Health Career Center

Medical Assistants

Medical assistants are assigned clinical and administrative tasks at doctors’ offices, hospitals, and other medical clinics. The tasks of medical assistants are affected by organizational size, specialty, and location. At small clinics, medical assistants typically report directly to a doctor or clinic manager and are assigned various clinical and administrative tasks. Those at larger clinics usually specialize and work under the direction of department managers. Medical assistants do not have the same responsibilities as physician assistants.

Administrative medical assistants maintain medical records, complete insurance forms, and coordinate laboratory tests and hospital stays. Additionally, they perform non-medical related tasks such as writing letters, greeting patients, answering the phone, scheduling patient visits, and performing basic accounting.

Clinical medical assistants are assigned various tasks. Common duties include recording vital signs and medical histories, explaining medical treatments, helping doctors during checkups, and getting patients ready for tests. Medical assistants collect and process specimens to be tested in the lab, perform simple lab tests, dispose of unsterilized supplies, and sterilize equipment. Under the guidance of doctors, they may teach patients about special diets and prescriptions, administer certain medications, draw blood, relay prescription orders to pharmacies, get patients ready for x-rays, and remove dressings. Medical assistants also organize examining room tools, buy supplies, and clean examining and waiting rooms.

Ophthalmic medical assistants, podiatric medical assistants, and optometric assistants are assigned specialized tasks. Ophthalmic medical assistants assist ophthalmologists with eye care treatments. They perform diagnostic and vision tests, record vision, and examine eye muscle function. Ophthalmic medical assistants administer eye dressings and teach clients how to properly sanitize contact lenses. When directed by a doctor, ophthalmic medical assistants can administer medications. Additionally, they maintain and calibrate surgical and optical equipment and assist ophthalmologists performing surgery. Optometric assistants also assist optometrists administering eye care. They hand instruments to the optometrist, teach patients about proper contact lens cleaning, and perform preliminary eye tests. Podiatric medical assistants create feet castings, develop x-rays, and help podiatrists performing surgery.

Education and Training
Community colleges, vocational schools, and vocational-technical high schools offer medical assisting training programs. It typically takes a year to complete a program, after which graduates receive professional certificates. Students completing 2 year programs receive associate’s degrees. During training programs, students complete courses in physiology, anatomy, typing, accounting, medical transcription, insurance processing, and medical record maintenance. Students with certificates have demonstrated the ability to perform medical assistant duties, but it’s not necessary to hold a certificate to land an entry-level job. However, certified assistants typically earn more and have better job opportunities. Those interested in professional certificates can complete programs administered by the Association of Medical Technologists (AMT) and American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). Each organization has different certification requirements. Medical assistants can also complete specialized certification programs in ophthalmology, optometry, or podiatry.

Job Outlook
Job growth is expected to be better than average, ranking these jobs among the quickest growing professions through 2018. Employment opportunities should be good, especially for individuals with experience, certificates, and job training. Job growth for medical assistants is projected to increase by 34 percent until 2018, much better than average projected growth in other industries. As demand for healthcare increases because of aging populations and improvements in technology, more healthcare professionals will be needed throughout the industry.

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