Becoming a Medical Assistant

When it comes to maintenance of medical offices and facilities, no one comes close to the quality of work that a medical assistant provides. Technically speaking, medical assistants are responsible for a wide range of clinical and administrative tasks which are crucial in the proper operation of health offices. The medical assistant will have different responsibilities from one office to another, and this may be dictated by the size and location of the office, as well as the practitioner’s field of specialization. It is important to note, however, that physician assistants are different from medical assistants as the former is involved with patient examination, diagnosis and treatment under the physician's supervision.

Medical assistants who are involved with administrative tasks usually handles the management of patient information and medical records, as well as routine tasks such as filling out of insurance forms and making the necessary arrangements prior to hospital admission and laboratory examination. As for clinical medical assistants, the State law will usually dictate the scope of their work. They may be tasked with the collection and preparation of laboratory specimens, sterilization of medical tools and performance of laboratory procedures. They may also help in patient care by assisting them in laboratory examinations, taking note of vital signs, and changing of wound dressings.

Working environment for medical assistants is very favorable as they usually work in a clean area with sufficient lighting and ventilation. It is very common for them to constantly communicate with people and frequently involved in multi-tasking activities. Medical assistants may choose to work full-time or part time, during weekends, or even take nightshifts. Although there are medical assistants who receive on the job training, majority will chose to receive a formal medical assistant program which can take around 1 to 2 years to complete. Like other medical fields, a high school diploma or its equivalent is a must.

Accredited medical assistant programs are usually offered in community and junior colleges, vocational-technical high schools, and accredited medical assistant schools. A diploma or certificate can be acquired after completion of a one-year program, while an associate's degree is given to those who complete a two-year course. Among the important topics covered in the program are basic medical terminology, physiology, anatomy, biology and chemistry. An individual will also have to learn basic accounting, recordkeeping, computer operation, as well as insurance processing. Any accredited medical assistant program will usually include internship in order to provide an individual with sufficient working experience from healthcare facilities.

Although certification is not typically required, most employers prefer to choose applicant who are certified. The American Association of Medical Assistants and other reputable certification bodies in the U.S. strongly suggest that a medical assistant receives certification as this provides a measure of proficiency and competency for a medical assistant. In order to become a certified medical assistant, an individual must successfully complete the CMA (AAMA) Certification Examination. The exam is given by the AAMA Certifying Board under the close supervision of the National Board of Medical Examiners.

Based on statistical data gathered in the year 2008, there were around 483,600 jobs held by medical assistants. Majority of these were employed in doctor’s offices, while others were employed in public and private hospitals, outpatient and inpatient facilities, and other healthcare offices run by practitioners such as optometrists and chiropractors. Experts also forecast an employment growth of 34 percent in the next eight years. Medical assistant jobs are generally considered excellent – this is especially true for those who have undergone formal education and training, as well as those who have sufficient working experience and have been certified. Medical assistant salary, on the other hand, is usually dictated by their educational background, training, skill level, experience, certification and location. Average annual salaries for medical assistants have been reported at $28,300 during 2008, while the middle 50 percent were reported to have received around $23,700 to $33,050. The lowest and highest salary thresholds were reported to be around $20,600 and $39,500 respectively.