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Medical assistants have a very important role to play in the complex world of medicine. From doctors’ offices to clinics to hospitals, they perform a combination of medical and administrative duties. They are an important part of a healthcare team and typically get to work directly with patients, doctors and pharmacists.

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What do Medical Assistants Do?

The job of medical assistants is two-fold: providing clinical support and administrative support. The clinical support element involves assisting physicians and other medical professionals by performing tasks such as taking patients’ vital signs, administering drugs, recording medical histories, preparing exam rooms, drawing blood and removing sutures. Medical assistants also ensure that the patients feel comfortable at all times. Explaining medications and treatment options in detail to the patients is also a very important role that the medical assistants perform .

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The administrative support element involves filling out paperwork, updating patient records, making medical appointments and answering phone calls.

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How much do Medical Assistants make?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical Assistants made an annual median wage of $33,610 in May 2018. The highest paying industry in this occupation was outpatient care centers ($35,600), followed by state, local and private hospitals ($34,980), offices of physicians ($33,650) and offices of chiropractors ($29,960). Alaska is the top-paying state for medical assistants with an annual mean wage of $45,490, followed by the District of Columbia, Washington, Minnesota and Massachusetts.

Steps to Become a Medical Assistant:

To start a career as a medical assistant, you will have to take three main steps. Have a look:

  1. Enroll in a Medical Assistant School

Note: Make sure the school you choose is accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).
The minimum level of education required for an entry-level job in this field is a high school diploma or equivalent. However, medical assistants who go for a degree or certification via a postsecondary program may find it easier to find employment. Most programs for medical assistants are offered at vocational schools, technical schools, universities or community colleges. These programs usually lead to a certificate or a diploma. The educational qualifications to become a medical assistant can be obtained within a year, whereas an associate’s degree will take at least two years to complete. An associate’s degree would be a relatively advance degree, covering topics such as the following:

  • First Aid
  • Anatomy
  • Computer Applications
  • Patient Relations
  • Record-keeping
  • Medical Billing and Coding
  • Pharmacology

Generally speaking, you are advised to take courses in chemistry, biology, anatomy, business and computers.

  1. Get Some Experience

Before you begin your career, it is important to spend some time getting the right kind of experience. Depending on your program, you might be able to do that while in school, since many programs would require hands-on experience at clinics, doctors’ offices or hospitals. This externship will help medical students understand the concepts behind basic testing, measuring vital signs, managing the front desk and administering medical tests.
Make sure you ask lots of questions at this stage, develop your medical and communication skills and make connections in the field.

  1. Get your Certification

Even though most states do not require medical assistants to be certified, many employers may prefer to hire certified assistants, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are various organizations that offer certifications. Applicants are required to pass an exam after completing their educational requirements. Applicants must also be at least 18 years of age before they can apply to get certified.

Certifications for Medical Assistants

According to the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, which is a part of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence, the following are five accredited certifications for medical assistants:

  • “Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) from the American Association of Medical Assistants
  • Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) from American Medical Technologists
  • National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) from the National Center for Competency Testing
  • Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) from the National Healthcareer Association
  • Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) from the National Healthcareer Association”

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics
For a more detailed understanding of requirements for each state, you are advised to contact the relevant state board of medicine.

Career Advancement Options for Medical Assistants

With experience and additional educational qualifications, medical assistants can specialize and move into leadership roles. Getting a bachelor’s degree might open up new avenues and lead to paths such as a registered nurse, nurse practitioner or a physician assistant. Other related careers are listed below:

Occupations Median Wage (2018)
Phlebotomists $34,480
Nursing Assistants and Orderlies $28,530
Home Health Aides $24,200
Pharmacy Technicians $32,700
Dental Assistants $38,660
Medical Records & Health Information Technicians $40,350

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Should you become a Medical Assistant?

If you are interested in working in the field of medicine, becoming a medical assistant might be a good option. Here are some reasons why you should become a medical assistant:

  1. Easy Entry into the Medical Field

For most medical occupations, you typically require an undergraduate degree, a medical degree and a residency – all of which amounts up to nearly 15 years of education. Medical assistants, on the other hand, usually need merely a year of education before they are allowed to work in a professional setting.

  1. Easy on the Pocket

Unlike medical schools, medical assistants programs do not cost an arm and a leg.

  1. High growth

Medical assistants are currently very high in demand. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth in this occupation between 2016 and 2026 is an incredible 29%, which is much faster than the overall growth rate for all occupations which stands at 7%. An impressive 183,900 jobs are expected to be added in the category between 2016 and 2026.