Medical assistants perform a combination of administrative and clinical tasks within a healthcare setting. These professionals commonly work alongside other medical staff under the supervision of a physician. Additionally, medical assistants can be an essential part of a healthcare team, as their responsibilities help keep the facilities they work in organized and operating efficiently. In this article, we discuss what a medical assistant is, what they do and explore the required education and experience you might see in a job description for a medical assistant.
What is a medical assistant?
A medical assistant is a professional who performs both administrative and routine clinical tasks in a medical setting. Medical assistants commonly work in physicians' offices, outpatient clinics, hospitals, assisted living facilities and private and government-run health centers. While many of a medical assistant's job duties focus on the administrative and clerical needs of their facility, these professionals frequently take on clinical responsibilities as well, like assisting medical practitioners during routine clinical exams.
What does a medical assistant do?
Medical assistants perform a range of clerical tasks that help maintain organization and keep the facility they work in running efficiently. Administrative tasks like scheduling appointments, answering calls, fielding patients' questions, taking patients' medical history and filing and maintaining patient records generally fall to the medical assistant.
In addition to their clerical responsibilities, medical assistants perform a variety of clinical tasks and work under the direct supervision of registered nurses and physicians. It is not uncommon for a medical assistant to aid a physician during a patient's checkup or record a patient's vital signs before meeting with the doctor.
Medical assistant duties and responsibilities
Many of the daily tasks that medical assistants perform are a combination of clerical and clinical duties, which often include:
Medical assistants are responsible for performing a range of administrative tasks, including:
- Managing office telephone systems, including answering calls and returning messages
- Scheduling patient appointments and maintaining communication to confirm future appointments
- Documenting patients' medical information, including medical history and health insurance information
- Performing data entry tasks to document patient records within facility databases and maintaining patient files
- Coordinating daily office activities, greeting patients and checking patients in and out for their appointments
Medical assistants may be responsible for performing a variety of clinical tasks, depending on the size and needs of their workplace. Some common clinical tasks these professionals do can include:
- Recording patients' vital signs, documenting physicians' notes and changes in medical conditions
- Taking tissue and fluid samples and sending them in for laboratory analysis
- Prepping exam rooms for clinical procedures and assisting practitioners with patient care
- Assisting physicians during routine checkups, outpatient procedures and other physical exams
- Monitoring and documenting patient symptoms for physicians' review during clinical exams
- Providing compassionate patient support and care, attention and assistance during office visits
- Preparing and administering medications under the direction of supervising physicians
At the very least, employers require medical assistants to have their high school diplomas. Many employers prefer medical assistants to possess certifications in addition to the completion of an accredited medical assisting program. Medical assistants who wish to advance their careers can sit for an exam that grants them the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential. Combined with clinical training through a vocational college or technical institute, the CMA credential demonstrates a medical assistant's competence and skill.
Medical assistants who hold the CMA credential are required to renew their licenses every few years by obtaining continuing education credits. Additionally, assistants who choose to obtain their certifications can also choose to continue their education to advance in the medical field. For instance, a CMA can continue their education into an accelerated nursing associate or bachelor's program, where their prior experience and knowledge can support them in the fast-paced learning style of these types of education programs.
Although a medical assisting role can be an entry-level position, some employers prefer medical assistants to have one to two years of experience working in a medical or healthcare setting. While licensure is not always a requirement, many employers look for professional certifications and credentials from accredited training programs. Additionally, medical assistants are required to have some background and skill proficiency in the following areas:
- Proficiency in administrative tasks
- Basic understanding of clinical tasks
- Excellent interpersonal skills
- Ability to communicate effectively
- Exceptional attention to detail
- Familiarity with digital record systems
Proficiency in administrative tasks
Much of a medical assistant's responsibilities focus on attending the reception area of physicians' practices, filing paperwork and maintaining an organized office setting. Therefore, employers require medical assistants to have a working knowledge of how to perform daily clerical tasks.
Basic understanding of clinical tasks
In addition to the administrative responsibilities required on the job, medical assistants should have a basic understanding of clinical tasks. Understanding of patient care, procedures, medical terminology, tools and clinical pharmacology are desirable skills for medical assistants to have. Additionally, many employers offer continuous on-the-job training so employees can continue to build upon their clinical skills.
Excellent interpersonal skills
Medical assistants interact with patients and staff members daily, and they rely on their interpersonal skills to successfully build relationships in the workplace. The ability to connect and empathize with patients is necessary to provide quality care and clinical service.
Ability to communicate effectively
Effective communication, in writing and conversation, is necessary to perform effectively in a medical assisting role. Transcribing messages, entering patient information into databases and recording patient information are several examples of written communication skills that employers commonly require medical assistants to have. Additionally, actively listening and the ability to verbalize ideas and make suggestions are traits that can demonstrate effective communication skills.
Exceptional attention to detail
The environments where medical assistants work require exceptional organization so that physicians, nurses and other staff can locate patient files, equipment and resources easily. Medical assistants are the professionals responsible for maintaining the medical office, including records and data, and their attention to detail is essential for successfully keeping order in their workplace.
Familiarity with digital record systems
Technical skills and some familiarity with electronic filing systems can be fundamental to performing as a medical assistant. Typically, a medical assistant is responsible for inputting patients' medical data into their facility's electronic records system and keeping the digital files organized and updated. While medical assistants can learn this skill on the job, employers generally prefer candidates to have some background with these technical applications.
Jobs similar to medical assistants
If you're interested in becoming a medical assistant or pursuing a related role, there are various options you can consider in your job search. Here's a list of 10 jobs similar to medical assistants: