Are you interested in medical assisting but aren’t sure what the job requires? Find out what it takes to work as a medical assistant career professional.
Do you enjoy caring for people and want to make a difference in a meaningful way on the job? A medical assistant (MA) cares for patients, engages in a wide variety of physician’s office duties, and serves as an integral part of the health care delivery team. If you would like a role as liaison between the doctor and patient, the role of medical assistant may be right for you! In this post, you’ll learn more about the role of a medical assistant, how to become one and what the job outlook for medical assistants is like.
What Does a Medical Assistant Do?
Medical assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks in the offices of physicians, podiatrists, chiropractors, and other health practitioners. The medical assistant is often a liaison between the doctor and the patient. While duties vary depending on the specialty and the size of the practice, medical assistants typically do the following:
- Record patient history and personal information
- Measure vital signs, such as blood pressure
- Help the physician with patient examinations
- Give patients injections or medications as directed by the physician and as permitted by state law
- Schedule patient appointments
- Prepare blood samples for laboratory tests
- Enter patient information into medical records
Medical assistants must be able to understand medical charts and diagnoses on paper charts or electronic health records. Medical assistants should be able to use basic clinical instruments to take a patient’s vital signs, such as heart rate and blood pressure. They need to be precise when taking vital signs or recording patient information and able to keep that information confidential and discuss it only with other medical personnel who are involved in treating the patient. They often interact with patients who may be in pain or in distress, so they need to be able to act in a calm and professional manner.
The Path to Becoming a Medical Assistant
Becoming a medical assistant requires completion of courses that address the competencies of a medical assistant. Formal training is not mandatory but recommended. Some professional medical assistants learn their skills through on-the-job training.
Choosing an Accredited Program
Most employers prefer to hire medical assistants who have graduated from an accredited medical assisting program. Accredited medical assisting programs are offered through postsecondary vocational schools, community colleges, and colleges and universities. It is a wise decision to choose a school program that is accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
Completion of a post-secondary program may take either 1) one year or less, which results in a certificate or diploma, or 2) two years with an associate degree. Most accredited programs include an internship that provides practical experience in a healthcare facility or physicians’ office.
Some high schools and career tech schools offer courses covering the necessary topics, which along with volunteer work in a health care setting can provide enough education to begin a career in medical assisting.
Medical assistants are not required by most states to be certified in order to work. However, employers prefer to hire medical assistants who are certified by a certifying body, such as American Medical Technologists (AMT). Choosing a certifying body is just as important as choosing a school or medical assisting program. When you choose a certification that is rigorous and practical, you are showing employers and patients that they can trust your skills and knowledge.
To get certified through AMT, you must meet certain eligibility criteria as a “route” to certification and pass an exam. These routes include graduation from an accredited program or work experience or both.Those who meet the requirements have an excellent chance of passing the certification exam.
AMT provides certification to medical assistants who, upon passing the exam, become members of the AMT professional association and can use the designation Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) after their names. AMT certification is a national certification and is not limited to specific states. AMT offers certification to working medical assistants through a work experience route as well as for graduates of medical assisting programs.
The examinations supporting the certification programs are intended to assess the knowledge underlying the competent performance of primary tasks typically required of healthcare practitioners at entry into an occupation. AMT’s RMA certification is targeted at individuals who are completing their education as well as those who already work in the field but are not yet certified. We target entry level practitioners across all states in the US and through our eligibility criteria identify those who qualify to be certified by AMT. If you are interested in becoming certified through AMT as an RMA visit our Medical Assisting page to determine if you are eligible.
Want help choosing the application route that's right for you?
Medical Assistant Job Outlook
Medical assistants held about 720,900 jobs in 2020. These assistants can work in healthcare facilities and more than half hold jobs in physicians’ offices. Employment is expected to grow by 18 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations. Demand will stem from physicians hiring more medical assistants to do routine administrative and clinical duties so that physicians can see more patients. The growth of the aging baby boomer population will continue to spur demand for preventive medical services, which are often provided by physicians. As their practices expand, physicians will hire more medical assistants to perform routine administrative and clinical duties, allowing the physicians to see more patients. Medical assistants will likely continue to be used in place of more expensive workers, such as nurses, to reduce costs.
Medical Assistant Salary
The earnings of medical assistants vary depending on their experience, skill level and location. Median annual earnings of medical assistants were $37,190 in May 2021. The highest 10 percent earned more than $48,170. Medical assistants that worked in outpatient care centers had the highest median wages at $38,270 per year.
Want to Learn More About the Medical Assistant Role?
Check out our blog on the leadership opportunities for medical assistants.