Occupational Guide: Medical Assistant

May 15, 2013

Providing high-quality healthcare is a daunting challenge for health professionals and practice managers worldwide. This is one of the primary reasons allied health professionals are so important within the healthcare environment. Medical assistants, in particular, have become indispensable members of the healthcare team. Their support services play a pivotal role in the healthcare delivery process.

History of The Medical Assistant Profession

medical assistant profesion

The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) was founded in 1959, and up until that point, there was no clear definition of the medical assistant profession and its rights and duties. Nowadays certified medical assistants can perform administrative duties as well as clinical work.

The Role of Medical Assistants in Healthcare

medical assistant

U.S. Department of Labor, medical assisting is expected to remain a fast-growing occupation. Because of continuous technological advances in the medical field, medical assistants are required to be proficient in the use of computers and medical equipment as well as other new technologies used in medical facilities.

Medical assistants, also referred to as MAs, perform a variety of duties to help hospitals, clinics and medical offices run better. The Medical Assistant's duties include both administrative work, such as answering phones and taking appointments, to more sophisticated tasks, such as explaining treatment procedures to patients and sterilizing instruments. Other common practices of the medical assistant are calling in prescriptions and dealing with health insurance companies. Their core duties depend on whether they specialize in administrative work, clinical duties or both.

Administrative medical assistants mainly handle office tasks which may include filling out insurance forms, coding patients’ medical information, scheduling patient appointments or coordinating the workflow.

Clinical medical assistants have a variety of other duties that they can perform, but it usually varies depending on the type of healthcare facility. Some of their core responsibilities may include doing basic laboratory tests, disposing of contaminated supplies or taking patient vital signs. Instructing patients about medication and procedures, preparing them for X-rays, removing stitches, drawing blood, or changing dressings, are additional responsibilities that a medical assistant might be asked to perform.

Specialized training has also become more common for medical assistants in recent years. Learning skills like OB/GYN assisting or gaining practice in wound care can not only open up a number of new opportunities, but it can also increase one's salary potential.

Education & Certification

medical assistant education

If you want to make this profession your life-long career, you will need to enroll in an approved medical assistant training program. Such programs are available from community colleges, vocational schools, technical schools, educational institutes or universities, and take about one year to complete.

A good training program will include a balance of theory and practicum. Students are required to complete courses in both medical as well as administrative fields like medical terminology, first aid, clinical procedures, medical billing, and laboratory techniques. Other areas covered in most programs include phlebotomy, pharmacology and patient care. Students may want to seek out programs that offer specialized training as it may open up better job opportunities. One of the most valuable aspects of any training program is the clinical rotation (also known as an externship). Students are given the chance to get hands-on experience in a real healthcare environment.

Upon completing a training program, students should also consider becoming certified or registered through organizations like American Medical Technologists (AMT) or the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). Getting a professional certification through one of these organizations demonstrates that a medical assistant has the core competencies required to work in the healthcare field. It will also improve his or her chances of finding employment at larger healthcare facilities.

Necessary Skills and Qualities

There are several core skills and qualities that define the medical assistant occupation. Having good analytical skills is a must. Medical assisting requires individuals to understand and follow medical charts and diagnoses. They may also be required to code a patient’s medical records for billing purposes.

Attention to detail is also a vital skill. Medical assistants must be precise when taking vital signs or recording patient information. Physicians and insurance companies must be able to rely on accurate records.

Medical assistants often discuss patient information with other medical personnel. Hence good interpersonal skills are required. MAs often interact with patients who may be in pain or in distress, so they need to be able to act in a calm and professional manner.

Technical skills are also valuable qualities for medical assistants. They should be able to use basic clinical instruments to take a patient’s vital signs or draw blood. Medical assisting requires individuals to play a multifaceted role within the healthcare environment. Therefore being adept at performing multiple skills is a must for this profession.