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Career Paths for Medical Assistants
Becoming a Medical Assistant: Which Career Path is Right for You?
If you’ve just started using the ScopeNote’s medical assistant study guide or have decided to take the plunge and enroll in school, congratulations! You’ve made an excellent career choice. Working as a medical assistant can make for a truly rewarding career. You have the opportunity to interact with a variety of patients from day to day, and you can choose from a wide range of work environments. You’ll get to experience the incredible sense of accomplishment that comes with helping patients feel better and overcome an illness or chronic problem, and you’ll round out your workday with the knowledge that you’re helping people each and every step of the way.
In order to become a medical assistant, you’ll need to become certified. This involves passing one of the tests administered by a handful of medical assistant certification organizations. These organizations and corresponding tests include the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) exam, the American Medical Technologists (AMT) Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) exam, the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) exam, and the National Healthcareer Association (NHA) Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) exam.
Medical Assisting: A Growing Profession
Medical assisting isn’t just a great career choice because it can be so rewarding: it’s also an excellent option thanks to the sheer amount of growth projected in the coming years. The allied health field is growing faster than virtually any other industry nationwide, and becoming a medical assistant means you’ll reap the benefits of that growth. In fact, the size of the medical assisting workforce is expected to grow by at least 23% over the next 10 years, with more than 130,000 new positions opening up. That’s a lot of opportunity!
Once you’ve studied for and passed one of the exams mentioned above with the help of a high quality medical assistant study guide, you’ll have to decide which career path you want to take as a medical assistant. As you may already know, medical assisting offers all sorts of different possibilities for professional development. There’s no one size fits all approach to building your career, and that’s one of the best things about the profession. Depending on your interests, aptitudes, and personal strengths, you can choose a career path where you’re sure to thrive and grow — both professionally and personally.
We’ve put together this guide to some of the most common career paths that you might opt to take as a medical assistant. Below, we’ll cover each of the following:
- Administrative careers
- Clinical medical assistants
- Office management
- Home health
- Specialized career paths
- Becoming an instructor
- Transitioning into nursing
Ready to learn more? Let’s get started!
Administrative Careers in Medical Assisting
As a medical assistant, it’s typical to be given responsibility for a range of administrative tasks. You’ll likely engage in charting, recordkeeping, and other work that can involve both paper and computerized records and notation.
Over time, you might find that you’re particularly suited to this sort of work. Perhaps you enjoy keeping up with records more than actually working one on one with patients. If so, you might consider becoming an administrative medical assistant. With an administrative focus, you’ll take charge of tasks such as scheduling appointments, updating records, and potentially even organizing tests and billing insurance companies for patient reimbursements. Some medical assistants with an administrative focus will also engage in other administrative work, including processing payments and managing bookkeeping.
Still, it’s not uncommon for an administrative medical assistant to spend some of their time in a patient care setting. Even if you’d prefer to be behind a desk for most of the day, you may still be expected to take vital signs, show patients to their rooms, or switch out disposable coverings and other equipment between patients. That said, it’s possible to focus primarily on administrative tasks depending on your particular work environment.
Clinical Medical Assistants
While administrative medical assistants are heavily focused on keeping records, organizing data, processing payments, and so on, clinical medical assistants interact more with patients in a direct care setting. However, the scope of services that you might provide will tend to vary from one state to the next depending on state laws.
Amongst the clinical duties that you might be tasked with, you might be expected to:
- Assist physicians and other medical professionals during patient exams
- Take note of a patient’s medical history before and during an examination
- Explain to patients what will occur during a medical procedure
- Educate patients on what sort of home care will be helpful in terms of assisting with recovery
- Offer emotional support to patients during difficult procedures
- Communicate with pharmacies to transmit prescription information for particular patients
- Collect lab specimens and/or send them off to a lab for analysis
- Take and record vital signs for patients
In some states, clinical medical assistants can also be tasked with more in depth, hands on procedures. These might include things such as drawing blood, dressing a patient’s wound, removing bandaging, and even performing an EKG.
Office Management and Clerical Tasks
As we mentioned above, it’s possible to go down an administrative career route as a medical assistant. If you’re particularly partial to doing things like answering phones, scheduling patient appointments, and welcoming patients into the office, you may find yourself drawn to working behind a desk rather than spending the majority of your time in examination rooms.
However, you don’t have to stop there. Working at the front desk or in the insurance billing office might just be the first step on a longer and more advanced career pathway. In fact, the experience you gain as a clerical and administrative medical assistant can lead directly to a career in medical office management.
Running the office in a medical practice is no easy task. However, your experience as a clerical medical assistant can put you in a great position to take on the role and do it well. It’s possible to be promoted to such a position after working in the same office for a number of years. Additionally, though, you might consider applying to office management positions in other medical offices once you have enough experience under your belt. Over time, you could even move up the ladder to managing much larger medical facilities.
Focusing on Phlebotomy
Medical assistants regularly engage in a variety of clinical tasks. Whether it’s taking a patient’s vital signs or preparing them for an examination by a physician, it’s not uncommon to regularly engage with patients.
In some states, it’s also possible for medical assistants to focus specifically on phlebotomy, or the act of drawing blood from patients. Whether you’re drawing blood for a test, taking blood for donation, or setting up a transfusion, phlebotomy work is vital to patient health and is an essential component to virtually any long-term patient care strategy.
If you’re not able to specialize in phlebotomy right away, you may be able to pursue further certification in your state in order to go down this career path. As a phlebotomist, you’ll have the opportunity to work in a wide variety of medical environments, including physicians’ offices, hospitals, and laboratories. Your job isn’t just to draw blood, either: you also have to help patients relax, reassure them, and explain what you’re doing and why.
Many medical assistants work in typical office environments. Whether it’s a family practitioner’s office, a specialist of some kind, or a large outpatient or hospital facility, we often think of medical assistants as working in a medical building.
However, you’re not limited to these sorts of environments. If you prefer, it’s possible to take up an alternative career path that involves working with patients in their own homes.
As with many other aspects of the allied health field, the requirements for becoming a home health aide tend to vary from state to state. In many states, there is little to no regulation when it comes to your ability to offer home health services to clients. As a result, your training as a medical assistant may be able to set you apart from competitors who have no distinct educational background related to patient care.
If you opt to become a home health aide, you might consider starting your own business. Some highly successful home health aide businesses involve a number of medical assistants working together to provide in-home care to clients across a large geographical area. Typical clients include elderly patients, as well as people who are recovering from acute illnesses, surgery, and other serious medical issues.
Specialized Medical Assisting Careers
When you first start out as a medical assistant, you’ll likely be working as a generalist. What do we mean? Simply put, you won’t have much experience in any particular field of medicine, and you won’t be especially familiar with any of the wide range of tasks that you might need to perform. It’s unlikely that you’ll specialize in something right away.
However, specializing in a particular form of medical assisting is a great way to advance your career later on down the road. For example, you might be particularly interested in cardiology. If so, you could choose to specialize in this form of medicine and work as a medical assistant in a cardiologist’s office. This would entail performing many of the same duties you might perform in any other office as a medical assistant, in addition to some duties which would be specific to cardiology. For example, you might find yourself assisting with EKGs, cardiac stress tests, and other sorts of exams which are largely unique to cardiology. Not interested in cardiology? You might choose to focus on dermatology, ophthalmology, pediatrics, gynecology, or any number of other fields.
If you decide that working directly with patients isn’t for you, you may opt to specialize in lab work. As a medical lab assistant, you’ll spend much of your time working with patient lab specimens rather than interfacing with patients one on one.
Becoming a Medical Assistant Instructor
Are you particularly fond of the time you spent (or are currently spending, in some cases) in school for medical assisting? Maybe you love the classroom environment. Have you ever considered becoming a teacher yourself?
If so, you’ll be happy to know that it’s possible to become a medical assistant instructor once you’ve gained an adequate amount of experience. As you can imagine, arguably the most qualified person to teach medical assistants is — you guessed it — someone who’s been through medical assisting school themselves. Once you’ve completed a course of study and obtained some experience in the field, it’s possible to become an instructor. However, you don’t have to make the switch to full time teaching if you don’t want to. Instead, you can work part time as an instructor while still working as a medical assistant in an office setting. The flexibility this affords you can be a big plus.
Transitioning into Nursing
After you’ve worked as a medical assistant for a certain period of time, you might find yourself drawn to bigger challenges and more responsibility. If so, you can consider making the transition to nursing.
As a medical assistant, you’ll already have valuable knowledge and experience in the medical field. Your existing knowledge base will make it easier to complete the coursework and clinical hours needed to become a registered nurse. While nursing school can be overwhelming for people without any medical background, medical assistants often find it to be much more manageable. Additionally, you might be able to transfer some of your existing credits from your medical assisting degree into a nursing program. As a result, you might find yourself finishing up school faster than you think.
Medical Assistant Study Guide
Ready to start out on one of these exciting career paths? First, you’ll need to pass one of the exams mentioned at the beginning of this guide. And in order to do so, you’ll need the right medical assistant study guide.
ScopeNotes™ offers top quality test prep materials for medical assistants. Our practices tests are the best way to prepare for the CMA, RMA, NCMA, and CCMA exams. With thousands of practice questions, unlimited practice tests, and customized content, you’ll be ready when exam day arrives. Click here to learn more about our affordable pricing!