Ask yourself what you imagine a medical assistant does.
You’ll be surprised how many people get it wrong.
If you expect medical assistant schooling to prepare you for changing bedpans or carrying out menial administrative tasks, your impression of this role doesn't go deep enough.
The clinical medical assistant is a true chameleon of the healthcare industry. As a group, medical assistants demonstrate a range of talent that involves clinical as well as administrative tasks. Naturally, a wealth of opportunity follows.
1. Medical Assistants Wear Many Hats
Medical assistant education requirements don’t mention the need to be adaptable, but this is an important asset.
MAs play many different roles in their jobs.
They may be required to discuss medical records with a doctor one moment, and then draw blood from a nervous patient the next. The language used for each of these encounters is very different - one is academic and the other emotional.
A medical assistant knows that it's just as important caring for a patient while blood samples are being taken as it is being responsible for medical records and files.
Busy and varied, this is an enthusiastic role that requires flexibility and commitment; MAs have this in spades.
2. They're Trusty Wingmen and Wingwomen
DFID / Flickr
/ CC BY
A doctor needs a medical administrative assistant like Thelma needs Louise or a hamburger needs fries.
Medical assistant classes prepare MAs for being one of the first faces a patient might see when going to a hospital or doctor's office. The MA is responsible for checking the patient's vital signs and preparing them for what happens next.
Equally, a doctor is reliant on the information provided by the MA. The MA's assistance in preparing the patient or clinic is essential for the doctor to be able to start work.
In other occupations, you’ll see company directors who rely on their personal assistants to help make or break a deal, or professional athletes who count on their trainers to help them stay in the best shape possible. These kinds of professional duos take joint credit for their success stories.
For healthcare professionals, the outcome can be life or death. Within the hospital or clinic, both roles are crucial for delivering seamless healthcare to patients.
3. They Have Hidden Talents On and Offline
Ars Electronica / Flickr
/ CC BY-NC-ND
MAs certainly don't need to be computer geniuses, but there’s no shortage of opportunity to use their tech skills.
Now that patient records are electronic, healthcare workers are constantly brushing up on their IT knowledge as they go about their everyday work.
Workers in certified medical assistant jobs use computers for all kinds of routine tasks, like scheduling appointments, bookkeeping, or dealing with insurance companies. Use of technology means records are more accurate and the person using it saves a heap of time. Manual entry of patient records used to be slow and laborious. Now with the increased use of electronic medical records, the process is much more streamlined.
Some MAs relish the use of tech to make work processes faster or more efficient, while others only use computerized systems and tools as required. Much of this kind of training can happen on the job. Using digital equipment becomes another part of the day-to-day activity, like complying with security measures or health and safety regulations.
Becoming a medical assistant can mean being as much a part of a digital world as it does delivering face-to-face, practical and hands-on assistance.
4. They Can Never Overthink it
You probably didn't know that medical assistant job duties may include the analysis of data, including patient medical records and charts, along with billing information and insurance.
Those with an analytical mindset are able to process data, organize and understand it. This plays a key role in diagnosis. Contributing to the work of doctors who look to solve medical problems and offer solutions requires accuracy. Data must be precise, so MAs who pay attention to detail become reliable members of the team.
However, not every case will be straightforward and charts or results may not provide all the answers. The answer to the question ‘What does a medical assistant do?’ includes all of the tasks we've mentioned, but equally, MAs make great use of exceptional interpersonal skills.
If a medical case needs input from a patient, or consultation with other medical experts, an MA could be just the person to get to the bottom of it. Being able to communicate clearly and openly with others is a gift, but it can also be a learned skill. Using the right tone and asking questions at the right time can help uncover important pieces of information. This all helps to solve a complex case.
5. MAs Are Free-Range Medical Professionals
Medical assistant programs prepare you for the role, but the job itself can be based anywhere. This is one of the most attractive features of working as an MA.
Medical assistants can work in hospitals, a doctor’s office, or in a variety of other healthcare centers. Throughout the course of a career, it’s possible to try out different settings to find out which is the most enjoyable or challenging for you. Being able to move around easily can help with relocation issues or other practical considerations, too.
Working in a large or busy hospital will offer a very different experience from working in a small family practice. For one thing, in a hospital, the staff will interact with many different people at all levels, from various walks of life. Working closely with the same group of people at a small doctor's office lets you get to know your colleagues and patients better.
How appropriate a setting is depends entirely on the person. Medical assistant courses and networking along the way will help to provide a taste of what each place might have in store, but freedom to choose is a powerful motivator for job hunters.
6. They Can Bend Forks (Sort Of)
MAs will reach many forks in the road. Often, they can take the opportunity to specialize in areas they are passionate about. This may be a lifelong passion, or a growing interest as a medical career progresses.
When certified medical assistant training is over, workers may be inspired by a colleague, an establishment, or general advancements in healthcare. If they begin to suspect they’re not yet in the right role, MAs can specialize in a number of different areas.
Those who enjoy interaction with patients more than anything else can move into patient care. For some, clinical duties are more inspiring than clerical duties, but others may prefer keeping medical records or managing billing information.
For more hands-on assistants who are fascinated by drawing blood and visiting the lab, phlebotomy is a common choice.
Evidently, MAs have a unique ability to easily slide into different teams.
7. They Set Their Own Schedule
Medical assistant schools welcome students from all backgrounds, which makes this a popular career choice. You’ll be amazed at how diverse the range of motivations are that lead students to train for this career.
Some students might be working towards a medical assistant certificate around full-time work, family or other study. A young adult may have wanted to work in healthcare for as long as they can remember - this is the first step in that process. A recent high school grad could be training alongside a seasoned office worker who wants a completely new career.
The beauty of the medical assistant career path is that there are courses that run during the daytime and during the evening, to accommodate every situation. Part-time options are also available – these take longer to complete, but may work out better for students who need to schedule around work, childcare or a family member's schedule.
How long is medical assistant training?
Not as long as you might think.
Courses can take less than a year to complete, but for those juggling other commitments, it could be a little longer. Anyone in a medical assistant training program is working towards their dream job, so you know these students are determined to get that job.
8. They're Hot Property
The Bureau of Labor Statistics
states that employment for medical assistants is projected to grow 23 percent from 2014 to 2024. That's a lot faster than the average growth rate for all jobs. Now that we know how versatile this role can be, the news that jobs in this sector are increasing comes as less of a surprise.
We see that all kinds of people are entering the profession. They may be experienced in anything from medical administration to pharmacology, from lab procedures to health sciences. Each of them can go on to become a fundamental part of any healthcare team.
How to Become a Certified Medical Assistant
With so many MAs working in such a variety of positions, it’s easy to forget they all begin with the basics. Training covers things like hospital admissions, updating records, using lab services, drawing blood, and monitoring EKG machines.
On-the-job training exists in some facilities, but the majority of employers require formal education and certification. Keep in mind that qualified MAs have access to much better job opportunities to launch their careers, and progression into a specialist field can happen more quickly.
It’s also possible to move up the ranks to become the lead medical assistant, a clinical or office manager, or even an MA instructor. However, skip the training program and it becomes more difficult to race along the career path you hope for in the long run.
Check entry requirements for medical assistant programs and find out how to become medical assistant gold.