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What Does A Medical Assistant Do?
Becoming a Medical Assistant: What Do Medical Assistants Do?
As the economy continues to recover from the Great Recession of 2008, many industries are either shrinking or growing at a slower than average rate. If you’re thinking about a new career, it’s important to choose an occupation with a solid employment outlook for the next 10 years. The faster the rate of job growth, the easier it will be for you to find long term employment — and the more competitive you’ll be when it comes to demanding higher pay.
At the same time, long term fulfillment in any occupation involves being actively engaged in your work. You need to feel like your job matters, and like the work that you’re doing makes a difference in the lives of the people you work with. Many people also want a job with variety, where you can expect to take on different tasks from day to day. It’s also good to work in an industry that includes significant variety from one work environment to the next, as this allows you to switch up your role and responsibilities from one job to the next without having to change industries or occupations.
There aren’t many careers out there that satisfy all of these requirements — but medical assisting is one of them! If you’re thinking about becoming a medical assistant, you’ve chosen a great potential occupation. Medical assisting is varied, and you’ll often have lots of variety from one hour to the next. The job outlook for medical assistants is excellent, too: employment is expected to grow by an astonishing 29% over the next 10 years! Compared to the national average of 7% growth across all occupations (which includes factoring in many occupations that are shrinking or displaying negative growth) and 22% across all so-called “health care support” occupations, this kind of growth rate means that your chances of finding full-time employment in the setting and geographical location of your choice are much higher than with other jobs.
But what exactly do medical assistants do? If you ask a medical assistant what their job entails, they might give you a list so long that it’s hard to keep track of everything they’ve rattled off. And, two different medical assistants might give you somewhat different descriptions of their work. That’s because medical assisting involves many different tasks depending on your working environment, role, specialization, and amount of experience. This can make it difficult to answer the question of “what do medical assistants do?”
That said, it’s definitely possible to give an overview of what the career entails and what you can expect to encounter from day to day at work. Considering that entering the occupation involves attending school and passing an exam for medical assistants, it’s important to make sure that you have a firm grasp of what will be involved in the job before you take on the tasks associated with getting an education, studying for an exam, and becoming certified.
That’s why we’ve put together this guide to what a medical assistant does. By the end of this guide, you should have a good sense of the role that medical assistants play in various care settings. Ready to learn more? Let’s get started!
Medical Assistants’ Role
Many jobs in the health care support field involve a very specific set of duties. Some jobs are administrative, while others are clinical; some involve more time spent with patients, while others have you sitting at a desk, working with a computer, and answering phones.
One of the things that’s unique about medical assisting, though, is the amount of variety that comes along with the job based on the role that you occupy at a particular practice or in a specific care setting. As part of your educational program, you’ll be trained in both clerical and clinical tasks. This means that you won’t simply be capable of doing patient-facing work after finishing school, but you also won’t be expected to sit at a desk all day if you prefer working one-on-one with patients. You’ll have options, and you’ll be able to apply for jobs with a role that fits your particular skill set and preferred working environment.
Top Skills for Medical Assistants
A recent analysis of medical assisting job openings highlights just how many skills are involved in this highly varied occupation. Many employers are seeking a wide range of skills in their new hires, and you may be expected to perform any or all of these tasks as part of your jobs.
According to the data that was assembled, the top 12 skills that employers are looking for in new medical assistant hires are:
- Patient care
- Measuring vital signs
- Medical assistants
- Making appointments for patients
- Scheduling patients
- Patient preparation
- Administering injections
- Phlebotomy (drawing blood)
- Educating patients and families on home care and self-care
- Electrocardiogram (EKG) administration and testing
- Patient flow
- Checking blood pressure
Working Environment and Job Setting
Because medical assistants are responsible for such a wide variety of tasks, one helpful way of trying to understand exactly what medical assistants do is by breaking down their job responsibilities into different work environments and job settings. While there’s often quite a bit of overlap between different care settings, the responsibilities of a medical assistant working in a hospital will generally differ somewhat from those assigned to someone working in a private practice.
Let’s take a look at each of the care settings below, along with the duties that a medical assistant might be expected to perform in each of these settings.
Medical Assisting in a Hospital
When working in a hospital, a medical assistant generally acts as a nurse’s assistant. However, this doesn’t mean that 100% of their work is purely clinical and patient-facing.
It’s not unusual for a medical assistant in a hospital to fill out patient forms, assist with billing, work as a receptionist, and take part in patient scheduling. In addition, you might administer medication to patients, give patients immunization injections, draw and examine blood, collect urine and stool samples, and more. This means that you could expect to work both one-on-one with patients as well as in a lab setting. Lastly, you might end up helping with patient referrals and EKG tests.
Working in a Clinic
Clinics and hospitals might seem similar on the surface, but there are some significant differences between the two. As a result, your role as a medical assistant in a clinic is likely to different somewhat from what you’d experience if you were working in a hospital.
Where your work could take place in any number of wards or areas of a hospital, clinics are generally much smaller and more general in their approach to patient care. As a result, you could spend less of your time alongside a nurse and more time directly assisting a doctor.
As in a hospital, your work might be divided between clinical and clerical responsibilities. This means that in addition to assisting a doctor directly, you could also be tasked with answering phones, greeting patients, and giving patients instructions on their medications and self-care.
Private Practice Medical Assistant
In the past, medical assistants were more common in clinical and hospital settings. Nowadays, though, it’s becoming increasingly common for medical assistants to work in private medical practices as well.
In a generalist practice — meaning, if you’re working with a family doctor or primary care physician — your duties can be quite similar to those outlined above for working in a clinic. However, many private practice revolve around a particular medical specialty.
If you work in a specialty clinic, your job responsibilities will center around the services which that particular specialty clinic performs. For example, a dermatology practice will likely have you performing somewhat different tasks from a cardiologist, and vice versa. Still, you can expect to do both clinical and clerical work, meaning that you may spend part of your time in reception and the remainder of your hours working with patients.
Ambulatory Care Setting
If you’re looking for a fast-paced working environment, ambulatory care is a good option. You’ll be tasked with many of the same responsibilities discussed above, but the speed and efficiency with which you’ll need to perform them is often taken to a new level when it comes to ambulatory care.
Completing forms and performing point of care testing for a patient in an ambulance can be stressful, and it’s important to recognize that ambulatory care work is often difficult and demanding. It’s also incredibly rewarding, however.
Clinical Vs. Clerical Responsibilities
Another way of answering the question “what do medical assistants do?” is by dividing tasks into two distinct categories: clinical responsibilities on the one hand, and administrative tasks on the other. While medical assistants do work in a variety of environments, each of which comes with its own unique set of requirements and expectations (as discussed above), there’s often a lot that’s shared in common between these different job settings.
However, it’s quite common for medical assistants to placed into a job role that’s either primarily clinical or clerical, depending on the needs of a particular practice or care setting. When this happens, a medical assistant can expect that most of the duties they perform will be directed towards either clinical or clerical tasks, with a small amount of the other being handed off to them as needed. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the clinical vs. clerical responsibilities that come along with being a medical assistant.
When working on the clinical side of things, a medical assistant is frequently the very first point of contact that a patient has with the clinical staff at a private practice or clinic. This means that you’ll have a unique opportunity to shape a patient’s overall experience and prepare them for their meeting with the primary care physician or specialist that they’ll be seeing afterwards.
As part of your overall clinical responsibilities, the tasks you might be expected to perform can include:
- Checking patient vital signs: This can involve taking a patient’s heart rate, measuring their oxygen saturation, taking their blood pressure, and recording each of these into their chart.
- Patient care: Many patients are anxious about the experience of being at the doctor’s office, and they often have lots of questions about what they can expect. Part of your job involves calming patients down, reassuring them, and answering any questions that you can (so long as those questions fall within your scope of practice, meaning that they’re generally non-medical questions).
- Injections: Vaccinating patients is a common task for medical assistants.
- Phlebotomy: This term refers to the act of drawing blood from patients. Considering the number of patients that end up requiring basic blood work, phlebotomy is a task you might be expected to perform on a regular basis.
- Electrocardiogram testing: Setting up an EKG and administering the test is a task often assigned to medical assistants.
In addition to the clinical responsibilities listed above, medical assistants are often expected to perform various administrative or clerical tasks. These can include:
- Receptionist tasks: Working in reception can mean answering phones, taking messages, and more.
- Paperwork: Medical offices have to deal with significant amounts of paperwork, and some of this responsibility is often doled out to medical assistants.
- Supplies and inventory: Medical assistants are sometimes expected to restock the front desk as well as patient rooms with necessary supplies.
- Communicating with patients: When working as a receptionist or at the front desk, you’re often both the first and last point of contact for a patient. This means that you might be responsible for communicating important information to a patient as they leave the office.
- Scheduling: Medical assistants sometimes work in scheduling, ensuring that patients are properly placed into the upcoming appointment calendar.
Medical Assistant Exam
Now that you know more about what’s involved in working as a medical assistant, you might be ready to get started with your new career. If so, congratulations! If you’re already enrolled in an educational program or planning to start one, it’s important to keep in mind that you’ll need to study for and pass one of the nationally approved medical assistant certification exams before you can begin your new career.
Passing the CMA, CCMA, NCMA, or RMA exam isn’t easy, and it’s important to take the right approach to studying. Simply reviewing course material isn’t enough to adequately prepare you for these comprehensive standardized tests. You don’t have to go it alone, though: ScopeNotes is here to help. We offer affordable, easy to use, and highly effective practice tests that will prepare you for the exam of your choice in no time. Learn more about our affordable pricing here.