Medical assistants are the people who help a variety of health care practitioners keep their organizations functioning. They provide both administrative and clinical services, with duties depending on the type of office. The good news is that, like many health care jobs, medical assistant opportunities are expected to increase in the next several years.
Administrative Medical Assistants
Administrative assistants help manage the office itself. They are often the first point of contact for the patients, answering phone calls and greeting visitors. They can be assigned billing responsibilities, which involves inputting patients’ health information, completing and submitting insurance forms and following up on the accounts. They may be in charge of purchasing office supplies and keeping office equipment operating.
Clinical Medical Assistants
Clinical medical assistants help with some of the medical care. This can include performing the initial intake of the patient by inputting the patient’s medical history and symptoms and checking vital signs such as blood pressure. Clinical medical assistants may help the doctor with the examination, take blood samples and give injections. They may help the patient understand the doctor’s instructions about prescriptions, nutrition or other issues. They also may oversee the proper sterilization and disposal of medical instruments.
Some clinical medical assistants specialize in specific areas, such in assisting ophthalmologists or podiatrists. They must learn more specialized terminology and duties.
In smaller health care practices, medical assistants are expected to perform both administrative and medical duties.
Medical Assistant Job Outlook
This is a good time to become a medical assistant, since the federal government projects employment in this field will grow by 29 percent by 2022. At a time when other occupations are stagnating or even decreasing, such a growth rate is excellent. One reason for this growth is that a large population is beginning to enter its golden years, when the need for health care grows. As more health care services are needed, more medical assistants are needed to help doctors and others provide that service. Another reason for the bright job outlook is the result of the Affordable Care Act. Also known as Obamacare, this new federal law is requiring most people to have health insurance. That means more people will have access to health care and will need medical assistants to help them with it.
Training and Education
Although it has been possible to learn some facets of medical assisting with just a high school education and training from an employer, most work sites today expect medical assistants to have additional education. In fact, some states require this. Postsecondary programs at community colleges, vocational schools, technical schools and some universities offer medical assisting training. Shorter programs, about a year or so, often lead to a certificate. Longer programs, such as at community colleges, take two years and result in an associate’s degree.
The education will include basic anatomy, medical terminology and laboratory practice. It can also give instruction on how to work with patients and office personnel. An important skill is learning how to understand and work with electronic health records and insurance data. In fact, this latter skill will be crucial as the federal health care law prompts big changes in the field.
Certification is available form these organizations: the American Association of Medical Assistants, American Medical Technologists, the National Center for Competency Testing and the National Heathcareer Association.
The median salary is $29,370, according to 2012 statistics. The lowest 10 percent of medical assistants earned less than $21,080 and the top 10 percent received more than $41,570. The longer a medical assistant stays on the job, the higher her wages become.
Medical assistants work in an office environment. Most work in doctors’ offices. Some work in hospitals, laboratories or other health care facilities. While daytime hours are common, some medical assistants must work very early in the morning, at night or on the weekends.