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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, with job prospects increasing by 19% between 2019 and 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS). 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. 

What do you do as a medical assistant?

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 immunisations
  • Performing testing (e.g. blood collection and specimen collection)
  • Performing wound dressing and care

How many years of college do you need to become a medical assistant?

The typical medical assistant does not need to attend college to enter the field. Most medical assistants enter the field after earning earning a certificate or going through some other post-secondary education. through a degree or certificate program. It is possible, however, to become a medical assistant with just a high-school diploma or GED.

Do medical assistants get paid well?

According to the BLS, the average annual wage in 202 for a medical assistants was $35,850. It's important to note, however, that the lowest 10% percentile of medical assistants earned less than $26,930 a year, while the top 10 percent earned more than $50,580 a year.

Is a medical assistant the same as a CNA?

As for CNAs, they are not the same as medical assistants. While there may be some overlapping duties, CNAs always work directly with patients, mostly under the supervision of registered nurses or LPNs, and mostly in rehabilitation centers, senior daycare centers, and other facilities in kind. In short, CNAs do not undertake many of the administrative duties which are commonly assigned to medical assistants.

Should I become a medical assistant?

Medical assisting is suited to detail-oriented individuals with strong interpersonal, analytical, and technical skills, as the occupation is comprised of both clinical and administrative duties. It's a fast-growing healthcare occupation open to individuals with potentially no formal education; however, this comes at the cost of a lower median wage than some other healthcare professions. At the end of the day, it's up to decide if medical assisting is the right career choice for you.

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