What Does a Medical Assistant Do? Your Top FAQs Answered

Becoming a medical assistant opens up a rewarding career in healthcare. Medical assistants work alongside physicians and nurses, performing various clinical and administrative tasks.

When assisting a medical team, you may have to take vital signs, help out physicians with examinations, and prepare lab tests. You also have to arrange appointments, speak with patients, and record and organize medical histories.

Starting a career as a medical assistant isn’t as challenging as you may think. The main requirements are having a high school diploma and completing a training program through an accredited medical assisting school. It can take between nine months and two years to become a qualified medical assistant.

What does a medical assistant do? What’s it like to work in a medical team, caring for the health of patients? This article answers all your questions about having a career in this healthcare sector.

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

Medical assistants (MA) care for two crucial areas in a healthcare setting — clinical and administrative. Some duties involve work similar to a receptionist, such as answering the telephone and greeting patients. But some clinical tasks are more like work a nurse does. For example, you may have to draw blood, perform an ECG, or prepare examination rooms.

However, the type of support you give to the medical team depends on where you work. For example, in hospitals, medical assistants may have to assist with emergencies, administer IV medication, and use medical equipment. In a private healthcare facility, the duties may be more administrative with little clinical work.

What are the administrative tasks of a medical assistant?

Here is a list of the many tasks you will learn in a medical assistant training program:

  • How to manage patient records
  • Learn medical codes to bill patients
  • Know how to complete and process insurance payments
  • Keep an accurate record of medical records and charts
  • Work with general admin tools to schedule appointments, answer the phone, and prepare paperwork

What are the clinical duties of a medical assistant?

The critical job of a medical assistant is more than being a receptionist. As part of the training program, you will also learn the following skills:

  • Record patient history
  • Measure vital signs such as pulse rate, blood pressure, and body temperature
  • Give injections or immunization shots
  • Explain medical procedures
  • Collect specimens for lab tests
  • Assist physicians with physical examinations
  • Sterilize equipment
  • Change dressings

Depending on the healthcare facility where you work, you may have other specialized tasks to learn.

What are the Main Types of Medical Assistants?

There are three main types of medical assistants — administrative medical assistants, clinical medical assistants, and specialized medical assistants. Here is a brief overview of what each one does.

Administrative Medical Assistant

A certified medical administrative assistant (CMAA) ensures the smooth running of a hospital unit, physician’s office, or healthcare facility. Most responsibilities involve patient service, paperwork, scheduling, and accounting. Training also involves learning about anatomy, medical ethics, medical billing, insurance procedures, and medical data storage.

Clinical Medical Assistants

Certified medical assistants (CMA) carry out a range of administrative and clinical work. Part of the workday involves answering phones and scheduling appointments. However, a CMA also has to carry out various clinical tasks — preparing patients for examinations, collecting specimens, prepping examination rooms, and taking vital signs.

Specialized Medical Assistants

A certified clinical medical assistant (CCMA) works closely with physicians. While some admin work is necessary, a CCMA is more involved with patient care. For example, you may have to perform minor treatments, conduct assessments, prepare patients for operations, and clean and dress wounds.

Where do Medical Assistants Work?

Medical assistants work in most healthcare facilities. After qualifying, you can find work in hospitals, doctor’s offices, medical clinics, emergency care facilities, and outpatient care centers. The level of pay and hours you have to work depends on the facility. In some cases, you can work regular hours. But in many workplaces, you may need to work shifts and weekends.

What’s it Like Being a Medical Assistant?

The day-to-day life of a medical assistant involves multi-tasking and staying organized. Work in many healthcare facilities is face-paced and requires attention to detail, interacting with patients, and assisting physicians. You may be scheduling appointments one minute, then helping a patient deal with life-changing news the next. However, the rewards are great.

What Qualities Do You Need to Become a Medical Assistant?

Learning to become a medical assistant is often the first step in a lucrative medical career. While interest in medicine and patient care is a must, certain qualities are essential to be a competent medical assistant.

Here are some vital traits of successful medical assistants:

  • Good communication skills
  • Outgoing personality
  • Showing compassion
  • Attention to detail
  • Having a non-judgmental attitude
  • Ability to stay organized under pressure
  • Excellent people skills to deal with medical staff and patients
  • Willingness to follow directions

What Are the Job Prospects for Medical Assistants?

The job outlook for people training to become medical assistants is bright. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical assistant jobs will increase by 19 percent through 2029. This is nearly five times faster than the national average.

According to official figures, the average pay for medical assistants is $34,800 per year.

How to Become a Medical Assistant

To train to become a medical assistant, you need at least a high school diploma. But to increase your job and promotion prospects, it’s best to complete an accredited certificate or degree program. Most employers give preference to applicants who have a medical assisting diploma.

Some types of medical assistant certification programs include the following:

  • Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)
  • Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)
  • National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA)
  • Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)

You can start your search here to find a medical assisting school near you that offers training.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Medical Assistant?

It takes around one year to qualify as a medical assistant. If you choose a MA Associate’s Degree program, the course can last for two years. Depending on the certification course and the school you attend, it can cost between $2,500 and $10,000 to complete the medical training program.

Related reading: Find out about getting financial aid to help with tuition fees.

Becoming a Medical Assistant: A Takeaway

Graduating from a medical assisting program is the start of a fulfilling career. As an assistant in a medical facility, you will be responsible for organizing much of the day-to-day office work. You also have the rewarding experience of being involved in patients’ health care.