Medical Assistants

 

Medical assistants perform administrative and clinical tasks to keep the offices of physicians, podiatrists, chiropractors, and other health practitioners running smoothly.

 

Medical Assistant at work

Medical Assistant at work

The duties of medical assistants vary from office to office, depending on the location and size of the practice and the practitioner’s specialty. In small practices, medical assistants usually do many different kinds of tasks, handling both administrative and clinical duties and reporting directly to an office manager, physician, or other health practitioner. Those in large practices tend to specialize in a particular area, under the supervision of department administrators.

Medical assistants should not be confused with physician assistants, who examine, diagnose, and treat patients under the direct supervision of a physician.

How Much They Earn:

The earnings of medical assistants vary, depending on their experience, skill level, and location. Median annual wages of wage-and-salary medical assistants were $28,300 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $23,700 and $33,050. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,600, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $39,570.

Education & Certification:

Some medical assistants are trained on the job, but many complete 1- or 2-year programs.

Medical assisting programs are offered in vocational-technical schools, community and junior colleges, and several online schools. Programs usually last either 1 year and result in a certificate or diploma, or 2 years and result in an associate degree.

Courses cover anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology, as well as keyboarding, transcription, recordkeeping, accounting, and insurance processing. Students learn laboratory techniques, clinical and diagnostic procedures, pharmaceutical principles, the administration of medications, and first aid. They study office practices, patient relations, medical law, and ethics.

There are two accrediting bodies that accredit medical assisting programs. Accredited programs often include an internship that provides practical experience in physicians’ offices or other healthcare facilities.

Some States allow medical assistants to perform more advanced procedures, such as giving injections or taking x rays, after passing a test or taking a course.

Medical assistants deal with the public; therefore, they must be neat and well groomed and have a courteous, pleasant manner and they must be able to put patients at ease and explain physicians’ instructions. They must respect the confidential nature of medical information. Clinical duties require a reasonable level of manual dexterity and visual acuity.

Certification indicates that a medical assistant meets certain standards of knowledge. It may also help to distinguish an experienced or formally trained assistant from an entry-level assistant, which may lead to a higher salary or more employment opportunities.

There are various associations—such as the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and Association of Medical Technologists (AMT)—that award certification credentials to medical assistants.

Medical assistants may also advance to other occupations through experience or additional training. For example, some may go on to teach medical assisting, and others pursue additional education to become nurses or other healthcare workers. Administrative medical assistants may advance to office managers, or qualify for a variety of administrative support occupations.

Job Prospects:

Medical Assistants are among the fastest growing occupations right now, with a projected growth rate of over 34% in the 2008-2018 decade. Job opportunities should be excellent, particularly for those with formal training or experience, and certification.

As the healthcare industry expands because of technological advances in medicine and the growth and aging of the population, there will be an increased need for all healthcare workers. The increasing prevalence of certain conditions, such as obesity and diabetes, also will increase demand for healthcare services and medical assistants. Increasing use of medical assistants to allow doctors to care for more patients will further stimulate job growth.