You may be wondering what is a medical assistant, exactly, and what role do these professionals play in the health care industry? Check out answers to some commonly-asked questions below, so you can find out if a medical assistant career is the perfect fit for you!
Medical assistants are healthcare professionals who perform administrative and/or clinical tasks that keep medical and health practices running smoothly. They typically work in physicians’ offices or other healthcare facilities, where they perform support tasks like answering phones, scheduling appointments, taking patients’ vital signs, and much more. Medical assistant duties vary depending on your employer, so the exact definition of a medical assistant could depend on where you work. A large practice could have both administrative and clinical medical assistants that perform different sets of duties, while a smaller practice may have fewer medical assistants who handle both office work and patient care tasks.
Again, medical assistant duties depend on the needs of your employer but typically play an important role in patient care and education. They often explain procedures to patients or instruct them on proper diet and medications. Administrative medical assistant duties may include coding patients’ medical information and billing insurance companies for medical services, among other tasks. Clinical medical assistants may draw blood, prepare patients for x-rays, change wound dressings, and perform other healthcare services, depending on state regulations. Managing a variety of diverse responsibilities, following best practices for safety and hygiene, practicing good communication skills, and exhibiting a caring manner are just a few typical expectations for medical assistants.
Most medical assistants have some postsecondary education in this field, such as a medical assisting degree, diploma, or certificate. Programs for medical assistants are usually available at vocational schools, community colleges, and even online. A certificate or diploma program may take about one year to complete, while earning an associate’s degree could take around two years for a full-time student. Typical programs cover areas like medical terminology, human anatomy, and other essential knowledge areas for a medical assisting career. In addition, programs generally include both classroom and laboratory work. While postsecondary education is not required by law, employers may prefer candidates with formal training. Certification for medical assistants is also optional, but again, this credential may be preferred or required by employers. To earn certification, you may need to graduate from an approved medical assisting program, pass an exam, or do both, depending on the organization that is awarding your certification.