

Go For The Assistant Degree Program

Many medical assistants from the past learned their skills on the job, but these days, more have started getting medical assisting degrees and getting themselves certified. There are no formal education requirements for medical assistants, but employers are only hiring those who have at least completed a high school diploma as well as an accredited medical assisting program. These programs usually take one or two years to complete.

The one year program provides students with a certificate, but students who complete the two year program get an associate degree in medical assisting. With an associate degree behind you, your chances of getting a job are greatly enhanced and there is the opportunity to also advance to a higher position. Students take courses in general medicine and health which includes things like biology occupational safety and health administration, anatomy, medical terminology, and physiology as well as administrative subjects to assist with general bookkeeping tasks and record keeping.

The medical assistant classes will teach legal and ethical principles, and medical laws. It is for this reason that medical assistants should have a clear idea of what is in the scope of practice and what is not, and how to react when they are told to do something that they may not be legally permitted to do. Students will also get to work in the field as part of an internship program and this is where they learn some valuable hands-on experience.

Licensed Medical Professionals Can Assign Work To Medical Assistants

If a medical assistant gives a patient the wrong advice about medical treatment, and the patient suffers an injury, the medical assistant can be sued and possibly the employer as well. It is certainly the responsibility of the medical assistant’s employer to monitor the medical assistant and ensure they are acting within their scope of practice. Of course the question arises – who is the person to supervise medical assistants in the first place because rules are different from state to state, and in most states they are actually very vague.

Medical Assistant Scope of Practice In California, as an example, nurses are able to train and assign duties to medical assistants if a doctor is in the same room. Though the scope of practice of medical assistants differs from state to state, there are certain duties, which medical assistants can perform, such as: do   clinical and administrative tasks to keep the work flow going, record patient’s demographic and basic   information   about   certain conditions, use medical terminology In fact there are states in the United States that don’t even have laws outlining the responsibilities of medical assistants. You can go to any Medical Board of a particular state to see what is permissible for a medical assistant to perform in a particular state. Medical assistants are non-licensed and they often practice under the supervision of a licensed medical practitioner.

Certification is mostly voluntary for medical assistants in the USA but more and more employers are demanding medical assistants who are certified. Medical assistants are often unaware of the fact that from the training they have received and the years of experience they have, that they do actually qualify for a certificate, and they should investigate this. Medical assistants must be certified in the State of Ohio for instance and these certifications are obtainable through colleges and some hospitals.

Understand The Laws Around Your Scope Of Practice

If you are looking for laws that pertain to the medical assistant scope of practice, the best place to look is the State Medical Board, or Board of Medical Examiners in your state; that is the actual authority who regulates the practice of medicine in the United States.

It makes perfect sense that every medical facility should have an organized plan that lays out the duties of every staff member. A good medical facility has established policies and provides each of their staff members with a written job description, outlining their responsibilities. Each staff member should also receive verbal information on what they may be able to do. Responsibilities and limitations will be based on the type of education and training that each employee has received. It is the responsibility of each medical assistant to see to it that limitations and regulations are adhered to wherever and under whomever they work.

The State Medical Board Has Their Own Set Of Rules For MAs

Medical practice rules and regulations are established by the State Medical Board which is also known as the Board of Medical Examiners as well as other state authorities. They have stated how doctors and other licensed medical practitioners may make use of allied health professionals under the employ and how to supervise them.  The South Dakota Medical Board has set an example and their standards are particularly high and they require their medical assistants to be registered through the state.

Their medical assistants must also undergo a thorough background check. Medical Assistant Net at is a fantastic resource which lists some states and lays out their medical assistant scope of practice, bearing in mind that each state’s rules are different. The handful of links posted will give you an idea where to look for answers in your own state.

Verbal And Written Scope Of Practice Needs To Be Given

When a new medical assistant is hired, their scope of practice should be explained both verbally and in writing so that there is clarity for the medical assistant as to what they can and can’t do. There are many tasks that medical assistants perform daily which are not actually in their scope of practice; and one or two of these are making  medical assessments, dispensing medications and also altering a medical treatment plan and even advising on medications.

What Can The Medical Assistant Do?

There are some State Boards’ of Nursing which have included in their rules and regulations how registered nursing staff can make use of, and delegate tasks to, medical assistants under their supervision. In many states there are absolutely no regulations addressing the scope of practice of medical assistants and in these states, it is assumed that they can perform duties for which they have been properly trained to perform.  The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) will tell you that medical assistants are trained to work  in both clinical and administrative settings, and they describe a few of the jobs they can  perform:

  • take patient histories
  • prepare medical records and patient charts – certain administration jobs
  • answer insurance questions
  • schedule appointments
  • inventory control and ordering supplies
  • manage petty cash
  • sterilize and label instruments
  • record body measurements and vital signs
  • prepare the examination room for the patient
  • prepare and administer medications when ordered
  • collect and preserve bodily fluids
  • set up intravenous infusion therapy (IV) equipment

Some Of The Things They Cannot Do:

  • perform arterial punctures
  • evaluate patients
  • perform tests which includes the penetration of human tissue
  • independently provide medical treatment or analyze test results
  • administer anesthetic

Can Medical Assistants Give Injections?

There has been controversy about medical assistants giving Botox shots as well as other shots, and the truth of the matter is that medical assistants are often requested to administer different types of injections. These injections include things like B12 as well as TB skin and allergy testing. First of all the medical assistant has to be trained to do this and they also have to be supervised; in other words the doctor needs to be present in the room where these injections are being administered.

A medical assistant may be able to lay out equipment and inform a patient about IV therapy procedure, but won’t be able to initiate IV therapy.  Most State Medical Boards stipulate that only certified or licensed professionals are allowed to start and discontinue IV therapy.

Get Answers On What You Can Do As A Medical Assistant

If you have questions about what medical assistants can do, there are experts who can advise you on the laws in your particular state which govern the scope of practice of medical assistants’ scope of practice. Go to the website and you can ask their expert via e-mail, D.A. Balasa: Executive Director and Staff Legal Counsel about the laws in your state governing medical assistants’ scope of practice. It happens quite regularly that a medical assistant will receive training in one state and find they are not permitted to perform in another state.

Medical Assistants for instance are not permitted to perform any duties linked to medicine or nursing like the administering of oxygen, administering immunizations or medications, tracheal suctioning of invasive procedures. Sometimes medical professionals are aware that medical assistants have had the right training and they allow them to perform certain tasks under their supervision. Medical professionals who rope medical assistants in to perform activities that will require a license will face disciplinary action.

Doctors Need To Supervise What Medical Assistants Do

The State Medical Board states how doctors must supervise these non-licensed allied health professionals. The doctor assumes responsibility for the medical assistant’s actions and therefore may only delegate tasks that the medical assistant has been trained to perform. In fact doctors need to be in close proximity to medical assistants while they are performing direct patient care. In fact, it is by law, in the medical assistant scope of practice, that whenever one of them provides any kind of direct patient care, even the most simplest, a licensed health care professional must be present for supervision, even if the medical assistant is well trained

Medical assistants who don’t comply with their regulations that have been set down for them and who attempt to perform procedures out of their scope of training and who act independently without the presence of licensed health care professionals or without doctor’s orders expose themselves and some of their colleagues to serious implications that could jeopardize their chances of remaining in their place of employment.


If you are a medical assistant or you are interested in becoming one, of course you will want to know what your duties are, and to avoid facing the might of the law, you will want to know what medical tasks you cannot perform. Once you are qualified, read up on your individual state’s rules and regulations before you start working to make sure you are in the right. Each state has different rules and you also want to know them so that when a doctor tells you what to do, you have the right to refuse because it is not in your scope of practice. You could still end up getting sued if you perform tasks that are not in the Medical Assistant Scope of Practice. Even physicians are unsure of what tasks are appropriate to assign to a Medical Assistant, because they realize that  medical assistants are not licensed which means that can’t  make independent medical assessments or give advice.

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