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How to Become A Medical Assistant

This article provides an overview of medical assistant careers and the requirements to become a medical assistant. This article will outline medical assistant job duties, salary levels, and employment prospects, as well as discuss the career's necessary skills, training, educational requirements, and certification requirements.

Medical Assistant Job Duties

Medical assistants perform routine administrative and clinical tasks in the offices of medical practitioners. Their duties will vary depending on the size, type, and location of a medical practice. In smaller practices, medical assistants tend to be generalists with both clinical and administrative duties, reporting either to an office administrator or physician. In larger practices, medical assistants tend to specialize and report to a supervisor or department administrator. The administrative duties of a medical assistant may include:

  • Answering telephones
  • Greeting patients
  • Updating and filing patient's medical records
  • Filling out insurance forms
  • Correspondence
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Arranging for hospital admission
  • Handling billing and bookkeeping

The clinical duties of a medical assistant vary according to individual state law. Clinical duties can include:

  • Taking medical histories
  • Recording vital signs
  • Explaining treatment procedures or instructing patients about medications and special diets
  • Preparing patients for examination
  • Assisting the physician during the examinations
  • Collecting and preparing laboratory specimens
  • Performing basic laboratory tests on the premises
  • Disposing of contaminated supplies
  • Sterilizing medical instruments
  • Preparing and administering medications as directed by a physician
  • Authorizing drug refills as directed
  • Telephoning prescriptions to a pharmacy
  • Drawing blood
  • Preparing patients for x rays
  • Taking electrocardiograms
  • Removing sutures
  • Changing dressings
  • Arrange examining-room instruments and equipment
  • Maintaining supplies and equipment

Medical assistants should not be confused with physicians assistants, who typically have broader clinical duties. Some medical assistants in specialist's offices may have additional specialized clinical duties.

Medical assistants typically work a 40-hour work week. Some work nights and weekends. Some work part-time.

Medical Assistant Job Skills

Medical assistant skills include:

  • Courteous and pleasant manner to effectively deal with the public and to be able to put patients at ease
  • Manual dexterity and visual acuity to perform certain clinical duties
  • Strong attention to detail to perform clinical duties accurately and efficiently
  • Excellent verbal communication skills to be able to explain physician's instructions
  • Strong ethical and confidentiality standards because of confidential patient medical information that they handle
  • Good organizational skills to effectively deal with patient records and other administrative tasks

Medical Assistant Income

Salaries for medical assistants vary depending on experience, skill level, and location. As of 2002, salaries for medical assistants were around $23,940, with the top 10% earning more than $34,130. Earnings for medical assistants vary by industry segment with the median annual incomes for the industries employing the largest number of medical assistants being:

IndustryMedian Salary General medical and surgical hospitals $24,460 Physicians offices $24,260 Outpatient care centers $23,980 Other health care services $23,440 Offices of other practitioners $21,620

Training and Education Required to Become a Medical Assistant

While training beyond a high school degree is not always required, formal training in medical assisting is generally preferred. Training in medical assisting can be obtained in the following ways:

  • Programs offered in vocational/technical high schools
  • 1-year post secondary programs that usually lead to a certificate or diploma
  • 2-year post secondary programs that lead to an associate degree

Medical assistant programs can be accredited by the following agencies:

  • The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • The Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
  • Committee on Accreditation for Ophthalmic Medical Personnel (CoA-OMP)

In 2002, there were 495 medical assistant programs accredited by CAAHEP, and about 170 accredited by ABHES. There were also 14 ophthalmic medical assistant programs accredited by CoA-OMP.

Medical assistants are not licensed, but some states do require either a test or a course before they can perform certain tasks. It is also not required that medical assistants become certified, however, most employers prefer certified medical assistants. Certification credentials are available from the following organizations:

  • The American Association of Medical Assistants - awards the Certified Medical Assistant credential
  • The American Medical Technologists - awards the Registered Medical Assistant credential
  • The American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants - awards the Podiatric Medical Assistant Certified credential
  • The Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology - awards credentials at three levels: Certified Ophthalmic Assistant, Certified Ophthalmic Technician, and Certified Ophthalmic Medical Technologist

Click here for information on schools offering Medical Assistant Training and the programs that they offer.

Medical Assistant Employment

In 2002, there were about 365,000 medical assistants in the United States. Almost 60% of medical assistants work in physicians offices. About 14% work in private or public hospitals. 10% work in the offices of other health practitioners. The remainder worked in outpatient care centers, public and private educational services, other ambulatory healthcare services, state and local government agencies, medical and diagnostic laboratories, nursing care facilities, and employment services.

Medical Assistant Job Outlook

The need for medical assistants is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations over most of the next decade. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is projected to be the fastest growing of all occupations through 2012. Job growth will be driven by the growth of the healthcare industry. Job prospects will be best for individuals with formal training, certification, and experience.


Medical Assistant Training

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            Medical Assistant

            Why Brightwood?

            Real-World Training

            We keep education relevant by employing instructors with real-world experience in the field, who bring their career backgrounds to the classroom. Our programs are continually assessed by faculty, staff and members of the business and education communities to help ensure your studies align with your career goals. Programs offered by Brightwood College focus on local employment needs, in areas such as allied health, nursing and technical and professional programs.

            Medical Assistant
            • Offers career placement assistance services to recent graduates.
            • Our short-term allied health programs will give you the skills and knowledge to become a part of the exciting health care field.
            • Programs include Medical Office Specialist, Medical Assistant, Dental Assistant and Healthcare Administration.
            • Accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).
            • Main campus is located in Van Nuys, California, north of Los Angeles.
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            Medical Specialties (AOS)

            The Secret to Getting Ahead is Getting Started

             

            Congratulations! Your interest in California College San Diego is an important first step toward changing your life. A career-focused degree is the key to a new career with a potentially higher income, better benefits, and more satisfaction.

            Medical Assistant Program
            • Offers training in various types of massage therapy, physical therapy/sports rehab, and personal fitness training & wellness.
            • Teaches in an environment that promotes learning and encourages empathetic and compassionate therapists.
            • Career service professionals work directly with students from the start of their program, and help them pursue employment in day spas, luxury hotels, cruise ships, and other locations.
            • Students can work in the SOCHI Massage Clinic to gain experience and build their career skills.
            • Financial aid representatives help students develop a personalized financial plan to finance their tuition.
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            Certificate - Medical Assistant
            • Offers a program that translates work and military experience into college credit, transfers in credit from other college programs, and offers the flexibility of day, evening and online coursework.
            • Provides in-person tutoring, IT support, access to library resources, and job placement assistant for graduates.
            • Features a new blended-learning curriculum, which involves a mix of campus and online courses.
            • Has 11 campuses across Southern California, Washington, and Alaska, and online courses with campus support. 
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            Medical Assistant
            Mayfield College , Cathedral City
            • A Better Business Bureau (BBB) Accredited Business, with an A+ rating.
            • Computer Support Technician program is based on guidelines set by the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) and Microsoft.
            • Offers free student services, including tutoring, campus internet access, career placement, and a student lounge.
            • Accredited by the Council on Occupational Education (COE).
            • 2 locations in Cathedral City and Twentynine Palms, California.
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            • Flexible Scheduling
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            Certificate - Medical Administrative Assistant
            • For more than 45 years, PMI has been dedicated to quality healthcare education
            • 17 campuses across 9 states including Arizona, California, Texas, Colorado & more
            • Accredited by the ABHES with multiple accreditations per specific program
            • Certificates, associates, and bachelor’s programs in leading healthcare fields
            • PMI offers financial aid to students who qualify for assistance
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            Certified Nurse Assistant
            Platt College , Alhambra
            • A Los Angeles-based private college offering programs in medical sciences, legal studies, and graphic design since 1985.
            • Has weekend programs, including certified  veterinary technology, nurse assistant, and hemodialysis technician.
            • Showcases visual communication students’ artwork and design through campus magazine.
            • 3 campuses in Southern California.
            • Accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).
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            • Accredited
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Accelerated Programs
            • Financial Aid
            • Transferable Credits
            Administrative Medical Assistant
            • Offers medical and cosmetic programs, including dental assisting, massage therapy, cosmetology, esthetics, and more.
            • Features a public salon and spa where students may get real-world experience.
            • Offers scholarship opportunities for students wo qualify.
            • Accredited by the Council on Occupational Education (COE).
            • 2 separate Vacaville campuses, one is for medical careers and the other is the beauty academy.
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            Allied Health Management - Bachelor of Science
            • Part of the Delta Career Education Corporation.
            • Each campus features a public spa and/or salon where students can gain real-world experience.
            • 17 campuses across the United States, with online options as well.
            • Accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent colleges and Schools (ACICS), with programmatic accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
            • Originally founded in 1916 in Wilmington, North Carolina by Judge Leon Motte.
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