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Due to an increase in physician offices, an increase in outpatient or ambulatory care facilities, an aging population, and a range of other factors, medical assisting is one of America's fastest-growing occupations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS), job prospects for medical assistants will increase by 19% between 2019 and 2029 alone. But what does a medical assistant do, and is it the right job for you?

What is a medical assistant?

Medical assistants are healthcare professionals with both administrative and clinical expertise. They work alongside physicians in medical offices, clinics, and other outpatient or ambulatory care facilities to ensure patients feel welcome and at ease, to smooth out the operation of the facility, and to assist the physicians by undertaking general clinical duties. As such, medical assistants are integral to Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH) teams.

Medical assistant duties vary from facility to facility; however, California's Employment Development Department suggests that 55.1% of medical assistants work in physician offices, while 20.5% work in outpatient care facilities. The remaining 24.4% work in other health practitioner offices, general medical and surgical hospitals, employment services, and other health-related positions. A podiatric medical assistant, for example, works closely with podiatrists, making feet castings, exposing and developing x-rays, and assisting with surgeries. An optometric medical assistant works with optometrists, teaching their patients how to use and maintain contact lenses, for example. 

In the American Association of Medical Assistants' (AAMA) 2018-2019 Occupational Analysis of Medical Assistants, over 4,000 practicing medical assistants were questioned about their duties. Of the 95 duties listed in the survey, communication and administrative duties included but were not limited to:

  • Establishing rapport with patients
  • Staying up to date with facility policies and procedures
  • Identifying and adapting to communication barriers
  • Ensuring all parties understand care plans
  • Documenting patient preference
  • Managing the provider’s schedule to ensure efficient workflow
  • Maintaining accurate documentation to support coding
  • Managing supplies and equipment
  • Obtaining a copy of patients’ outside/transferred medical record
  • Maintaining primary care physician information

In the same AAMA survey, medical assistant clinical duties included but were not limited to:

  • Reviewing medications and allergies
  • Obtaining patient vital signs
  • Cleaning and sterilizing equipment and rooms
  • Identifying patient needs or urgency
  • Labelling specimens
  • Preparing patience for examinations, procedures, and treatments
  • Preparing rooms and instruments for patient examination
  • Administering medications and immunizations
  • Performing testing (e.g. blood collection and specimen collection)
  • Performing wound dressing and care

How do you become a medical assistant?

To become a medical assistant in most states, you aren't required to have any formal education, though it certainly helps. Some employers may prefer you to have completed a medical assisting program, of which most take around one to two years to complete, while some may prefer you to hold specific national or private certifications, licenses, and registrations, which may be obtained during a medical assisting program. Many employers, for example, prefer that you become a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) via AAMA, while others, as another example, may prefer that you become a Registered Medical Assistant RMA) via American Medical Technologists (AMT). Employees who haven't completed a program or obtained relevant certifications may receive on-the-job training, whose duration varies from facility to facility.

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