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Medical Assistant

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QUICK FACTS
Medical Assistant
2010 Median Pay $28,860 per year
$13.87 per hour
Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Moderate-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2010 527,600
Job Outlook, 2010-20 31% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2010-20 162,900

What Medical Assistants Do

Medical assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks in the offices of physicians, podiatrists, chiropractors, and other health practitioners. Their duties vary with the location, specialty, and size of the practice.

Work Environment

Most medical assistants work in physicians' offices and other healthcare facilities. Most work full time.

How to Become a Medical Assistant

In most states, there are no formal educational requirements for becoming a medical assistant. Most have at least a high school diploma. Many assistants learn through on-the-job training.

Pay

The median annual wage of medical assistants was $28,860 in May 2010.

Job Outlook

Employment is expected to grow by 31 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations. Demand will stem from physicians hiring more medical assistants to do routine administrative and clinical duties so that physicians can see more patients.


What Medical Assistants Do

Medical assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks in the offices of physicians, podiatrists, chiropractors, and other health practitioners. Their duties vary with the location, specialty, and size of the practice.

Duties

Medical assistants typically do the following:

Electronic health records (EHRs) are changing medical assistants' jobs. More and more physicians are adopting EHRs, moving all their patient information online. Assistants need to learn the EHR software that their office uses.

Medical assistants take and record patients' personal information. They must be able to keep that information confidential and discuss it only with other medical personnel who are involved in treating the patient.

Medical assistants should not be confused with physician assistants, who examine, diagnose, and treat patients under a physician's supervision. For more information, see the profile on physician assistants.

In larger practices or hospitals, medical assistants may specialize in either administrative or clinical work.

Administrative medical assistants often fill out insurance forms or code patients' medical information. Some assistants buy and store supplies and equipment for the office.

Clinical medical assistants have different duties, depending on the state where they work. They may do basic laboratory tests, dispose of contaminated supplies, and sterilize medical instruments. They might have additional responsibilities, such as instructing patients about medication or special diets, preparing patients for x rays, removing stitches, drawing blood, or changing dressings.

Some medical assistants specialize in a specific type of medical office.

Ophthalmic medical assistants and optometric assistants help ophthalmologists and optometrists, respectively, provide eye care. They show patients how to insert, remove, and care for contact lenses. Ophthalmic medical assistants also may help an ophthalmologist in surgery.

Podiatric medical assistants work closely with podiatrists (foot doctors). They may make castings of feet, expose and develop x rays, and help podiatrists in surgery.


Work Environment

Medical assistants held about 527,600 jobs in 2010. Most of these assistants work in physicians' offices and other healthcare facilities. In 2010, more than half of all medical assistants worked in physicians' offices.

Work Schedules

Most medical assistants work full time. Some work evenings or weekends to cover shifts in medical facilities that are always open.


How to Become a Medical Assistant

In most states, there are no formal educational requirements for becoming a medical assistant. Most have at least a high school diploma. Many assistants learn through on-the-job training.

Education

High school students interested in a career as a medical assistant should take courses in biology, chemistry, and anatomy.

Medical assistants typically have a high school diploma or equivalent. There are no formal educational requirements for becoming a medical assistant in most states. However, some medical assistants graduate from formal education programs, and employers may prefer such training. Programs are available from community colleges, vocational schools, technical schools, or universities and take about 1 year to complete. These programs usually lead to a certificate or diploma. Some community and junior colleges offer 2-year programs that lead to an associate's degree. All programs have classroom and laboratory portions that include lessons in anatomy and medical terminology.

Some states may require assistants to graduate from an accredited program or pass an exam or both to do advanced tasks, such as taking x rays and giving injections.

Training

Through on-the-job training, a physician or another medical assistant in the office may teach the new assistant medical terminology, the names of the instruments, how to do daily tasks, how to interact with patients, and other tasks that help keep the office running smoothly. An assistant also learns how to code both paper and electronic health records and how to record patient information. It can take several months for an assistant to complete training, depending on the facility.

Certification

Medical assistants are not required to be certified. However, employers prefer to hire certified assistants.

Several organizations offer certification. Some require the assistant to pass an exam, and others require graduation from an accredited program. In most cases, an applicant must be at least 18 years old before applying for certification.

The National Commission for Certifying Agencies, part of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence, accredits four certifications for medical assistants:

To be eligible for the CMA Certification Examination, an assistant must have completed a postsecondary medical assisting program accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) and passed the certification exam. For the other three certifications, no formal education is required to take the certification exam.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Medical assistants must be able to understand and follow medical charts and diagnoses. They may be required to code a patient's medical records for billing purposes.

Detail oriented. Medical assistants must be precise when taking vital signs or recording patient information. Physicians and insurance companies rely on accurate records.

Interpersonal skills. Medical assistants need to be able to discuss patient information with other medical personnel, such as a physician. They often interact with patients who may be in pain or in distress, so they need to be able to act in a calm and professional manner.

Technical skills. Medical assistants should be able to use basic clinical instruments so they can take a patient's vital signs, such as heart rate or blood pressure.


Pay

The median annual wage of medical assistants was $28,860 in May 2010. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,810, and the top 10 percent earned more than $40,190.

Most medical assistants work full time. Some work evenings or weekends to cover shifts in medical facilities that are always open.


Job Outlook

Employment of medical assistants is expected to grow by 31 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations. The growth of the aging baby-boom population will continue to spur demand for preventive medical services, which are often provided by physicians. As their practices expand, physicians will hire more assistants to perform routine administrative and clinical duties, allowing the physicians to see more patients. Assistants will likely continue to be used in place of more expensive workers, such as nurses, to reduce costs.

In addition, an increasing number of group practices, clinics, and other healthcare facilities need support workers, particularly medical assistants, to do both administrative and clinical duties. Medical assistants work mostly in primary care, a steadily growing sector of the healthcare industry.

Additional demand also is expected as a result of new and changing tasks for medical assistants as part of the medical team. As more and more physicians' practices switch to electronic health records (EHRs), medical assistants' job responsibilities will continue to change. Assistants will need to become familiar with EHR computer software, including maintaining EHR security and analyzing electronic data, to improve healthcare information.

Projected Employment by 2020

690,400 (31% growth from 2010)

 Search jobs for "Medical Assistant"


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor
Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition

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