All About Medical Assisting Careers

Looking for a career in the medical field that's financially and personally rewarding? A medical assisting career might be perfect for you...

A medical assisting career is a compassionate one, dedicated to helping others.

The basic role of a medical assistant is to free up the doctor's time by performing clinical (helping with medical procedures) and administrative (scheduling, etc.) tasks.

If you enjoy interacting with people, then you're the ideal candidate to become a medical assistant. You'll be dealing with a variety of ages of patients as well as ethnic backgrounds.

It's one of the fastest growing occupations in the healthcare industry. What does this mean to you? Job security!

While many jobs are being downsized or eliminated, the need for medical assistants has never been greater. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the medical assisting profession will grow by 34% through 2018. They also rank it as one of the best career paths to pick over the next several years.

But why is this area growing so fast? The reason is that as baby boomers age, there's a greater need for medical services. As medical technology makes more and more advances, the life span of people increases, creating a larger elderly population needing medical care.

In addition the increase of conditions like obesity and diabetes will also mean more and more people need healthcare services - and thus medical assistants.


What do medical assisting careers involve?

What do medical assisting careers involve?

Medical assistants are vital to the successful operation of a doctor's medical practice. Like medical billers and coders, medical assistants free up the doctor's time so that he or she can spend more of it caring for the patient.

Medical assistants perform administrative and clinical tasks, or sometimes both. The exact tasks depend on the size of the office and the specialty of the physician.

Administrative responsibilities include things like:

  • Noting down patients' basic details (name, current address, etc.) at the front desk
  • Verifying patients' insurance
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Updating and filing medical records
  • and handling patients' questions and concerns.

A medical assistant would be expected to handle billing for the office, such as third-party billing, past due accounts, and any monies that come through the practice.

They have to know how to handle insurance billing and coding and understand the way the companies work. In addition, they must be an excellent communicator on the telephone, in person, and in writing. All these traits make medical assistants indispensable in the office!

On the clinical side, a medical assistant has a wide variety of duties which may include:

  • Taking vital signs (weight, blood pressure, respiration and temperature). It takes roughly 5 to 10 minutes to take a patient's vital signs.
  • Recording the patient's chief complaint
  • Drawing blood
  • Administering injections
  • Collecting and preparing laboratory specimens
  • and taking electrocardiograms (EKG).

When the doctor is looking over the patient, you might also have to pass over medical instruments or monitor the patient's response to the exam. You might also have to comfort the patient and explain to them in simple terms what the doctor is doing.

Once the clinical side is finished, you might have to take on administrative responsibilities once more, such as noting down the charges for the procedure and scheduling a new appointment.


What's the salary like?

The salary for medical assisting careers is quite attractive. Your actual salary depends on where you live, your experience and skill level, and whether you work in a medical office or hospital.

On average most medical assistants make between $20,000 to $31,000 per annum. On an hourly basis that's $10.50 to $14.00 an hour. If you work in a hospital your salary will be higher still.

Because of the nationwide demand for medical assistants you'll be able to find a job pretty much anywhere you choose to live.


How to get started

How to get started in medical assisting

You don't have to go to school for two to four years to become a medical assistant. Most medical assisting programs take one year or less to finish.

See: Are medical assisting programs right for me?

You'll find medical assisting programs at vocational schools, colleges and community colleges. Most schools focus on training you in the subjects you need to know and use on a daily basis. Your classes will include learning about administrative duties as well as laboratory techniques.

This article explains your various options for learning and getting a degree in medical assisting.

See also the top 7 medical assisting colleges.

You can also opt to study online. This option has its upsides, but you need to be very self-motivated! See the 5 traits of successful online medical assisting students.

This page explains everything that you'll be expected to learn in your medical assisting classes, so you can start your course prepared!


Certification

You may be able to start a medical assisting job straight after school, but it's recommended that you get certified beforehand. Certification makes you more eligible for hire and usually gives you more job security. Learn more about medical assisting certification here.

The 2 accrediting organizations in medical assisting are CAAHEP (Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs) and ABHES (Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools). Their websites have a lot of useful information on accreditation requirements and which schools each organization accredits.

You'll study anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, bookkeeping, transcription, and other classes related to medicine.

In labs you'll learn about laboratory procedures, diagnostic testing, medications, and how the medications work.

Here's a guide to terminology you'll come across as a medical assistant.

You can prepare yourself for the exam by learning what it tests you! This overview of the medical assisting certification exam explains what's in it.

Once you receive your diploma and certification you're ready to start working! A lot of recently-graduated medical assistants find there are jobs waiting for them straight after they finish school. See our primer on where to find medical assisting jobs to increase your chances of getting employed even more.

The great thing about becoming a certified medical assistant is that it can be your springboard to other areas of medicine. Some medical assistants continue their education and become nurses, physician assistants, certified x-ray technicians, etc.

If, after a while as a medical assistant, you feel a pull to give more to the medical community, you can become an instructor. This guide to getting medical assisting instructor jobs explains how.


What characteristics do you need to excel in a medical assisting career?

  • You need to be very well organized and have good attention to detail
  • You have to be able to multi-task
  • You need to look and act professionally
  • You must be courteous and respectful towards patients and co-workers
  • You have to be able to put patients at ease, and be able to clearly explain the physician's instructions to them.

You should be very familiar with your scope of practice as a medical assistant. This determines what you can and can't do, and changes state-by-state!

It's very important that you maintain the confidentiality of each patient.

Since medical assistants focus on the physical, emotional, and mental needs of the patients, you must be able to communicate effectively with them.

As a medical assistant you can feel good knowing you are contributing to the well-being of your patients.

It's also a career you can be proud of. You are a very important member of the medical team. A lot of the responsibility of a smoothly run medical practice depends on you. And you can feel good that you are in a profession that is continually growing and gaining more respect as time goes by.

If you choose to go ahead and pursue a medical assisting career, we wish you the best of luck! Explore the links on this page to learn more about this wonderful career.

You'll find lots more useful information at the American Association of Medical Assistants website.




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