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What is Medical Assisting?
A medical assistant in responsible for the daily care and treatment of patients, including intake, cleaning, and the delivery of medication all under the supervision of a physician or other qualified medical professional and are responsible for the daily treatment and review of patients, notifying supervisors when changes in the patients status occur. Medical assistants are also responsible for the day to day management of paperwork; supplies and other office work that may otherwise be attributed to a medical office assistant. Medical assisting is a fast growing field that requires the individual to be familiar with medical vocabulary, clinical and hospital environments and standard protocols in order to be effective.
Medical Assistants work with physicians to ensure the clinic or medical office functions at an optimal level. MA’s will be called upon to check-in a patient, collect information, document the incident, effectively communicate next steps, provide emotional comfort, and get them settled into their room or bed. The Medical Assistant may then help to draw blood, provide stitches, arrange lab tests, clean infected areas, document the procedures, and manage the medical insurance billing in conjunction with the attending physician. The MA has evolved into a very exciting profession in part due to the diversity of care provided coupled with real-time problem solving opportunities. In any given week, the variation in care provided to patients can vary widely keeping the job interesting and engaging.
How to Become a Medical Assistant?
In order to become a medical assistant, you will need to successfully take and pass one of four industry certification exams. Students who enroll in a medical assistant program at a college or university will find the coursework challenging and comprehensive. To find the best college for you, simply request information from a number of the programs below and compare their educational offerings to your personal priority list. A list of questions that coalesce into your priority list can be found on our Complete Guide to the College Admission Process here.
Currently, there are no formal education requirements to proceed in the field of medical assisting; however, you will quickly find that employers will have specific requirements that need to be achieved. An associate degree in medical assisting will take around 2 years to complete for full-time students as core classes are interspersed with general education courses. Liberal arts classes such as English composition, philosophy, and psychology help student think differently about the world around them and are often more well-rounded team players. On the other hand, certificate programs are generally structed to last about a year with focus on core programs.
On the whole, hiring managers and physicians favor students who have earned a 2-year degree as it provides a more comprehensive education with a variety of subjects versus a narrow swath of specialty training. Employers prefer candidates with a broad educational background as they may encounter a variety of questions and issues requiring a synthesis of information and experience to solve.
Online Medical Assistant Degree Programs
Curriculum for an online Medical Assistant will vary from school to school depending on the curricular design and degree types selected. As an example, you may enroll in a certification program strictly focused on the core curriculum of an MA while another student will see different classes in an associate’s degree track. For academic purposes, we have culled a list of common classes you will experience when enrolled in an online medical assistant associate’s degree program:
- Allied Health
- Computer Applications
- English Composition
- Law & Ethics in Medicine
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Business Math
- Technical Writing
- Medical Transcription
- Medical Coding
- Clinical Procedures
Job Titles for a Medical Assistant
A Medical Assistant can work in a variety of settings depending on the constructs of the clinical office which directly affects the breadth of the job requirements. As such, there will be some variation in job titles across the country depending on roles, responsibilities, and employer preference. The most common job titles for a medical assistant we have found include:
- Clinical Medical Assistant
- Podiatric Medical Assistant
- Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)
- Clinical Assistant
- Doctor's Assistant
- Medical Assistant (MA)
- Chiropractor Assistant
- Medical Office Assistant
- Ophthalmic Technician
- Ophthalmic Medical Assistant
- Administrative Medical Assistant
- Optometric Assistant
- Optometric Technician
- Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)
What are the Job Responsibilities of a Medical Assistant?
The majority of Medical Assistants are trained to perform a number of jobs day over day within a clinic. A medical assistant is effectively a support service for a physician and must be adept at performing a number of duties to keep the office running smoothly every day. The U.S. Department of Labor recently conducted a study to collect information about the job responsibilities of a medical assistant. The most commonly cited jobs of a medical assistant were found to be the following:
- Answering the phone and greeting patients
- Managing billing & bookkeeping activities
- Documenting patient medical history
- Preparing patients for medical procedures and examinations
- Helping attending physicians with medical examinations
- Preparing medications as directed by physicians
- Coordinating prescription refills with physician authorization
- Arranging for laboratory tests and patient hospital transfers
- Collecting and preparing lab specimens
- Scheduling medical exams and appointments
- Maintaining medical records
- Coding insurance documents
- Drawing blood samples
- Removing stitches and changing medical dressings
Top 4 Certifications for a Medical Assistant
There are 4 major certifications for a Medical Assistant that are recognized by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. The four certifications include the following list in no particular order of importance:
- NCMA- National Certified Medical Assistant administered by the National Center for Competency Testing
- CMAC - Clinical Medical Assistant Certification administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants
- CCMA- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant administered by the National Healthcareer Association
- RMA- Registered Medical Assistant administered by American Medical Technologists
It is important to reach out to the medical board in your state of residence to discuss the best certification options for you as certification will vary from state to state.
Medical assistant programs provide the knowledge necessary to operate and finish duties within a medical environment such as a clinic or a hospital. Medical assistant programs will offer an associate's degree or certificate depending on the program and typically take between one to two years to complete based on the type of program one is enrolled in. The primary difference between the two is that a certification program offers only classes that are directly related to medical assistance whereas an associate's degree will also have general education courses necessary to earn a degree and the credits earned from which may also be used when pursuing higher level education.
An education in medical assisting may be obtained through private career colleges, specialized schools or community and junior colleges. Such schools typically provide the program and curriculum necessary to successfully enter the field of medical assistance. Students interested in entering the field may find that community and junior colleges generally have lower cost educations versus the accelerated curriculum of a private career college or specialized school.
Courses one may encounter in a medical assistant program include:
- Medical Terminology
- Human Anatomy, Physiology, and Pathology
- First Aid
- Medical Laws and Ethics
Schools Other Students Requested Information From:
Employment Information and Specializations
Though medical assistants do not need a post-secondary education to find work, it has become increasingly difficult to do so. Potential employers are quickly turning toward trained professionals to bring into the work place and it is prudent to consider at least a certificate program if one plans to enter the field. Medical assistants will help organize, file, and diagnose patients, if one is licensed to do so, among other tasks. Medical assistants working in a clinical setting may be required to obtain a license depending on state law.
Medical assistants primarily work in clinics and hospitals, though they may be found in smaller practices to assist physicians. The work done by a medical assistant assists in the day to day care of patients as well as administrative tasks as determined by the employer. Medical assistant will work under the supervision of nurses and physicians, as well as medical administrators.
Medical assistants may also pursue specializations, particularly in larger hospitals that require specific skills sets for specific areas of medicine. Such medical assistants may experience an increase in pay and responsibilities as specialization requires the development of new skills and additional knowledge. Clinical, pediatric, and administrative specializations are just some of the many fields a medical assistant may enter. Individuals pursuing long term careers will most likely cover several specializations, as well as expanding their overall skill set in order to provide as many services as possible for their patients and employers.
What Job Settings Exist for a Medical Assistant?
The job settings for a medical assistant can vary from employer to employer and diverge from one region of the country to the next. Generally, Medical Assistants can work in a hospital, doctor’s office, outpatient clinic, healthcare facility, or physician’s office. It is important to understand that over 50% of medical assistants work in a physician’s office.
Medical Assistant’s will typically work full time and mirror the hours of the clinic or medical office. The exception to this rule of thumb is the on-call work environment of an ambulatory medical assistant who works on-demand during a designated shift. Hiring managers and physicians look for articulate, well educated, medical assistants with exceptional communication skills and compassion for others.
Job Growth, Salary and Related Fields
Work for medical assistants is expected to grow rapidly over the coming years as a large portion of the population grows older. Demand for medical care will increase, as will the need for medical assistants. The overall demand over the next decade is expected to increase 31%. The increase in the number of health center, hospitals, care facilities, clinics and other service providers will create a number of new positions resulting in more opportunities to go along with opening in previously existing positions due to retirement or turnover.
The job outlook for Medical Assistants is exceptionally bright as this sector is set to grow 23% through 2024 which is over 3 times the national composite rate for all occupations during this same time frame. The median annual income for a Medical Assistant is $31,540 with a projected 262,100 job openings during this reporting period. The rapid growth is due, in part, to an aging population of baby-boomers who need of medical care coupled with a robust healthcare system. It stands to reason more and more clinics and medical offices will continue opening for the foreseeable future to help satisfy a growing demand over the coming decade.
States with the Highest Employment for Medical Assistants
- California 83,230
- Texas 57,960
- Florida 50,550
- Pennsylvania 26,760
- New York 23,870
Highest Paying States for a Medical Assistant
- Alaska $41,340
- District of Columbia $39,500
- Massachusetts $38,990
- Washington $38,020
- Minnesota $37,560
Largest Employers of Medical Assistants
- Physicians Offices 361,890
- Medical & Surgical Hospitals 90,730
- Health Practitioners 54,930
- Outpatient Care Facilities 53,760
- Assisted Living Facilities 9,760
Those interested in becoming a medical assistant may also wish to consider a career as a physical therapist assistant, pharmacy technician, or occupational therapist assistant. For additional information about the Medical Assistant profession, please visit our blog for a career overview and important details about the profession.