Medical assistants help hospitals and doctor’s offices with administrative and clinical tasks. This guide will cover how to become one, what being a medical assistant is like, and what it takes to succeed as one.
How To Become A Medical Assistant
Getting hired as a medical assistant mostly depends on the office or hospital doing the hiring. For most people, though becoming a medical assistant takes 1-2 years after high school and consists of post secondary training, certification, and possibly an internship.
Graduate from high school or earn a general equivalency degree (G.E.D.).
Earning a high school diploma or G.E.D. is necessary for being a medical assistant. While earning that diploma, it is a good idea to study fields related to medicine, such as biology and chemistry. This scientific base will make the next level of training easier.
Find out if you need postsecondary education.
Some physician offices will hire high school graduates. Others, however, might require 1-2 years of postsecondary education in a medical assistant training program. Still others require certification. Certification is not necessary, but can greatly improve one’s chances of getting a job.
Undergo the necessary training to be a medical assistant.
Many medical assistant training programs offered by universities can be completed in one year. Some colleges and universities offer associate degrees in medical assisting that students can earn as well, to be completed in two years. Both programs consist of further training in anatomy as well as laboratory portions.
Earn medical assistant certification.
Some training programs conclude with certification, but others do not. Medical assistants can earn several different certifications, with Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certification being the most sought-after certification. It is earned by passing the CMA test.
Complete internship in medical office.
While some medical assistants might be hired after certification, others might need to complete an internship first. This internship would serve as valuable experience that could set up a medical assistant for a long-term job.
The main cost associated with becoming a medical assistant is the cost of postsecondary training (which can range from $1,000 at the U.S. Career Institute to $13,000 at Southern Methodist University, though most can expect to pay between $3,000 and $10,000), as well as certification (in the case of the CMA test, $125 for members, $250 for non-members). One might also need to buy a book ($20-$30) or pay for a course specifically to pass the certification test.
Job Description / Responsibilities
Medical assistants serve a crucial role in doctor’s offices as they assist with both medical and administrative tasks, though some larger offices or hospitals might ask assistants to specialize and focus more on one side of the job than the other.
- Talk to patients who come into the office or call the office and serve as the first point of contact for patients, ensuring the patient experience begins positively.
- Schedule patient appointments and manage the office’s calendar, send out appointment reminders and follow up on billing questions.
- Ask patients to provide their medical records so that the office has accurate information, ensure that the patient’s medical records are up-to-date every time they return to the office.
- Take patient vital signs (such as blood pressure and temperature) and prepare patients for doctor’s examination, allowing the doctor to focus on diagnosis and treatment plans.
- Ensure patient safety, comfort, and understanding by asking about drug allergies and answering any treatment questions.
- Handle basic medical procedures like drawing blood and administering injections under the doctor’s direction.
- Clean medical instruments and dispose of medical waste, ensure sterile condition of patient examination rooms.
- Handle communication between doctor’s office and other medical professionals (including specialists that a patient is being referred to), ensure that all necessary medical records are shared with these other medical professionals.
- Instruct patients following doctor’s examination by advising them on diet, exercise, and prescription drug safety if necessary.
- Call in prescriptions to pharmacies and instruct patients on where to pick up prescriptions and how, ensure that prescriptions are being sent to the pharmacy that is most convenient for the patient.
- Schedule follow-up appointments for patient if necessary and serve as last point of contact for patients, ensuring that they end with a positive experience and do not walk out the door with any lingering questions.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the outlook for medical assistants is extremely positive. The number of total medical assistant jobs is expected to increase by 23% from 2014-2024, which the BLS claims is a much better projection of growth than the average position has (https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-6).
This projected growth is even better than that of other medical support professionals, which the BLS projects to be 19%.
As the population continues to grow and physicians need to start seeing more patients, more medical assistants will be needed to support physicians and carry out basic medical procedures and administrative tasks.
Medical assistants may also be needed more as offices and hospitals switch from physical medical records to electronic medical records.
According to the BLS, about 60% of medical assistants work in doctor’s offices, 15% work in hospitals, 10% work in other medical offices and less than 10% work in outpatient centers. This means that the majority of medical assistants work in doctor’s offices and hospitals.
Medical assistants should therefore be comfortable around sick patients and blood/medical waste. Medical assistants should also have strong immune systems because they will constantly be around viruses and bacteria.
Most medical assistants work full-time according to the BLS. Some medical assistants also need to work nights, weekends, and holidays, depending on their office’s hours of operation.
Medical assistants generally work in primary care, so the job should be less stressful than other jobs in the medical field can be, but even primary care can be stressful as you are still dealing with health issues and worried patients.
Medical assistants also face high levels of pressure considering how important their work is. The consequences of maintaining inaccurate medical records can be grave, so prospective medical assistants should be able to thrive in high-stress situations.
- The American Association of Medical Assistants: The AAMA is an organization dedicated to medical assistants which administers the Certified Medical Assistant credential program.
- CMA Today: CMA Today is the AAMA’s magazine, published bimonthly. It covers several topics pertaining to medical assistants, from test updates to news stories about medical assistants. It might be a good way for prospective medical assistants to start familiarizing themselves with the profession.
- American Medical Technologists: American Medical Technologists is another professional organization representing medical assistants. They offer professional certification and hold meetings as well as publish a journal.
- The American Registry of Medical Assistants: ARMA is another organization dedicated to medical assistants which offers and advocates certification to raise the profile of medical assisting as a profession.
- The Association for Healthcare Administrative Professionals: The AHCAP is not necessarily dedicated to medical assistants, but to the larger group of healthcare support professionals which includes medical assistants. They also hold an annual conference which can be an opportunity for medical assistants to network and improve their knowledge of the field.
- Medical Assistant Exam Strategies, Practice & Review with Practice Test (Kaplan Medical Assistant Exam Review) 5th Edition: This book is aimed at people trying to pass the Certified Medical Assistant or Registered Medical Assistant exams, and includes a practice test.
- A. Notes: Medical Assistant’s Pocket Guide 3rd Edition: This book can come in handy for medical assistants, as it covers all sorts of job-related topics from dosing information to medical terminology.
- Medical Abbreviations & Acronyms (Quickstudy: Academic): This is a laminated pamphlet which lists and defines the most common abbreviations and acronyms used in the medical field. Medical assistants might find it useful to keep around, just in case.
- Health Career Web: Health Career Web is an online job search site that focuses on jobs in the health care industry. They have several jobs listed there specifically for medical assistants located all over the United States.
Since medical assistants deal with both the clinical and administrative aspects of the health care system, there is a range of skills they need to succeed, from technical skills to interpersonal skills.
- Medical skills: While medical assistants do not need to undergo the type of medical training that doctors deal with, they do have to study and understand biology, chemistry, and anatomy.
- Communication: Medical assistants not only relay communications between doctors and patients, but also between the doctor’s office and other medical professionals.
- Technical skills: Many doctor’s office and hospitals rely on computers for purposes such as storing medical records, so medical assistants should be adept with computers and other technology.
- Organization: Since medical assistants need to manage an office’s scheduling and billing, they need to be able to stay organized.
- Analytical: Medical assistants need to analyze medical records of any patients they deal with to make sure that they are delivering and recommending the best treatment possible.
- Attention to detail: Medical assistants deal with a lot of important information such as drug doses, so they need to be focused and detail-oriented so they do not make any mistakes.
- Coordination: Medical assistants need good hand-eye coordination since they will be drawing blood and administering injections.
- Listening: A large part of a medical assistant’s job is interviewing patients, and it is crucial that they correctly record the information provided by the patient.
- Open-minded: Medical assistants need to appear open-minded and nonjudgmental so that patients feel comfortable telling them the truth about things which could affect their medical treatment, such as drug use.
- Outgoing: Medical assistants can be both the first and last points of contact for patients, so they need to be friendly to make sure patients have a positive experience.
- Calm: Medical assistants need to be calm so that patients do not get stressed out or discouraged by visiting or calling the doctor’s office.