Medical assistants support physicians and nurses with a range of medical and administrative tasks in clinics, hospitals and other environments.
Common duties include taking vital signs, administering shots, conducting insurance coding, checking in patients and updating and filing patient charts. In many ways, medical assistants offer registered and licensed practical nurses relief. Some clinics, however, prefer to hire medical assistants in place of nurses, owing to their lower salaries.
Education requirements for the position vary. However, the minimum requirement is that a candidate for an entry level medical assistant job has a high school diploma or high school equivalency diploma.
Many new medical assistants experience on-the-job training for several months. During this time, they learn medical terminology, how to record patient health information and clinic or hospital practices among other things.
Some states and many employers require medical assistants to complete formal education programs. Other employers give preference to graduates of medical assistant education programs.
The typical medical assistant certificate program lasts about one year and offers instruction in medical terminology, anatomy, math, science, first aid, insurance procedures and pharmacology, along with requiring laboratory coursework.
Medical assistants who hold certificates are qualified to code and file insurance forms, update patient records, schedule appointments, request lab services and collect specimens.
Those who would like to advance as a medical assistant are best advised to earn a two-year degree. Having an associate’s degree in medical assisting enables a person to draw blood, take X-rays, authorize prescription refills, remove stitches, draw blood and prepare and administer medications under a doctor’s supervision.
It also tends to command a higher salary and make a person a more attractive job candidate in general.
The American Association of Medical Assistants requires an associate’s degree from an accredited institution as well as successful completion of an exam for its Certified Medical Assistant credential, which must be renewed every five years. There are other professional medical assistant organizations throughout the United States, but the AAMA remains the best known and most respected.
The job outlook for medical assistants remains bright, largely owing to the aging Baby Boomer population, which will require more preventative and follow-up care as years go by. Clinics will rely on medical assistants more than ever to free physicians to see a larger volume of patients. The number of positions are expected to grow by 29 percent by 2022, which is considerably faster than most occupations.