Becoming a medical assistant is one way to work in a health-care setting without having to set aside extensive time and money for preparatory education. You’ll most likely just need a high school diploma, though there are formal one or two-year technical programs that some employers might want you to have under your belt. You can also get certified by a professional organization to increase your chances of being hired. Your duties as a medical assistant will vary by employer and the state in which you live, and it’s possible to specialize in either clinical or administrative work. However, you’ll probably be responsible for taking patient histories, assisting with patient exams, scheduling appointments and handling blood for laboratory tests.
Whether you attend a training program or are trained on the job, you’ll receive instruction in how to use the tools of the trade in tasks such as drawing blood, taking X-rays or removing stitches. You should be comfortable performing these procedures when asked and picking up new skills when needed. After all, technology in health care is constantly advancing; one example is the growing use of electronic health records, rather than paper files, to store patient information.
Though the technology is important, communicating with other people is an equally central part of a medical assistant’s job. You’ll need to discuss patient information with physicians and interact with other office staff. Naturally, you’ll also be working one-on-one with patients who may be ill or upset. It’s important to maintain a calm and caring demeanor and demonstrate good listening skills when taking patient histories.
Many of your tasks as a medical assistant involve reading and interpreting information on medical charts and other files. Administrative medical assistants often deal with billing procedures, insurance forms and patient medical histories, all of which require understanding complex and detailed information. Clinical medical assistants often deal with the details of laboratory equipment, medical supplies and medical instruments.
Attention to Detail
As a medical assistant, you’ll be responsible for taking patient information -– such as vital signs and health history -– and recording that information clearly and accurately. You won’t be the one prescribing a treatment plan, but doctors do use the information recorded by medical assistants to make decisions about patients’ health. In addition, insurance companies require that patient records be as complete and accurate as possible.
2016 Salary Information for Medical Assistants
Medical assistants earned a median annual salary of $31,540 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, medical assistants earned a 25th percentile salary of $26,860, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $37,760, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 634,400 people were employed in the U.S. as medical assistants.
Samantha Ley writes career and education articles for various online publications. She also works in social media management and creates test materials and other educational content for various companies. Ley holds a B.A. in English and Spanish from Kenyon College and an M.Ed. from the University of Virginia.