Thinking about becoming a medical assistant? It’s a great time to do it: according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job openings for medical assistants could grow by as much as 29 percent between 2016-2026—as many as 183,800 new jobs nationwide. That’s much faster than the projected job growth of 7 percent across all occupations. As of May 2017, the entry-level wage for medical assistants was $23,830, while the median annual wage was $32,480.
Although you may be aware that medical assistants play key roles at general practitioners’ offices, specialist practices, outpatient clinics, and in hospitals, you may be uncertain about what they actually do. You may also be worried—the answer to “do medical assistants draw blood?”, by the way, is “it depends!”
In this article, presented by Altierus Career College, we look at the different kinds of medical assistants, their duties, and what you can expect in a training program.
Are There Different Kinds of Medical Assistants?
Yes! Broadly speaking, there are two kinds:
- Administrative medical assistants focus on keeping records for their practice or department;
- Clinical medical assistants assist with patient care under the direction of physicians, nurses, and nurse practitioners.
Specific medical assistant duties vary from state to state or practice to practice. For example, a clinical medical assistant in an optometrist’s office will have different clinical concerns than one in a GP’s office. Likewise, an administrative medical assistant in a large group practice with medical secretaries will have more focused administrative duties than one covering all duties in a small clinic.
No matter which type of medical assistant you decide to be, you play an important role in patient care. According to the American Association of Medical Assistants, “medical assistants are instrumental in helping patients feel at ease in the physician’s office and often explain the physician’s instructions.” This is an important part of your role whether your duties are mostly clinical or mostly administrative.
What Do Administrative Medical Assistants Do?
As an administrative medical assistant, you’ll focus on record keeping and paperwork. This can include:
- Scheduling patient appointments or calling in referral requests
- Taking inventory of medical supplies and preparing orders
- Secretarial duties, including filing, telephone calls, and drafting correspondence
- Filling out insurance forms or coding in medical information for patients
In a larger practice with receptionists on staff, you will most likely focus on insurance, medical supply inventory, and managing lab forms or referrals. Your goal will be to help keep the practitioners you support on top of information about patients and streamline their record-keeping.
What Do Clinical Medical Assistants Do?
As a clinical medical assistant, you will support nurses, nurse practitioners, and physicians as they care for patients. You may:
- Take patient vital signs, including height, weight, blood pressure, or a medical history
- Perform basic laboratory tests
- Prepare samples (blood, urine, etc.) for processing
- Remove stitches, change dressings, draw blood, or give injections
- In hospital settings, prepare patients for x-rays or scans
- Sterilize medical instruments and dispose of contaminated supplies (e.g. used bandages or needles)
As a clinical medical assistant, you can work within the care facility or travel as part of a home care team.
What Do I Learn in a Medical Assistant Training Program?
In a medical assistant training program, you will learn knowledge and hands-on skills for administrative and clinical roles, so you are prepared to perform both types of duty in the workplace.
In the classroom, you’ll study medical terminology, the insurance system, record keeping, and other administrative issues. You will also take courses in human anatomy and physiology, microbiology and more.
In the hands-on or clinical portion of your training, you will learn to:
- Prevent infection through cleaning wounds and sterilizing instruments
- Give injections or draw blood (with plenty of practice on simulation models)
- Prepare samples for testing and perform common laboratory tests
At Altierus Career College, you can graduate from your training program in as little as 10 months. After you graduate, you can pursue national certification to make yourself more marketable to employers. Options include:
- Certified Medical Assistant from the American Association of Medical Assistants (http://www.aama-ntl.org/index)
- Registered Medical Assistant from the American Registry of Medical Assistants (https://arma-cert.org/)
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) Credential from the National Healthcare Association (https://www.nhanow.com/)
At Altierus, we include examination preparation and testing fees for one of the above certifications as part of your program. You can work with an advisor to determine which certification is the best option for you.
Note: All job opening and salary data comes from nationwide projections and surveys provided by the U.S. Department of Labor. Local job markets may vary.