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What is a Medical Assistant?

Whether you’re ready for a career change or just deciding which path to take after high school, you should consider jobs that are always in demand, like caregiver jobs, which include a variety of careers in the medical field.

Medical assisting is one of these in-demand careers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) medical assistant jobs are projected to grow faster than average through 2022. However, just basing your career choice on demand alone is not always wise. You need to know more about the job to decide if it’s the best fit for you.

Medical Assistant Jobs are projected to grow faster than average through 2022.

Medical careers are good job choices, not only for security and growth but for other reasons, such as:

  • Availability of jobs for all education levels.
  • Competitive earning potential for workers.
  • Exciting work that keeps you on your toes.
  • Making a positive impact on the lives of others.
  • Opportunities for continuing education and advancement.
  • Ability to choose and change specialties, such as geriatrics or pediatrics.

Medical assisting can offer you all this and more! Let’s learn more about this exciting occupation.

What Is a Medical Assistant?

When a patient visits a doctor or other medical professional, they are actually visiting an entire medical team. The medical assistant is likely the first member of that team to be in contact with patients and are often the last person the patient sees before leaving. The medical assistant fulfills many roles in the doctor’s office or in other medical settings. Duties may include assisting with patient care and performing administrative duties, such as making appointments.

A medical assistant is an important asset to the medical field. They support the work of doctors and other health professionals. Medical assistants often work in a clinical setting and perform routine tasks and procedures that assist the physician and patient.

Medical Assistants have numerous duties that can include working with patients and performing tasks to keep the office running smoothly.

Medical assistants don’t diagnose or treat patients, but this doesn’t make their job any less important. The assistant can specialize in administration, clinical work, or train to do both.

Medical assistants can choose which type of office they’d like to work in, such as podiatrist, pediatrician, health clinic, or hospital. They learn skills that can help them assist medical professionals in a variety of environments.

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

Medical assistants have numerous duties that can include working with patients and performing tasks to keep the office running smoothly. Administrative duties of a medical assistant include the following:

  • Answering phones.
  • Welcoming patients.
  • Scheduling patient appointments.
  • Making arrangements for patients’ laboratory tests and hospital admissions.
  • Filing and updating patient records.
  • Filling out and coding insurance forms.
  • Handling billing and bookkeeping.

Clinical duties include hands-on work with patients and often include the following:

  • Preparing patients for exams.
  • Taking and recording patients’ medical histories.
  • Drawing blood and preparing samples for laboratory testing.
  • Giving patients injections as directed by a physician.
  • Taking and measuring vital signs.
  • Assisting physicians with patient exams.
  • Authorizing prescription refills as directed by a doctor.
  • Changing dressings and removing sutures.
  • Administering medications as directed by a physician.
  • Explaining treatments to patients.
  • Giving patients instructions about their medications.
  • Instructing patients about special diets.
  • Performing basic laboratory tests.
  • Taking electrocardiograms.


These tasks are just an overview of what medical assistants can expect to perform on any given day in private practice and clinical settings, but the tasks required can vary based on where the medical assistant works.

Those with a diploma in this field can find work in hospitals, clinics, and doctor's offices.

The Medical Assistant’s Role in a Hospital Setting

What do medical assistants do in a hospital setting? They complete many of the same tasks that would be performed in a doctor’s office, but there are other duties specific to a hospital environment. In this setting, the assistant may also perform work similar to that of a nursing assistant. Some additional duties in a hospital setting may include the following:

  • Catheter care.
  • Toilet assisting.
  • Helping patients walk.
  • Turning bed-ridden patients regularly.
  • Bathing patients and caring for their skin.
  • Reporting all changes in a patient to the nurse on duty.
  • Making beds.
  • Performing other duties as directed by the medical professional in charge.

The Medical Assistant’s Role in an Ambulatory Setting

Working as a medical assistant in an ambulance can be very different from working in the other settings. The assistant provides clinical and clerical support for medical staff in the unit, but there are other tasks that must be done, such as:

  • Keeping the ambulance stocked to provide prompt patient care.
  • Performing Point of Care Testing (POCT).
  • Completing necessary patient forms.
  • Taking and documenting patient samples and specimens.

A great amount of urgency goes along with this high-pressure atmosphere, but well-trained medical assistants can rely on their training to provide prompt patient care, allowing the EMTs to treat patients quickly and effectively.

The Medical Assistant’s Typical Workweek

Most medical assistants work Monday through Friday, although if the office or clinic is open on weekends or longer-than-normal hours, weekend work and odd hours may be required.

Because medical assistants are trained in both administrative and clinical tasks, the tasks they perform can change from day to day, and the workday can get hectic. Medical assistants must be able to multi-task and prioritize their daily requirements, while staying on top of their administrative duties.

Medical assistants are an important part of the medical team, and they have many responsibilities. How do you learn to do this multi-faceted job? Let’s take a look at education and training requirements.

Education and Training for Medical Assistants

You can begin a medical assistant career with a high school diploma and receive on-the-job training. Entering into this field requires very little, if any, formal training, but without an educational background, you likely won’t stand out from those who have competed training as a medical assistant.

Whether you decide to start out without formal training or to enroll in a Medical Assisting program, you’ll need certain qualities that help you succeed in this field:

  • Interpersonal skills: Interpersonal skills are your people skills. You’ll be interacting with patients and physicians on a daily basis and must do so in a professional manner. Patients are often in pain or some other distress, so you must be able stay calm while assisting them.
  • Analytical skills: You’ll use your analytical skills for much of the clerical work required, such as understanding patient charts and filing or coding patient medical records.
  • Detail orientated: Attention to detail is an essential skill when recording patient information and taking vital signs. Doctors and the patient’s insurance company rely on accurate records to ensure everything is diagnosed and billed correctly.
  • Technical skills: Medical assistants rely on their technical skills when using the basic clinical equipment and when using computers for administrative duties.

If you have these skills, you may be able to enter the field with a medical professional that provides on-the-job training, but many employers prefer to hire those who have completed some post-secondary education.

You have the choice of going for a Medical Assistant Diploma or an associate’s degree in this field of study. You can complete the diploma program in as little as one year or less and the associate’s degree in two years. You can even decide to complete the diploma program and get a job while finishing up the requirements for an associate’s degree. You need to know the requirements for each to decide which option is right for you.

Medical Assistant Diploma

The Medical Assistant Diploma is perfect for someone who wants to quickly gain the necessary skills to enter a career in medical assisting. Those with a diploma in this field can find work in hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices.

As part of the program you’ll take course topics that prepare you for this career, such as:

  • Human anatomy and physiology.
  • Medical terminology.
  • Pharmacology.
  • Laboratory skills.
  • Medical billing and coding.
  • Medical office management.
  • Clinical procedures.
  • Administrative procedures.

On-the-job-training is also part of the Medical Assisting program. You’ll complete an externship that allows you to gain experience in the medical environment, and it can lead to direct job offers once you finish your educational requirements.

Associate Degree in Medical Assisting

If you want to increase your chances of success in this field, you can continue your education and obtain an Associate of Applied Science in Medical Assisting. You’ll have a chance to further your knowledge by taking courses in these topics:

  • Medical insurance.
  • Human disease.
  • Advanced diagnostic procedures.
  • Phlebotomy.
  • Medical law and ethics.
  • EKG procedures.

The associate degree program also has an externship where medical assistants can receive important on-the-job training. Associate degrees can increase your chances of earnings. Workers with an associate’s degree earn up to 53,000 more dollars per year than those with only a high school diploma, and it just takes a couple of years to get out into the workforce and start your new career.

Once you’ve completed the program, certification is an option.

Workers with an associate's degree earn up to $53,000 more per year than those with only a high school diploma.

Certification for Medical Assistants

Certification for medical assistants is not a requirement, but getting certified may help you increase the number of job offers you receive. Employers often prefer those certified in medical assisting over non-certified applicants.

The requirements for certification can vary by state, but in most states you must be 18 years of age or older and pass an exam. Some states may require that you complete an accredited Medical Assisting program before allowing you to take the certification exam.

The National Commission for Certifying Agencies accredits five types of certifications for medical assistants. These include:

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

These certifications are separate, and the exam must be taken through the appropriate certification agencies, such as:

  • The American Association of Medical Assistants offers the CMA certification.
  • American Medical Technologists offers the RMA.
  • The National Center for Competency Testing offers the NCMA.
  • The National Healthcare Association offers certification for the CCMA.

Certification is something you can decide on once you’ve completed your Medical Assisting program. Before you can begin to think about certification, you must choose a school that offers a program to fit your needs.

The Next Steps

If you’d like more information about the Medical Assisting programs we offer, you can fill out a form to receive more information about the diploma or associate degree programs. Once you complete the form, one of our Admission Representatives will contact you to explain the program and to answer any questions you may have.

Once you decide to enroll in one of our Medical Assisting programs, someone from our financial aid department can help you by explaining your financing options. In many cases, there is some sort of financial help available for students in need, so don’t allow financial difficulty hold you back.

At Vista College, we understand that most people lead a busy lifestyle, which often means putting off the training you need to enter into your desired field. This is why we offer programs that work around your schedule and that can be completed quickly to get you started on your new career.

Medical assisting is a challenging job, but it is one that allows you to make a difference in the life of others by helping them with their medical needs.

If you’d like to be part of this growing career field, contact us to request more information about our Medical Assisting programs. One of our Admission Representatives will get in touch with you and discuss how you can prepare to seek a job in this field.

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