Concorde Blog - Jun 12, 2020
Image via Flickr by DFID - UK Department for International Development
If you are considering training to become a medical assistant (MA), it will help to understand what the education and job requirements are and what the work entails on a day-to-day basis. Many MA positions require candidates to have at least a diploma, and career advancement may be possible with a bachelor's or master's degree.
MAs generally work in office settings and undertake a range of tasks as part of their daily workday. The job outlook for MAs is positive, with employment numbers project to grow 23% from 2018 to 2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (1).
What Is a Medical Assistant?
An MA is someone who assists doctors and other medical professionals with various administrative and clinical tasks. They typically work in hospitals, medical offices, outpatient clinics, and ambulatory healthcare facilities. Competent, reliable, and honest MAs are vital for the smooth functioning of healthcare facilities and are therefore in high demand in the medical field.
While medical assisting work requires a range of organizational, management, and communication skills, formal qualifications are often not necessary to get started in this career. Many MAs get several months of hands-on training and then use their work experience to get ahead. However, increasingly, healthcare employers look for MAs with formal qualifications in medical assisting. As there are now several one-year to two-year educational programs that can help broaden your job prospects in this field, it makes sense to complete formal training before embarking on this career.
What Does a Medical Assistant Do?
An MA can perform a range of administrative and clinical tasks, depending on which medical facility they work in and what their employer's requirements are. Some of their typical duties are answering and responding to phone calls and making sure that the office premises remain clean and tidy. MAs are responsible for preparing, maintaining, and updating the medical records of the patients. They will also schedule their visits for examination or treatment, and send them phone, message, or email reminders.
Additionally, they will check, maintain, and order office and medical supplies. If there are any contaminated or expired supplies, they have to arrange for their disposal. MAs have to take care of medical billing and insurance and handle office correspondence, too.
In small offices, MAs may double as receptionists and will take messages, greet patients on arrival, and prepare them for examination or treatment. They will review their medical histories and have them fill out any necessary consent forms. Often, they may also have to explain the medical procedures and treatments to the concerned patients and their families.
As part of their clinical duties, MAs may clean and prepare the examination room, sterilize the medical tools and equipment, and put out medicines and medical materials. To be able to perform these tasks as required, they need to know about different medicines and their correct usage. It is also essential for MAs to understand medical terms and the proper sequence of medical procedures.
They may stand beside the medical professional and assist them in examining or treating the patient. Their duties can include handing out tools, helping to clean wounds, shaving body hair before treatment, removing sutures, applying bandages, giving injections, and taking patient temperatures and other vital signs. Additionally, they may take blood and urine samples and pack these to dispatch to the laboratory for analysis.
What Are the Education Qualifications of a Medical Assistant?
To begin an MA career, a minimum of a high school diploma is required. However, there is likely more benefit by acquiring formal educational qualifications in medical assisting. Most employers prefer candidates with a certification, diploma, or associate degree, and there is a greater scope for career advancement with a bachelor's or master's degree. Depending on whether you decide to get a certification, diploma, or degree, a one or two year educational program will likely be required.
Many community colleges, technical schools, vocational schools, online colleges, and regular universities offer courses in medical assisting. These courses generally cover administrative and clinical aspects and also offer externships at selected healthcare facilities. These programs also include medical terminology as well as subjects like anatomy, biology, and chemistry. Some programs also have business and computer studies depending on the length of the program.
On completing these programs, one can take a certification exam to qualify as a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) or a Registered Medical Assistant (RMA).
After getting a formal education, the next step is learning further medical assisting skills by undergoing hands-on training in office practices, dealing with patients, obtaining patient health information, practical lab work, and maintaining digital patient records. Depending on the facility, the training can take several months.
What Is a Typical Work Day Like For a Medical Assistant?
Without a competent MA to helm things, most doctors and other medical professionals would find it difficult to run their practices smoothly. As part of their work duties, MAs have to undertake a wide range of administrative and clinical tasks. While different healthcare facilities will have varying work requirements, a typical workday for an MA involves being very busy.
An MA may work full-time or part-time and usually in an office setting in hospitals, clinics, outpatient care centers, and so on. They may work in the morning, afternoon, and evening shifts. Most MAs generally work for at least 40 hours per week but may put in overtime or work on weekends if necessary.
Due to the long hours and challenging work duties, it is common for MAs to experience work-related stress. They may be able to deal with it by actively acknowledging and addressing stressful situations, seeking support from their work colleagues and superiors, getting adequate rest, eating a healthy diet, and following a regular exercise regimen.
On arrival at work, an MA may check the scheduled patient appointments and accept more if the doctor has time available. They may call, message, or email patients to remind them about their planned visits. The MA will use the computer to check patient records, update them as necessary, and review patient medical histories during their checkup. They will also take care of the medical billing, handle insurance matters, and get patients to sign any required consent forms.
An MA's administrative duties also involve maintaining the inventory of lab, medical, and office supplies and equipment, and putting in new orders via phone or email when the stock runs low.
In large-scale medical facilities, MAs may be part of an administrative team and collaborate with other medical personnel to meet deadlines and interact with patients. Wherever they work, though, it is essential to have excellent time management and organizational skills to succeed as an MA.
Patient Support Work
Along with scheduling patient appointments, MAs also undertake patient support work. That can involve greeting patients when they arrive, interviewing them about their health issues and symptoms, assessing their conditions, and comparing these with their medical histories. An MA may take their vital signs, measure their weight and height, and record the results of the medical tests they undergo. The MA may direct the patient to the examination room and prepare them for the physician's examination.
Given the regular and direct interactions that MAs have with patients, it is crucial for them to have strong communication and interpersonal skills. They must be able to get along well with different personalities and adapt to their requirements. It will also help if they have a compassionate attitude and a knack for putting patients and their families at ease. By talking with them and explaining the treatment procedure, they may be able to lessen their anxieties and boost their morale.
Medical Professional Support Work
If the doctors or other medical professionals require it, the MA will stand by to assist them during the patient examination and treatment. Under the doctor's direction and supervision, they may prepare and administer medications to patients and provide any other necessary medical care. For this, MAs must be able to comprehend the doctor's instructions and follow them exactly. They must be familiar with clinical pharmacology and medical coding procedures. They must know how to comply with HIPAA, OSHA, and other healthcare regulations.
MAs may take blood, urine, tissue, and other samples, pack them and send them to the laboratory for analysis. Additionally, they will relay the physician's instructions to patients. That can involve explaining how to take their medications and the diet to follow for better management of their health condition.
Smart Work Habits for Medical Assistants
Working as an MA can be challenging on a daily basis, and many MAs are often overburdened with a variety of tasks. To work smarter as a medical assistant, it will help to have the following:
Technical skills: MAs need to be computer literate and know how to use different software programs for the meticulous management of medical data. They must be able to create new patient records, input the latest data into existing patient records, and find patient medical histories to evaluate their current conditions.
Organizational skills: Scheduling all their tasks in the order of completion or urgency and tackling them without procrastinating will prevent them from feeling overwhelmed by their workload. It will also help them to be more reliable, which is an essential trait for MAs, as both doctors and patients are dependent on them to a great extent. They must be able to organize and arrange the medical supplies and equipment to make them easier to find and keep track of and replenish as required.
Time management skills: MAs must be able to complete their allotted tasks within the given time frame and schedule appointments that are convenient for both patients and doctors.
Comprehension skills: They must be able to listen well and comprehend both the patient's concerns and the doctor's instructions. As many MAs actively assist doctors during patient examination and treatment, understanding medical terminology and the correct sequence of medical procedures is a must. They must be able to hand the doctor the right tools, materials, and medications. Additionally, they must be able to assess the patient's condition and relay that information to the doctor.
Communication skills: Strong communication skills are vital for MAs as they spend a large part of their workday interacting with a wide range of people, from doctors to medical staff to patients to medical supplies providers and many others. They must discuss patients with doctors and explain medical conditions, procedures, and the doctor's instructions to patients and their families.
Interpersonal skills: They must be able to get along with different personalities and have a knack of calming anxious, distraught, or angry patients. It is essential to have strong self-control, enjoy assisting others, and be able to maintain a non-judgmental and compassionate attitude towards all patients as much as possible. To improve interpersonal skills with patients and work colleagues, it will help to listen to their concerns and try to resolve issues with calm consideration.
Problem-solving skills: While MAs must follow exact medical directions, they must also have quick thinking and problem-solving abilities to deal with difficult situations that might arise when the doctor is not around.
While it can certainly be tough to work as an MA, it is a profession that involves helping others, interacting with different personalities, and making a positive difference in people's lives.
1. "Occupational Outlook Handbook," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-6