Medical assisting is one of the quickest entry points into the healthcare field. It is also one of the fastest-growing careers today. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of medical assistants is expected to grow between 2020 and 2030, with more than 104,000 job openings expected each year. If you are looking to become a medical assistant, now is the time to start your career path.
Of course, you may still have questions about the role of a medical assistant. What does a medical assistant do, exactly, and does the job description align with your interests and goals? What will your responsibilities be as a medical assistant, and what level of training will you need to get started?
To help guide your career decisions, we take a closer look at the medical assistant role below.
What is a Medical Assistant?
Medical assistants are trained healthcare professionals that help to keep medical facilities running smoothly. They assist doctors and nurses with a range of clinical and administrative duties, from office management to direct patient care. Medical assistants typically work in private practices, hospitals, and health clinics.
When many people think of a medical office, they often think of doctors and nurses bustling about. However, it is the medical assistant that you typically interact with upon starting your doctor’s visit. Medical assistants are often the ones who will show you to the exam room, take your vital signs, check your height and weight, and listen to your symptoms and health concerns. They then pass all that information along to the doctor. This helps to streamline your medical visit.
While their job description may vary depending on their workplace, the duties of a medical assistant are typically divided into two categories: administrative and clinical. Therefore, medical assistants must have a well-rounded, multifaceted skillset—which helps to set them apart from other healthcare specialists.
What Does a Medical Assistant Do on a Daily Basis?
A day-in-the-life of a medical assistant will involve a combination of clinical work and administrative support.
On the clinical side, medical assistants can be found preparing patients for exams, recording medical histories, and working under the direction of a physician. On the administrative side, medical assistants may help with scheduling patient appointments, stocking inventory, and filing patients’ medical records. But this is just the beginning of the many tasks a medical assistant can do.
Medical assistants may also help with:
- Patient intake
- Answering phone calls
- Scheduling appointments
- Preparing exam rooms
- Sterilizing medical tools
- Stocking medical supplies
- Taking patients’ vital signs
- Updating medical charts
- Recording patients’ symptoms and histories
- Assisting with minor procedures, under the direction of a physician
Ultimately, the medical assistant helps to streamline processes in a medical office.
To give you the best idea of what medical assistants do, we’ve compiled the most common duties of a medical assistant below. All these skills are actively taught, practiced, and perfected in our medical assistant program, which is offered primarily online to aspiring medical assistants.
Clinical Medical Assistant Duties
- Prepare exam rooms prior to and in between patient visits
- Help patients to their exam rooms
- Interview patients about current symptoms and medical histories
- Measure patient vital signs, such as blood pressure and heart rate
- Collect blood samples for diagnostic testing
- Conduct basic laboratory tests
- Prepare patients for x-rays
- Help patients feel comfortable during their visit
- Assist physicians with general patient care
- Administer medications or injections, as directed by a physician (permitted in some states)
- Set up and operate EKG machinery (permitted in some states)
- Remove stitches and change bandages
- Stock medical supplies and sterilize medical instruments
- Dispense or transmit prescription medications
- Explain important information (such as after care procedures, prescription medications, or special diets) to patients, on behalf of the acting physician
Administrative Medical Assistant Duties
- Greet and welcome patients into the facility
- Answer telephones and schedule patient visits
- File and update patients’ medical records
- Update electronic health records (EHR) and use EHR software
- Record patient medical histories and personal information
- Code and complete insurance documentation
- Handle bookkeeping and general office mail
- Call affiliate facilities to arrange diagnostic testing, as needed
- Arrange hospital admissions for patients, as needed
What Does a Specialized Medical Assistant Do?
Some medical assistants are responsible for both clinical and administrative tasks, while others might specialize in one side of medical assisting. Additionally, some medical assistants become specialized in a certain area of medicine, depending on the type of office they work in. For example:
- Medical assistants in OB/GYN offices might help with pap tests, breast exams, or help assist in the care of pregnant women.
- Medical assistants in a podiatrist’s office may assist with minor surgeries, make castings of feet, and expose and develop x-rays.
- In an ophthalmic office, medical assistants might insert, remove, and care for contact lenses, as well as help with minor eye surgeries.
- In a cardiology clinic, medical assistants may specialize in electro-cardiology, help with EKGs, and assist in stress testing procedures, under the direction of the cardiologist.
Where Can Medical Assistants Work?
Most medical assistants – about 57 percent in the United States – work in the offices of physicians’. However, these offices can be specialized in one area of medicine, like family medicine, OB/GYN, and pediatrics. This means that you can choose a career path that aligns with your interests.
Some examples of medical assisting workplaces include:
- Ambulatory healthcare services
- Chiropractors’ offices
- Family medicine practices
- Health centers
- Healthcare practitioner offices
- Hospital facilities
- Medical laboratories
- Medical offices
- OB/GYN practices
- Outpatient care facilities
- Physicians’ offices
- Podiatrists’ offices
- Walk-in clinics
Achieving a Medical Assistant Career
Instead of asking, “What does a medical assistant do?” we like to ask, what don’t medical assistants do? Medical assistants are capable of both front-office and back-office assistance in a healthcare facility. They act as support specialists to licensed medical staff, and also as liaisons between patients and physicians. This multidimensionality makes medical assisting a great career choice for anyone seeking a diverse and always exciting role.
Now the question remains, how do you get started?
In order to become a medical assistant, you must enroll in a postsecondary medical assistant program. These are offered at the certificate and associate degree level. Both types of programs will prepare you with coursework in medical terminology, pharmacology, medical office management, laboratory and diagnostic procedures, medical insurance, and more. Medical assisting programs also offer clinical experiences, readying you to become a well-versed medical assistant upon graduation day.
At Goodwin University, students are enrolled in both the medical assisting certificate and associate degree programs. Once the certificate portion of the curriculum is completed, students are eligible to apply for their professional credentials through any of the following paths:
- Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) examination administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)
- Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) examination administered by the American Medical Technologists (AMT)
- Medical Assistant Certification (CCMA) examination administered by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
The education, experience, and further, certifications, will enable you to become an outstanding medical assistant where you can truly support patients and medical professionals in an integrated, hands-on work environment. You may find rewarding careers in ambulatory healthcare services, family medicine practices, physicians’ offices, and more.
The best part is, getting there is entirely flexible. At Goodwin University, the medical assisting programs are now offered online, on campus, or in a hybrid format. If you are interested in getting started, do not hesitate to contact us today. You can request information online here, or call us at 800-889-3282 to learn more.
Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.