Allied Health
May 13, 2024

What Does a Medical Assistant Do? Job Description and Responsibilities Explained

Medical assistants are responsible for of clinical, administrative and patient education in hospitals and other health care facilities. We dive into what it takes to succeed as a medical assistant.

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What Does a Medical Assistant Do? Job Description and Responsibilities Explained

When your name is called at the doctor’s office or clinic, you are greeted by a medical professional who will take you into an examination room and obtain initial information before the doctor sees you. This is most often a medical assistant. They are an extension of the medical team that supports physicians and other health care providers. They perform various clinical and administrative tasks and are becoming more prevalent in health care settings to increase efficiency while reducing costs. 

Keep reading to learn more about this growing career and how medical assistants benefit providers and patients.

Job Duties of Medical Assistants

Medical Assistants (MA) are allied health professionals who assist physicians and other medical providers, such as nurses, with completing tasks. The job duties of MAs vary depending on their setting. Typically, they perform a combination of patient care tasks and office duties.

Clinical Duties of a Medical Assistant

The clinical responsibilities of a medical assistant involve direct patient care under the supervision of nurses and doctors. Some of the clinical duties of a medical assistant include:

Vital Signs

One of the primary clinical skills of a medical assistant is to obtain and record vital signs. Vital signs include blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, and oxygen saturation. Medical assistants use various medical equipment to accurately measure vital signs, which they record in the patient's medical records.

Medication Administration

Medical assistants may administer medication to patients as directed by another licensed provider. This can include preparing medications and administering vaccinations or other intramuscular or subcutaneous injections.


Documentation may not be a “hands-on” skill, but it is vital to the completion and accuracy of the patient record and one of the MAs most important skills. The MA will obtain a thorough patient history, including current medications, past surgeries, current concerns, and any other relevant information to prepare and update the physician on the patient's status.

Drawing Blood

Some medical assistants are trained in phlebotomy to collect blood samples from patients for laboratory tests. They also commonly collect other laboratory specimens, such as urine, for evaluation.


Medical assistants may assist the doctor during the patient's physical examination. They may also prepare the patient for the examination, such as helping undress and position the patient.

Administrative Duties of a Medical Assistant

Medical assistants help health care facilities run smoothly by assisting with an array of administrative tasks, such as:

Scheduling Appointments

One of the primary administrative duties of a medical assistant is scheduling appointments. They are responsible for coordinating with patients and doctors to ensure that appointments are scheduled at convenient and appropriate times. Medical assistants must proficiently use medical scheduling software, answer phones, and check patients in for appointments.

Handling Insurance and Billing

Medical assistants also handle insurance and billing-related tasks. They are familiar with insurance forms and medical billing codes and must be able to submit insurance claims accurately. Medical assistants also need to be capable of explaining insurance policies to patients and helping them understand the billing process.

Managing Medical Records

Another crucial administrative duty of medical assisting is managing medical records. Medical assistants must be able to maintain patient records accurately and securely. They must be familiar with accessing electronic health records (EHR) and updating medical records promptly.


Medical assistants also play a role in bookkeeping. They must be able to manage financial transactions, prepare invoices, and keep track of accounts payable and receivable. Some medical assistants are trained in accounting software and must be able to generate financial reports accurately.

Miscellaneous Administrative Tasks

Medical assistants also perform various other administrative tasks, such as greeting patients, stocking inventory, and ordering supplies. They must be able to multitask efficiently and have excellent communication skills to interact with patients and colleagues.

Education and Certification for Medical Assistants

Medical assistants typically need a high school diploma or equivalent to enter the profession. Some employers may prefer to hire candidates who have completed a medical assisting program, while others are willing to train candidates on the job.

Certificate vs. Associate Degree 

Prospective MAs can choose to complete a certificate program or an associate degree in medical assisting, which can be found at vocational schools, community colleges, and technical schools. A certificate program can be completed in approximately a year, while an associate degree will take two years. A certificate program will be more streamlined and may not cover all duties required for the role, but it is the quicker option to begin working.

Opting for an associate degree in medical assisting will take longer but may come with benefits such as learning advanced skills, which could translate into more job opportunities or higher pay.

Medical Assistant Certification 

Each state has different laws regarding the licensing and certification of MAs. Medical assistants can choose to be certified as registered medical assistants (RMAs) or certified medical assistants (CMAs).

For RMA certification, one must pass the American Medical Technologists (AMT) certification exam. The exam requires a high school diploma or equivalent and completion of a medical assisting program, a recent apprenticeship, or three years of work experience as a medical assistant.

For CMA certification, one must pass the Certified Medical Assistant Exam, which is offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). To be eligible for the CMA exam, one must have completed an accredited medical assisting program.

The American Medical Certification Association also offers several options for MAs, including:

  • Medical Assistant Certification
  • Clinical Medical Assistant Certification
  • Medical Administrative Assistant Certification

The National Center for Competency Testing offers two routes for certification, including:

  • Medical Assistant (NCMA) for candidates performing both clinical and administrative duties
  • Medical Office Assistant (NCMOA) for allied health professionals who are responsible for only administrative tasks

Lastly, the National Healthcareer Association offers two paths for certification:

  • Certified Clinical Medical Assistant
  • Certified Medical Administrative Assistant

In addition to initial certification, medical assistants must also complete continuing education to maintain their certification. This may include attending conferences, taking courses, or participating in other professional development activities.

Medical Assistant Salary and Career Opportunities

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for medical assistants in 2022 was $38,270 annually. However, salaries can vary depending on factors such as location, experience, and education. Medical assistants with additional certifications or specializations can earn higher salaries.

Medical assisting is a fast-growing role, projected to grow 14% by 2032. It is also an excellent entry career into other health care professions, such as nursing, pharmacy technology, physical therapy, health information technology, and more. 

Working Conditions and Locations

Medical assistants work in a variety of settings, including clinics, hospitals, outpatient care centers, and nursing homes. They may also work in private medical practices or administrative roles in insurance organizations. 

Medical assistants generally work in clean, well-lit environments designed to promote patient comfort and safety. They may spend much of their time on their feet, moving between patient rooms or working at a desk or computer. Medical assistants may also be exposed to infectious diseases and other hazards, so they must follow strict safety protocols to protect themselves and their patients.

Outpatient care centers are common work locations for medical assistants. The specialties of these settings can vary and may include primary care, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, and more. Most of these settings will require a typical Monday-Friday schedule without weekends or holidays.

On the other hand, a smaller percentage of MAs work in hospitals or nursing homes, which may require working longer shifts, weekends, holidays, or shift rotations. Responsibilities may also vary, such as assisting with daily living activities, such as bathing and dressing, as well as administering medication.

Skills and Qualities of a Successful Medical Assistant

To achieve success as a medical assistant, one must have a combination of technical and interpersonal skills. In addition, excellent organizational and communication skills are also essential. Here are some of the skills and qualities that a successful medical assistant should possess:

Technical Skills

Medical assistants must be familiar with medical terminology, anatomy, and physiology. They should be able to take vital signs and perform basic laboratory tests or other clinical skills necessary for their setting. They should also be proficient in utilizing electronic health records (EHR) and other software.

Interpersonal Skills

Medical assistants work closely with patients, physicians, and other health care professionals. Therefore, they must have excellent interpersonal skills. They should be able to communicate effectively with patients, explain medical procedures, and answer questions. They should also be able to work well as a team and follow instructions.

Organizational Skills

Medical assistants are responsible for scheduling appointments, maintaining patient records, and managing inventory. They should be able to multitask, prioritize, and work efficiently under pressure.

Communication Skills

Medical assistants must be able to communicate effectively with patients and colleagues. Clear written and verbal communication is crucial for conveying medical information accurately and concisely.

Medical assisting is a booming career option that is becoming essential to health care settings to aid in delivering seamless medical care. MAs perform ancillary tasks that allow physicians and other medical professionals to spend more time with patients or complete tasks that require advanced education and training. This translates into a more efficient workflow and improved patient satisfaction.  

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