Brighten Your Future with a Career as a Medical Assistant
A career as a medical assistant offers a fantastic set of opportunities for many people. It’s high-energy work in a fast-paced environment, where dynamic change is the only constant. Depending on your goals and career path, a position as a medical assistant can be either a stepping stone or a destination job.
The training and experiences you’ll receive are applicable in a variety of settings, as you learn skills that are immediately useful across the healthcare spectrum. Medical assistants work hard every day, giving of themselves and receiving it all back in equal abundance. Whatever path they choose, medical assistants discover a rich vein of challenges, growth, and satisfaction.
In this article, you’ll find out everything you need to know about the medical assisting profession. You’ll read about the training and skills required to do the job right, as well as the everyday duties it involves. We’ll discuss the certifications that make you a more attractive candidate and describe the various environments in which medical assistants typically work. Lastly, we’ll tell you all about the medical assistant’s salary and long-term prospects.
An Aerial View of Medical Assisting
Let’s begin by discussing the most general features of the medical assisting profession. We’ll expand on these topics later on and provide all the details you need to decide if this dynamic career is the right fit for you and your goals.
One thing to keep in mind is that a medical assistant is not the same as a physician’s assistant. Although these professionals often work alongside one another, they should not be mixed up. A physician’s assistant diagnoses and treats patients under the direct supervision of a medical doctor, while a medical assistant plays a supportive, do-everything role on the health care team.
We’ll begin by discussing the medical assistant’s role as an allied health professional.
What Is An Allied Health Professional
Technically speaking, a medical assistant is an allied health professional. In the most general terms, an allied health professional plays a supporting role in the clinical setting and is distinct from practitioners like nurses, doctors, and pharmacists. And although allied health positions typically require less formal education, they still offer an impressive range of diagnostic and therapeutic services to thousands of patients. Persons working in these fields are absolutely indispensable to optimum patient care.
There are some five million allied health professionals working in the healthcare industry today, making up approximately 60% of its total workforce. With these numbers, it’s impossible to overestimate the importance of these dedicated professionals, an observation that’s backed up by their future outlook. The field is expected to grow by leaps and bounds in the very near future, as allied health professionals will fill a large percentage of the four million jobs that will become available over the next few years.
Medical Assistants Make It All Hang Together
Whatever category they fit best, medical assistants play an important role on the professional healthcare team. In fact, they play several important roles at once, from patient liaison to bookkeeper and everything in between. They’re like the glue that holds it all together, filling in the inevitable gaps in patient care and communicating between the all the moving parts of an effective medical team.
As a medical assistant, you’ll be helping patients recover from injuries and illnesses that are sometimes life threatening. You’ll participate in the wonders of the healing process, along with the other members of a highly skilled and dedicated team. You’ll watch suffering people return to health and happiness, even as you experience a similar growth yourself. Medical assisting is a job that requires hustle, devotion, and vigilance, but it gives back everything you put into it. You’ll go home at night knowing that you made a real difference in people’s lives.
Medical Assistants are involved in a patient’s care from start to finish. They’re often the first person a patient encounters when they come into the facility. Typically, it’s a medical assistant that greets patients and help them feel comfortable. They review medical histories and communicate crucial information between patients and their caregivers.
They’re often the last person a patient encounters as well. Among a myriad of other duties, they update confidential medical records, oversee communication between members of the healthcare team, and schedule new appointments. This is why so many people find medical assisting so rewarding because it requires a blend of compassionate personal skills with technical expertise on a daily basis.
Who Are The Best Candidates for a Career in Medical Assisting?
In this section, we’ll discuss the characteristics that are most conducive to success in the field of medical assisting. In a sense, working as a medical assistant is just like any other career – it’s a better fit for some personality types than it is for others. But do not be discouraged if you lack some of the qualities we’re going to discuss. With hard work, dedication and the proper training, you can begin to develop the necessary traits and excel in your chosen career.
The field of medical assisting is open to many types of people, but candidates must be dedicated, detail oriented, and compassionate. It’s a dynamic and versatile career that does not require an excess amount of education. Medical assistants emerge from their training prepared to help deliver the high-quality patient care that heals and saves lives. It’s exciting and important work, especially for people who care for others and want to earn a good living while helping them recover.
But very few candidates step into the job already possessing all of these traits; most excel in some areas and need work in others. This is one reason that advanced training is recommended. This is the best way to get comfortable with the multitude of duties that a medical assistant has must attend to on a given workday. It’s much easier to stay composed and energetic when you have a firm grasp on the individual tasks that are involved in your everyday work routine. The keys are practice, enthusiasm, and a positive attitude.
Medical Assistants Are An Important Part of Every Healthcare Team
The first thing to keep in mind is the sometimes hectic nature of the healthcare industry. Everything that happens in a clinical setting is time sensitive and requires efficiency and advanced time management skills. For these reasons, candidates must be energetic, composed, and diligent. They must also be detail oriented and comfortable juggling several tasks at once.
Of course, much of a medical assistant’s job involves dealing with other people and establishing a rapport with them. You’ll be working as part of a highly skilled and committed team, so it’s crucial that you be able to adapt to a wide variety of strengths, weaknesses, and personality types. This is true of most work environments, but no one succeeds alone in the healthcare profession.
Here are some of the other traits you’ll need to possess or develop to be a good team member and excel as a medical assistant:
- The willingness to lead or follow, depending on the situation
- Strong and highly adaptable communication skills
- Openness to New Experiences and Learning
- Constant attention to detail, especially concerning right practice and safety concerns
- The ability to make informed decisions in a timely fashion
- Logical thinking and coordination skills
- Efficient Time Management
- The ability to monitor, assess, and adjust to varying situations
- The willingness to make and receive suggestions for improving performance
- Teaching ability
It’s All About The Patients
Patients are the most important part of any healthcare profession. They’re the sole reason that physicians’ offices, outpatient clinics, and hospitals exist. This means that everything the medical team does must be pursued with the comfort and well-being of the patient in mind. And this is just as true for the medical assistant as it is for nurses, surgeons, and administrators.
Always remember that you’re dealing with human beings. They might be ill, afraid, or frustrated, but it is your patients’ essential humanity that you must bear in mind at all times. For these reasons and more, a medical assistant must be a people person. In order to succeed, you must be compassionate, gentle, patient, and caring. You must always put the needs of the patient first, no matter what else might be happening.
You’ll need a warm and efficient bedside manner as well. You’ll have to communicate with patients honestly and openly, in whatever way will make them most comfortable. Medical assisting requires the willingness to explain, listen, and respond in meaningful ways. It also requires that you receive and document their medical information accurately, to ensure that they get the best care possible for their condition.
Here is a list of additional qualities and skills that are necessary to handle patients effectively:
- Sensitivity to difficulties patients might be experiencing
- Ability to stay calm and focused if patients are frustrated or angry
- Strong personal and customer service skills
- Active listening skills
- Ability to switch between tasks while retaining focus
- General knowledge of human psychology
- Ability to distinguish between varying levels of aptitude and comprehension
- Attention to safety issues
- Ability to interpret information and transfer it to others
In the next few sections, we’ll discuss the wide array of duties that medical assistants typically face in the course of their workday. The number and variety of these duties might seem daunting at first, but rest assured that with proper training and diligence you’ll grow into them quickly.
The Everyday Duties of a Medical Assistant
One of the most appealing parts of a career in medical assisting is that the work it requires is constantly changing. The role a medical assistant actually plays depends on the specific needs of the healthcare facility. And even within a given facility, these needs change from day to day. It is this dynamic variety that makes the job rewarding for so many people.
Broadly speaking, there are two categories of a medical assistant’s everyday responsibilities: administrative duties and clinical duties. Administrative duties involve clerical and bookkeeping tasks, while the clinical work entails hands-on care of actual patients. Although in larger facilities medical assistants sometimes specialize in one area or the other, there is typically a great deal of overlap between the two in their daily routine.
In the next two sections, we’ll discuss the various duties associated with both categories. Even a quick look will tell you that a medical assistant’s average work day is challenging, fast paced, and rewarding. Not to worry, though – you’ll be ready.
Medical assistants often have clerical and administrative duties, as well as directly participating in patient care. The clerical and administrative duties can include updating medical records, filling out insurance forms, arranging hospital admissions or lab work, answering telephones, and handling the medical office’s correspondence. Medical assistants are also often in charge of monitoring and ordering supplies.
Switching back and forth between direct patient care and this administrative mode is perhaps one of the biggest challenges of medical assisting. The difficulty arises because these two modes require vastly different approaches and points of emphasis, but with guidance, commitment, and practice, medical assistants eventually learn to make the transition smoothly. And although this aspect of the job is challenging, it’s also a good way to break up the day and avoid situational fatigue.
In terms of direct patient care, a medical assistant provides crucial support for physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals. On a given day, a medical assistant might be asked to take vital signs, prep patients for exams or procedures, explain medications and dietary restrictions, or even assist in diagnostic exams and the treatment procedures themselves.
Medical assistants also serve important functions in executing the lab work that so many patients need for proper diagnoses, medications, and procedures. They’re often asked to sterilize equipment, collect and prepare lab specimens, and assist in transferring them to outside facilities. And under the direction of a physician, medical assistants sometimes administer medications, draw blood, authorize prescription refills and call them into the pharmacy, or prepare patients for X-Rays and electrocardiograms. These are sophisticated and important duties, but nothing the properly trained medical assistant can’t handle.
In a very real sense, it’s difficult to predict what might be needed from a medical assistant on a given day. The only thing that’s truly certain is the variety of challenges and rewards involved. Typically, medical assistants play a crucial intermediary role between healthcare providers and patients. And it’s obvious that this role is absolutely essential to everything that happens to give patients the care that they need. The medical assistant position is one that no facility can do without.
Training for a Career as a Medical Assistant
Let’s have a detailed look at what you’ll need to do to begin work as a medical assistant. You’ll see that there are several different paths you can take, but remember that there is always a high level of competition for the best jobs in the medical industry. This means that you’ll want to make your candidacy as attractive as possible, especially if you want to maximize your job satisfaction and earning potential.
Many Different Roads Lead to a Career in Medical Assisting
Unlike many jobs in the healthcare profession, in most states, you do not need a formal education to become a medical assistant. Although this scenario is less common that it used to be, some people do enter the profession right out of high school. These candidates are usually those who have finished coursework in biology, chemistry, and anatomy. At the very least, candidates without formal training should brush up on these subjects, especially if they haven’t been exposed to them in a long time.
The road for candidates with only a high school diploma is not impossible, but it can be a difficult one to travel nevertheless. These candidates receive on the job training instead of a formal degree and are forced to learn the complexities of medical assisting in a variety of fast-paced settings. Unfortunately, candidates with only a high school diploma typically earn a lower salary than those with advanced training, especially at the start of their careers. This tends to hold true over the course of their career as well, regardless of what skills they develop.
Although formal training is not explicitly required, most employers prefer to hire candidates who have finished postsecondary programs in medical assisting. These programs are offered at community colleges, vocational schools, and universities. Typically, they take about a year to complete, although some community colleges offer two-year associates’ degrees as well.
There are online programs available as well, typically for students who have too many time constraints to attend classes in a conventional setting. These programs are often very beneficial, but make sure that whatever one you choose has the proper accreditation. Also make sure that it fulfills the requirements in your state of residence, as the rules that govern medical assisting can vary depending on where you live.
Some programs offer internships, where students do the real work of a medical assistant in a clinical setting. But regardless of where students receive this training, it will include instruction in a lab setting as well as in the classroom. This blend of academic study and practical applications is ideal for future medical assistants, as it prepares them for the wide range of duties they’ll someday fulfill on a daily basis.
Work in the Lab and Learn in the Classroom
Over the course of their training, students learn everything they need to know to excel in their chosen field. They receive instruction in a wide variety of applicable subjects, with a classroom focus on anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology. But this is not abstract knowledge or information you’ll store away for a while and quickly forget. With proper training, you’ll develop an advanced and useful skillet, one that you’ll employ every day in the service of others.
The training process always includes extensive practice the laboratory setting. Here, students learn how to deliver top notch patient care in a real world environment. They learn how to prep patients, assist in procedures and exams, draw blood, handle lab specimens, and everything else a medical assistant’s clinical work entails. In short, training in lab work prepares the student for the challenges of efficient and compassionate patient care.
Again, although it is possible to become a medical assistant with only a high school diploma, it is difficult for such candidates to stand out in a competitive field. Healthcare employers always seek the most highly trained candidates, people who have received a postsecondary education that prepares them to hit the ground running and prepared to thrive in a sometimes hectic clinical setting.
Job Outlook and Salary
We’ll finish up with a discussion about salary and a medical assistant’s future prospects. As of 2015, there were approximately 591,00 people working as medical assistants. The large majority of them were employed by physicians’ offices, hospitals, and outpatient clinics.
The salaries medical assistants earn are influenced by a number of factors, but their annual median pay in 2015 was $30,590. There was a substantial difference in wage earnings at the extremes of the spectrum. Those in the bottom 10 percent earned just over $21,00 a year, while the top 10 percent earned upwards of $43,000. Of the facilities that typically employ medical assistants, outpatient care centers paid the highest median salary.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the hiring of medical assistants is expected to grow by 23 percent from 2014-2024. This is significantly higher than the 7 percent growth expected in the overall job market and seems to suggest excellent job security for those who plan to enter the field in the next several years.
The upshot is that the future looks bright for those pursuing a career in medical assisting. It seems that no matter what state the economy is in, there are always opportunities in the healthcare industry. In terms of salary, it seems that our intuitions about formal training were correct — candidates who graduate from postsecondary programs will earn a great deal more than those with only a high school diploma.
This concludes our survey of the medical assisting profession. Hopefully, it’s given you the information you need to start deciding if medical assisting is the right career for you. For more information, please explore the links we’ve provided above. And most of all, we wish you the best of luck in all of your future endeavors!