Medical assistants provide patient care and perform administrative tasks in doctors' offices and clinics. If you're looking for a health care career that doesn't require you to attend medical school, then you might consider becoming a medical assistant.
Medical assistants help health care professionals, such as physicians, provide patient care and ensure that medical facilities operate smoothly.
If you're interested in a health care career but nursing or medical school doesn't feel like quite the right fit, then a job as a medical assistant could be right for you. Through a mix of administrative work and direct patient care, you'll help keep medical facilities operating efficiently, so doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals can do their jobs.
Read on to find guidance on what medical assistants do, what you’ll need to do to become one, and other key information for becoming a medical assistant.
Medical assistants are health care professionals responsible for the smooth operation of medical facilities and assisting physicians with patient care. They work with doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals to ensure patients receive the care they need.
Medical assistants may have dozens of duties to perform each day. Depending on where you work, they might include:
Greeting patients who come in for appointments
Assisting nurses with clinical duties
Answering phones, emails, and messages from online portals
Handling billing and insurance
Maintaining medical records
Scheduling appointments and procedures
Taking down a patient's medical history or list of symptoms
Cleaning and restocking exam rooms
Measuring and recording vital signs, like pulse, temperature, and blood pressure
Explaining new medications to patients
Drawing blood or creating IV access
Performing basic diagnostic tests, like EKGs
Caring for wounds
Helping doctors and nurses with medical exams
Collecting and preparing laboratory specimens or performing laboratory tests on patients
Depending on the state regulations where you live and the preference of the facility where you work, your tasks may focus solely on either administrative work or clinical work.
Being a medical assistant can be a rewarding career for those looking to help others without spending years in medical school. If you’re interested in becoming a medical assistant, then the following steps can help guide you to your new career.
If you want to become a medical assistant, then you'll need to finish high school or get your GED. Typically, these qualifications are the minimum required to get into most medical assistant programs.
Medical careers are all about helping others in need. In order to be a good medical assistant, you'll likely need the following skills in order to help both patients and other health care professionals:
Ability to work on teams
Good at both verbal and written communication
Able to work under pressure
Read more: What Are Job Skills and Why Do They Matter?
Administrative tasks are a part of the job for many medical assistants. That means you'll be maintaining records, handling bookkeeping, taking care of billing, and scheduling appointments on a computer. Many doctor’s offices also use online portals to communicate with their patients.
For this reason, you'll likely need to have basic computer skills, like familiarity with Microsoft Office.
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Once you've decided you want to become a medical assistant, you'll need to research and apply to accredited medical assistant programs. These programs are offered both online and in-person through vocational schools, community colleges, technical schools, and, in some cases, colleges and universities. They typically take a year or two to complete, and they'll cover a variety of topics, ranging from anatomy and physiology to first aid.
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Many medical assistant programs require you to complete an internship before you receive your diploma. Even if yours doesn't, you might consider completing one anyway to gain hands-on experience in a clinical setting, so you can practice tasks like taking vital signs and performing minor diagnostic tests. Internships or externships can also make you more competitive as a job applicant.
While certification isn't always necessary, some states and employers do require it, and it can lead to a higher salary.
You can become certified by fulfilling certification requirements, which often require exams. Some common certifications include the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certification, offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants, and the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) certification offered by the American Medical Technologists. Some positions may also require you to be CPR-certified.
There are many other certifications available. Check with your school to find out what it recommends, or take a look at job descriptions in your area to see if one is preferred over others.
Read more: What Is a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)?
Before you start pouring over the internet to find a job, try networking first. This means reaching out to instructors, professors, classmates, and people you know personally with medical careers. You may even find that the clinic where you completed your internship has a job opening.
Though big hospital networks might be more recognizable, don’t forget to apply to smaller operations, like a local doctor's office. A smaller setting is more likely to make you responsible for several different types of tasks, which can be a great way to build experience. Decide which one works best for you, but be open to unexpected opportunities.
Prepare for interviews by practicing your answers to typical questions. You'll think of good potential answers and be ready when you are face-to-face with the interviewer. Here are some questions you might encounter in a medical assistant interview:
What experience do you have in a medical setting?
Why did you choose to become a medical assistant?
How do you handle stressful situations?
What would you do if you encountered a difficult patient?
Why did you choose this office or clinic?
Are you certified in first aid and CPR?
What computer or medical software experience do you have?
Many people choose to work as medical assistants while they attend training programs or degree programs for other medical careers, like paramedics, nurses, and doctors. Even if you want to remain a medical assistant, you can keep up with the ever-changing medical world by taking courses in your field.
Explore a career in medicine by taking an online course from a leading university, such as Duke University's Introductory Human Physiology or the University of Pennsylvania's Vital Signs: Understanding What the Body Is Telling Us. Or, develop a better understanding of clinical terms and abbreviations used by health care providers through the University of Pittsburgh Clinical Terminology for International and U.S. Students.
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Fifty-seven percent of medical assistants work in doctor's offices, reports the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), but they can work in any medical setting, like hospitals, urgent care clinics, nursing homes, outpatient care centers, and chiropractic offices .
Your schedule will depend largely on where you work. For example, doctor's offices are typically open during regular business hours, so you'll have nights and weekends off. But, if you work in a hospital or urgent care clinic, then you may work anytime, including overnight shifts, weekends, and holidays.
If you want to become a medical assistant in the next ten years, then job prospects are generally good. Accordingt to the BLS, the number of job openings for medical assistants is expected to grow by 16 percent between 2021 and 2031. This is more three times higher than the average job growth for all jobs combined in the US, which the BLS puts at 5 percent for the same period .
While the two jobs are similar, medical assistants typically take on more duties and earn more money. CNAs usually handle clinical tasks only, while medical assistants take on both clinical and administrative tasks.
US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Medical Assistants, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm." Accessed November 21, 2022.
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.