Medical assistants provide either administrative or clinical support to physicians or other medical professionals. Generally, those who help care for patients are known as clinical assistants, and those who provide clerical support are known as administrative medical assistants. Medical assistants who work in smaller offices may have to provide a combination of clinical and administrative support.
Duties of Administrative and Clinical Assistants
Administrative medical assistants greet patients, record arrivals, schedule appointments, prepare medical charts and coordinate referrals with other physicians or medical services. They may also verify insurance coverage, arrange for medical tests and schedule surgical procedures or hospital stays. Other administrative duties include ordering supplies and handling payments.
Clinical medical assistants prepare the examining rooms, interview patients, record symptoms, take vital signs and provide assistance to physicians. They may also draw blood, perform simple lab tests and remove sutures. Depending on what state they are in, some medical assistants may give injections under supervision. While many clinical duties are general, assistants who work for specialists may have very specific duties. For example, assistants who work with ophthalmologists may have to help patients by explaining the correct way to insert and remove contact lenses.
Typical Work Environments
Medical assistants can work in a variety of different places, including hospitals, community clinics, urgent care facilities and medical offices. They are usually employed as full-time workers, although there may be part-time positions available in some areas. Assistants who work in most medical offices usually have a set schedule during the work week, but those who work in hospitals or clinics may be required to work nights, weekends and holidays.
Education and Training
Although medical assistants are not required to have college degrees, they must have their high school diplomas or equivalents. Most assistants usually have some form of training before they are hired, and many receive additional training from their employers. As more medical offices are using electronic health records, assistants will need to learn how to use the software. People who are interested in becoming medical assistants can usually find educational programs in community colleges and vocational schools. Although certification is not required, many students become certified medical assistants by passing an examination administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants.
Salary and Employment Outlook
The current salary range varies by state and employer, but most medical assistants can expect to earn between $21,000 and $40,000. As the U.S. population continues to age, the need for healthcare workers is growing, and the demand for medical assistants is expected to rise.