What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

An In-depth Look at Choosing Medical Assisting as a Career

What Is a Medical Assistant?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical assistants are the backbone of medical facilities. They play an important role in health care, providing services for medical professionals and patients. They are detail-oriented, must be able to understand and follow medical charts, must have good interpersonal skills, and must be able to use basic clinical instruments. Do you think you have what it takes for this critical role? It requires more than you might think.

The first thing you should know is that medical assistants are not the same as physician assistants, who have a different role in the health care industry. Physician assistants—unlike medical assistants—can diagnose and treat patients under the supervision of a physician. Medical assistants focus more on administrative and clinical tasks, like taking vital signs, administering medications per a physician’s order, or gathering medical history. They also may help with administrative duties such as scheduling appointments, billing insurance, and processing paperwork.

Becoming a medical assistant is a rapidly growing career. The BLS reported that positions in this field would increase 19 percent between 2019 and 2029. On average, medical assistants working in the United States earn $36,930 per year. Let’s take a look at some important responsibilities of a medical assistant.

Medical Assistant Responsibilities

The daily tasks of a medical assistant vary, but generally, they can expect to do any of the following:
• Draw blood from patients
• Prepare samples for testing in a laboratory
• Measure vital signs, as requested by a physician
• Give patients injections or prepare them for x-rays
• Take electrocardiograms
• Change wound dressings or remove stitches
• Explain general treatment procedures to patients or families
• Schedule patient examinations, appointments, and follow-ups
• Answer the phone and take messages for the medical staff
• Enter patient information into medical records
• Perform any other administrative tasks required

Medical assistants can select a specialty if they work in a large medical facility or specialty clinic. Here are some common areas of specialization:

• Clinical Medical Assistants–Clinical medical assistants perform basic tests in a laboratory, sterilize medical equipment, and dispose of medical supplies. Some may have additional duties such as preparing patients for x-ray procedures, drawing blood, or removing stitches.
• Administrative Medical Assistants–Administrative medical assistants manage the administrative tasks within a health care facility, including recording patient information, filling out insurance forms, scheduling patient appointments, and answering phone calls.
• Obstetric Medical Assistant–Obstetric medical assistants work in obstetrician offices. They work closely with obstetricians and medical personnel within obstetrics and gynecology. They may help with breast exams and minor obstetric surgery. They even help care for pregnant women who visit the office.
• Ophthalmologic Medical Assistants–Ophthalmologic medical assistants help ophthalmologists (doctors who focus specifically on the treatment of their patient’s eyes). These medical assistants may administer eye medication or, on occasion, even help with minor eye surgery.

How to Become a Medical Assistant

Now that you’ve read about medical assistants, how do you become one? The good news is that becoming a medical assistant can take a quicker path than pursuing a medical degree or nursing degree. Many community colleges, vocational schools, technical schools, and universities offer medical assistant programs that take about one year to complete. These programs usually lead to a certificate or diploma. Excelsior College’s Online Clinical Medical Assistant Training prepares you to work as a clinical medical assistant. Some medical assistants have a high school diploma or equivalent and learn their duties on the job. High school students interested in this career should take courses in biology, chemistry, anatomy, business, and computers.

If you’re interested in a rewarding health care field, consider becoming a medical assistant!