Medical Assistant: Career Profile, Occupational Outlook, and Education Prerequisites

Research what it takes to become a medical assistant. 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?

Medical assistants work directly with physicians to help keep clinics operating efficiently. As a medical assistant, you'd perform both clinical and clerical duties, such as assisting physicians with examinations and scheduling patient appointments. These duties may also include recording a patient's medical history, measuring vitals, administering some injections and medication, preparing blood samples for testing and entering medical information into records. Medical assistants are responsible for keeping all medical information confidential, and only discussing it with other healthcare workers involved in the process. Depending on their place of work, medical assistants may be able to specialize in either administrative or clinical work. The following chart gives an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Certificate or associate's degree
Education Field of Study Medical assisting
Key Skills Medical transcription, patient intake, appointment scheduling
Certification Required Voluntary certification available
Job Growth (2014-2024 ) 23%*
Average Salary (2015) $31,910*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is the Career Profile of a Medical Assistant?

Medical assistants work under the supervision of healthcare professionals to support the general operations of medical facilities. They're responsible for such varied tasks as medical transcription, answering phones, greeting patients, taking patients' health histories and vital signs, and collecting specimens. Medical assistants who work in a specialized field, such as optometry or podiatry, have job duties specific to that specialty. The vast majority of medical assistants work for physicians, but medical assistants can also be employed by large hospitals or alternative health facilities and outpatient centers.

What Is the Occupational Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for medical assistants is expected to grow 23% from 2014 to 2024, which is much more quickly than the average for all domestic jobs (www.bls.gov). The rapid growth is believed to be due in part to the aging U.S. population, which is increasing in its need for medical care. In addition, with changes in federal healthcare laws, more people have access to health insurance and services.

As of May 2015, the average annual salary for medical assistants was $31,910. The highest average wages were paid by computer systems design and related services, at $39,460, while the top-paying states included Alaska and Washington, among others. Medical assistants with knowledge of electronic medical records (EMRs) could have an advantage when seeking employment.

What Education Prerequisites Should I Complete?

Formal training in medical assisting isn't always required, because opportunities may be available to acquire on-the-job training. However, you may find that employers would rather hire medical assistants who have had some specialized training. If you opt for formal training, it's recommended that you attend a program that has been accredited by a reputable organization, such as the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.

Medical assisting programs can be found in technical, vocational and community colleges. You may enroll in a 1-year certificate program or acquire a 2-year associate's degree program. Coursework for both programs include basic anatomy, medical terminology and medical law. You'll also take courses on billing and coding, insurance, medical office administration, human diseases, nutrition, pharmacology and clinical laboratory skills.

In addition, many programs offer internship opportunities that will help you gain practical work experience by actually working in a doctor's office or other medical facility. If you'd like to increase your employment and salary prospects, you might consider voluntary certification. Credentials for medical assistants are granted by such organizations as the American Medical Technologists (AMT) and the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Some related careers that require a certificate or associate's degree include dental hygienists, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs), and medical records and health information technicians. Dental hygienists provide preventative dental care, clean teeth and help dentists diagnose any oral diseases. LPNs and LVNs work under registered nurses and physicians to provide basic nursing care. Medical records and health information technicians are responsible for managing health information. They use classification systems to maintain medical records, and ensure the accuracy of the information.

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