News & Events
Medical Assistant Jurisdiction and Scope of Practice
- October 12, 2018
- Posted by: claudine
- Category: CMA practice test
Stay in Your Lane: Medical Assistant Scope of Practice and Jurisdiction
Are you considering becoming a medical assistant? Or, maybe you’re wrapping up an educational program as we speak. Whether you’re just getting started or about to enter the job market, medical assisting is an exciting, rewarding, and highly in demand occupation.
There’s no question that the job outlook for medical assistants is better than virtually any other occupation out there. In fact, employment in the field is currently expected to grow at a rate of 29% over the next 10 years. Talk about major growth! Compare that to the national average for all jobs and industries, which is currently just 7%. Of course, the health care industry itself is growing significantly — but even the health care industry average is at just 22%. Clearly, medical assistants have a bright future ahead when it comes to employment opportunities.
Many people get into medical assisting because it offers the balance of being a rewarding occupation on the one hand and a highly employable one on the other. However, it’s not uncommon for prospective medical assistants to have questions about their jurisdiction and scope of practice. Do you work under the supervision of a physician? Are you overseen by a nurse? Is it both, or even neither? And depending on the answer, how does that impact your scope of practice as a medical assistant?
Questions about scope of practice and jurisdiction as a medical assistant aren’t just important for practical purposes on the job. These kinds of questions could also show up on certification exams, such as the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) exam. In fact, you may encounter these sorts of questions when taking a CMA practice test in preparation for the real thing. That’s why it’s important to understand how jurisdiction and scope of practice work ahead of time, before you sit down to take a CMA practice test (or another medical assistant certification).
Of course, we also recognize that not everyone who’s interested in medical assisting is necessarily already familiar with what the job is, what it entails, or how to become a medical assistant. And in describing and understanding the jurisdiction and scope of practice of medical assistants, it’s important to distinguish between those working in medical assisting on the one hand and registered nurses (RNs) on the other.
We’ll address all of these questions and more below. Specifically, this blog post will touch on the following questions:
- What is a medical assistant?
- What do medical assistants do?
- How do you become a medical assistant?
- Are medical assistants different from nurses?
- What’s the jurisdiction and scope of practice for a medical assistant?
- How do I study for my medical assistant exam?
Ready to learn more about this exciting career? Let’s get started!
What Is a Medical Assistant?
The last time you visited your general physician or a specialist, you may have noticed just how busy the physician’s office was. As the baby boomer generation continues to age, more and more Americans are in need of health care services. Additionally, the frequency with which aging Americans need these services is also increasing. As a result, physicians’ offices are seeing more patients than ever. This means that each individual doctor’s time is more valuable than ever, making it important for them to hand off certain routine tasks to other staff members so that they can dedicate their time to the tasks that only they can perform.
This in a nutshell describes the role that medical assistants fill in a physician’s office, specialty practice, or hospital setting. As a medical assistant, you’ll perform various administrative and/or clerical tasks that are vital to patient processing so as to assist the physician in seeing patients more efficiently and effectively.
But what exactly do medical assistants do? What tasks are you expected to perform? Keep reading to learn more.
What Do Medical Assistants Do?
At this point, you have a general sense of what medical assistants do as part of their day to day routine on the job. But what about the specifics?
The best way to understand the specific job duties of medical assistants is to think of the career in terms of a division between administrative tasks and clinical tasks. Of course, there’s some overlap between these two areas. But, generally speaking, this is a helpful way to divide the responsibilities that are typically associated with the job.
What sort of clinical responsibilities might you be tasked with? These can include the following:
- Electrocardiograms (EKGs): Depending on the physician’s office, you may be tasked with setting up and performing EKG tests for patients.
- Injections: Medical assisting often involved giving patients routine injections, such as vaccinations.
- Phlebotomy: Phlebotomy, or the process of drawing blood from patients, is another common task. Many patients need routine or specialized blood work, making this an important job for many medical assistants.
- Patient care: Have you ever been anxious, nervous, or just generally worried and uneasy during a trip to the doctor? Seeing a physician can be a stressful experience, and the disposition and attitudes of the professionals working in the office can have a major impact on how you feel and how comfortable you are. A big part of your job, then, involves interacting with patients, working to reassure them, and generally make them as comfortable as possible.
- Vital signs: When a patient comes in to see the physician, you’ll take their vital signs. This includes their heart rate, oxygen saturation, blood pressure, and so on. You’ll also record these numbers in their chart.
This isn’t everything you’ll be responsible for, though. Administrative tasks are also an important part of your job. These tasks can vary from one office to the next, but will generally include:
- Patient scheduling: While it may not be your full time job, you may need to assist with scheduling patients. This involves understanding and using whatever software scheduling application is in place in the physician’s office.
- Patient communication: If you’re working at the front desk or the checkout area, you’ll be either the first or last person that a patient encounters when coming to see the physician (and, sometimes, you’ll be both). As a result, the physician might task you with giving the patient various instructions when arriving to or departing from the office.
- Stocking supplies: Keeping inventory properly stocked is essential, both up front at the reception area as well as in examination rooms.
- Paperwork: Whether it’s patient records, consent forms, medical billing, or any number of other items, maintaining appropriate patient paperwork is an essential part of running a medical practice. You might therefore be tasked with various duties and responsibilities related to paperwork.
- Reception: Sometimes, medical assistants will take on the duties of a receptionist. This can mean answering the phone, communicating with patients, and more.
How Do You Become a Medical Assistant?
At this point, you like the sound of the job and you’re interested in pursuing a career in the field. That’s excellent! But you might be wondering: how do I become a medical assistant? Don’t worry — we can answer this question in a snap.
While it’s technically possible to become a medical assistant via on the job training (rather than attending a formal program), it’s becoming less and less common for physicians’ offices to hire people for these positions unless candidates have had some formal training already. For this reason, we generally recommend attending a formal educational program if you’re looking to begin a career in medical assisting.
There are a variety of training options available. Some community colleges have on campus training programs available, many of which can be completed in as little as 9 months. Other schools offer associate’s degrees which can take up to two years to complete.
Online courses are an option, too. Some on campus programs offer hybrid course options, giving you the ability to take a portion of your classes in person and the rest online. Other programs are entirely online, meaning you can complete them from the comfort of your home. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll still have to complete a clinical externship as part of your educational process.
Once you’ve finished your training program, you’ll need to pass a certification test. The best way to prepare for this exam is by practicing for the real thing — specifically, by taking as many CMA practice tests (or the practice test that corresponds to your certification of choice) as possible. We’ll discuss this in greater detail at the end of the this guide.
What’s the Difference Between a Medical Assistant and a Registered Nurse?
With all of this in mind, you’re ready to jump into a medical assisting educational program. Or, perhaps you’ve already started one. Either way, there’s another common question that you might have — one that’s related to the question of a medical assistant’s jurisdiction and scope of practice. Specifically: what’s the difference between a medical assistant and a registered nurse?
Aside from different job growth rates (medical assisting is expected to grow at almost twice the rate of nursing) and total positions available, nurses and medical assistants have different educational requirements, different licensing, and different scopes of practice.
When it comes to education, medical assisting usually involves approximately one to two years of school (as discussed above). A nursing degree program can take significantly longer. Some associate degrees in nursing can be completed in two years, while a bachelor’s in nursing can take four years to complete.
Nurses are required to pass an exam called the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX. Meanwhile, medical assistants can take one of several different exam options, including the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) exam, the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) exam, the National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) exam, or the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) exam.
Above all, nurses and medical assistants operate under different jurisdictions and have different scopes of practice. While nurses operate under the jurisdiction of the Nurse Practice Act, the jurisdiction of medical assistants is different.
Medical Assistant Scope of Practice: Physician’s Jurisdiction
So, what exactly is the jurisdiction and scope of practice for medical assistants?
As just mentioned, nurses are regulated by something called the Nurse Practice Act. This act varies from one state to another, meaning that there is no national Nurse Practice Act which applies to all nurses in all states. In other words, the specifics of the rules governing nursing can vary from one state to another.
On the other hand, a medical assistant works under the jurisdiction of a physician. Some states such as California have created rules governing the specific scope of practice of medical assistants in that state. In most cases, though, there are no specific regulations which determine the scope of practice of a medical assistant.
In combination with the fact that medical assistants operate under the jurisdiction of a physician, this means that you will be able to perform any duties which you have been competently trained to perform by the physician for whom you’re working. Typical duties are outlined above. However, this list is not exhaustive. Given that you’re under the doctor’s jurisdiction, our role and responsibilities will vary depending on the specifics of the practice where you’re employed.
Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) Practice Tests for Certification
Now that you understand the job description, educational requirements, and medical jurisdiction associated with this exciting career, you’re ready to dive into the field of medical assisting. But before you can get your first job, you’ll want to pass a certification exam. The question is: how?
Studying for and passing a standardized test is no simple task. Most traditional study methods are ineffective when it comes to standardized testing. Even if you did well with the exams you had to take during your educational program, passing a certification test can still prove to be incredibly difficult. Fortunately, we’re here to help!
ScopeNotes™ offers affordable, high quality test prep for medical assistants. With ScopeNotes, you have access to unlimited CMA practice tests to help prepare you for the real thing. ScopeNotes even comes with a guarantee: if you don’t pass the exam on your first try, we’ll extend your subscription and give you access to additional CMA practice tests until you do.
Ready to start preparing for the CMA exam? Click here to learn about our affordable pricing!