How Can I Become a Medical Assistant Specialist?

Research what it takes to become a medical assistant specialist. Learn about job duties, education requirements, employment outlook and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Medical Assisting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Medical Assistant Specialist?

A medical assistant specialist, often called a medical assistant, is a clinical and administrative worker in a doctor's office or hospital. On the clinical side, they meet with patients to discuss medical history and work under the supervision of doctors and nurses to provide basic medical care, which can include performing lab tests and recording vital signs. On the office side, they perform routine tasks like appointment scheduling, insurance billing and electronic health record-keeping. In smaller offices, medical assistants may divide their time evenly between clinical and office work, while those who work in hospitals and larger facilities may focus more heavily on one type of work.

Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this profession.

Degree Required Associate's degree, certificate or postsecondary diploma
Education Field of Study Medical assisting
Training Required Some healthcare facilities provide on-the-job training in lieu of formal education
Key Responsibilities Patient intake; basic clinical procedures such as blood draws; office tasks such as billing
Certification Certification optional but preferred by employers
Job Growth (2014-2024 ) 23%*
Average Salary (2015) $31,910*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What's the Difference Between a Medical Assistant Specialist and a Medical Assistant?

If you complete a medical assistant specialist certificate or degree program, you'll typically be qualified for a career as a medical assistant. Medical assistant specialist is a term most commonly used to describe medical assisting programs offered through private, for-profit schools.

What Kind of Work Would I Do?

Medical assistants have taken over many duties formerly performed by doctors or nurses. As a medical assistant, your duties could differ from one office to another but usually include greeting patients, taking their vital signs (such as blood pressure, pulse and weight) and updating chart information. Depending on your training and the state's regulations, you might administer injections and other medications. As a medical assistant, you'll often combine the administrative tasks of answering the phone, setting appointments or billing with clinical duties, such as drawing blood or removing sutures.

Other clinical duties might include preparing specimens for laboratory analysis and instructing patients on diet, medication or other issues as ordered by the physician. You could have specialized duties, depending on the type of practice you work for. For example, if you assist an ophthalmologist, you could perform non-invasive eye tests, help measure and fit eyewear and make minor equipment repairs. Unlike doctors, you won't usually need to be on call, though smaller offices might require after-hours or weekend work.

What Kind of Training Do I Need?

You'll usually improve your employment opportunities if you have some formal education and/or professional certification. You can complete a 1-year medical assisting certificate program or a 2-year associate degree program at an accredited institution. These programs introduce you to medical terminology and basic procedures. Course topics can include insurance billing, patient preparation, office administration, communication and medical ethics. Practical courses might cover simple procedures and expose you to various tests you could perform.

State certification or licensure is not required, although organizations, such as the American Association of Medical Assistants and American Medical Technologists, offer credentials that could enhance your education or improve job prospects. Becoming a certified medical assistant usually requires that you either complete an educational program or have sufficient experience as a medical assistant. You'll also need to pass an exam before being awarded your credential.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you're more interested in the administrative aspects of medical assisting, you might want to look into a job as a medical records or health information technician. They document a patient's medical history and input it into databases for billing and analysis purposes. These workers need to complete a postsecondary certificate program. Alternatively, if you want to work alongside doctors and nurses to provide clinical care, you could get a job as a licensed practical or vocational nurse (LPN/LVN). Aspiring LPNs and LVNs need to complete a certificate or diploma program and pass a licensure exam before they can work.

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