A career as a medical assistant entails carrying out administrative and clinical tasks for physicians and other health practitioners. Duties vary according to the size and specialty of the practice. State regulations will also determine the type of clinical work medical assistants can perform. General job responsibilities of medical assistants include:
- Creating and updating patient medical files
- Scheduling patient appointments, answering phone calls, and filling out insurance forms
- Assisting physicians with patient examinations
- Drawing and preparing blood for laboratory tests
- Preparing patients for X-rays, removing stitches, and changing dressings
Entrants to this promising field look to have plenty of room, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment of medical assistants to grow by 31% from 2010 to 2020. The health needs of the nation's large and aging baby-boom population is stimulating this faster-than-average job growth. As medical practices expand to accommodate more patients, chiropractors, podiatrists, pediatricians, and other physicians will need to hire more medical assistants to handle routine administrative and clinical tasks.
Medical assistants are not the same as physician assistants. Physician assistants examine, diagnose, and treat patients under the supervision of a physician.
Launching Medical Assistant Careers
To become a medical assistant, typically a high school diploma or the equivalent and a certificate or diploma from an accredited community college or vocational or technical school are needed. In most states, there are no formal educational requirements to become a medical assistant, but many employers favor candidates who have graduated from an accredited certificate, diploma, or degree program. Some states do require clinical assistants to successfully complete an accredited program or state exam or both.
There are several accredited medical assistant certificate programs available completely online. Traditional on-campus programs may provide additional hands-on laboratory and field experience. Some of the classes you may take in a typical medical assisting certificate and degree program include:
- Medical Terminology
- Medical Billing and Insurance Claims
- Basic Human Anatomy and Physiology
- Introduction to Patient Medications
Certification for medical assistants is available from several accredited organizations, including Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certification from the American Association of Medical Assistants and National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) certification from the National Center for Competency Testing. In order to be eligible to take the CMA exam, a medical assistant must complete a medical assistant program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools. No formal education is required to take the NCMA exam.