A Medical Assistant (MA) is an integral member of the health care delivery team, qualified by education and experience to work in the administrative office, the examining room and the physician office laboratory. The Medical Assistant, also a liaison between the doctor and the patient, is of vital importance to the success of the medical practice.
Nature of the Work
Medical Assistants perform routine administrative and clinical tasks to keep the offices and clinics of numerous health professionals running smoothly. They should not be confused with Physician Assistants. Physician Assistants have expanded duties and actually examine, diagnose and treat patients under direct supervision of a physician.
Duties for Medical Assistants vary depending on the state in which an MA practices, office size and whether an MA specializes in a particular area. In small offices, most Medical Assistants handle both administrative and clinical duties and are considered “generalists.” Also, MAs in small offices tend to report directly to a physician, health practitioner or office manager. In larger offices, most Medical Assistants tend to specialize in a particular area. MAs in large offices generally report to department administrators or other operations management. Duties could vary by state. However, typical duties performed by Medical Assistants are included in the following task list:
Typical Medical Assistant Duties: (Download)
Medical Assistant Poster: (Download) - color copies available upon request
The Lawful Scope of Practice for Medical Assistants—2012 Update (Download)
Education and Training
Most employers prefer graduates who graduated from an accredited Medical Assisting program. Accredited Medical Assisting programs are offered in postsecondary vocational schools, junior colleges and in colleges and universities. Postsecondary programs usually last either one year or less which results in a certificate or diploma or two years with an associate degree.
Formal training is not mandatory but recommended. Some high schools offer courses covering those needed and, with the volunteering in a health care setting, provide enough education to begin a career in Medical Assisting. However, without formal training, certification is not eligible until five years of experience is reached. Formal education is recommended by many employers. Most accredited programs include an internship that provides practical experience in a hospital, healthcare facility or physicians’office.
Accredited Programs: At least two agencies are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Accreditation Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). There are currently about 700 Medical Assisting programs accredited by these two organizations.
Certification/Licensing: There is no licensing for Medical Assistants, however, some states require them to take a test or course before they can perform certain job duties, such as x-rays. Employers prefer to hire experienced workers and many prefer certified applicants who have passed a national examination, indicating that the Medical Assistant meet certain standards of competence.
Advancement: Medical Assistants are able to advance to office manager or a variety of administrative duties and may teach Medical Assisting courses after a number of years of experience. Some Medical Assistants return to school for more education to become nurses, Medical Laboratory Technicians, Medical Technologists or enter into other health related occupations. Some Medical Assistants also certify as Phlebotomy Technicians (the practice of drawing blood) and Medical Administrative Specialists in addition to their Medical Assisting certification.
Employment of Medical Assistants is expected to grow much faster than average for all occupations through the year 2014 as the health care industry expands because of technological advances in medicine and the growth and aging of the population. Increasing utilization of Medical Assistants in the rapidly growing health care industry will further stimulate job growth. In fact, Medical Assisting is projected to be one of the fastest growing occupations over the 2004-14 period.
Employment growth will be driven by the increase in the number of group practices, clinics, and other health care facilities that need a high proportion of support personnel, particularly the flexible Medical Assistant who can handle both administrative and clinical duties. Medical Assistants work primarily in outpatient settings, a rapidly growing sector of the health care industry.
In view of the preference of many health care employers for trained personnel, job prospects should be best for Medical Assistants with formal training or experience, particularly for those with certification.
The earnings of Medical Assistants vary, depending on their experience, skill level, and location. Median annual earnings of Medical Assistants were $28,860 in May 2010. The middle 50 percent earned between $24,370 and $34,450. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,810, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $40,190. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of medical assistants in May 2010 were:
General medical and surgical hospitals $30,770
Outpatient care centers $30,490
Offices of physicians $30,110
Offices of other health practitioners $26,820
Profession Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics:
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