Medical Assistants


Quick Facts: Medical Assistants
2017 Median Pay $32,480 per year 
$15.61 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Postsecondary nondegree award
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2016 634,400
Job Outlook, 2016-26 29% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 183,900

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Medical Assistants Career, Salary and Education Information

What Medical Assistants Do

Medical assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks in the offices of physicians, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities. Their duties vary with the location, specialty, and size of the practice.

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medical assistants

duties of Medical Assistants

Medical assistants typically do the following:

  • Record patient history and personal information

  • Measure vital signs, such as blood pressure

  • Help physicians with patient examinations

  • Give patients injections or medications as directed by physicians and as permitted by state law

  • Schedule patient appointments

  • Prepare blood samples for laboratory tests

  • Enter patient information into medical records

Medical assistants take and record patients’ personal information. They must be able to keep that information confidential and discuss it only with other medical personnel who are involved in treating the patient.

Electronic health records (EHRs) are changing some medical assistants’ jobs. More and more physicians are adopting EHRs, moving all their patient information from paper to electronic records. Assistants need to learn the EHR software that their office uses.

Medical assistants should not be confused with physician assistants, who examine, diagnose, and treat patients under a physician’s supervision.

In larger practices or hospitals, medical assistants may specialize in either administrative or clinical work.

Administrative medical assistants often fill out insurance forms or code patients’ medical information. They often answer telephones and schedule patient appointments.

Clinical medical assistants have different duties, depending on the state where they work. They may do basic laboratory tests, dispose of contaminated supplies, and sterilize medical instruments. They may have additional responsibilities, such as instructing patients about medication or special diets, preparing patients for x rays, removing stitches, drawing blood, or changing dressings.

Some medical assistants specialize according to the type of medical office where they work. The following are examples of specialized medical assistants:

Ophthalmic medical assistants and optometric assistants help ophthalmologists and optometrists provide eye care. They show patients how to insert, remove, and care for contact lenses. Ophthalmic medical assistants also may help an ophthalmologist in surgery.

Podiatric medical assistants work closely with podiatrists (foot doctors). They may make castings of feet, expose and develop x rays, and help podiatrists in surgery.


Work Environment for Medical Assistants

Medical assistants held about 634,400 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of medical assistants were as follows:

Offices of physicians: 57%

Hospitals; state, local, and private: 15%

Outpatient care centers: 9%

Offices of chiropractors: 4%

Work Schedules for medical assistants

Most medical assistants work full time. Some work evenings, weekends, or holidays to cover shifts in medical facilities that are always open.


How to Become a Medical Assistant

Most medical assistants have a postsecondary education award such as a certificate. Others enter the occupation with a high school diploma and learn through on-the-job training.

Education

Medical assistants typically graduate from postsecondary education programs. Although there are no formal educational requirements for becoming a medical assistant in most states, employers may prefer to hire assistants who have completed these programs.

Programs for medical assisting are available from community colleges, vocational schools, technical schools, and universities and take about 1 year to complete. These programs usually lead to a certificate or diploma. Some community colleges offer 2-year programs that lead to an associate’s degree. All programs have classroom and laboratory portions that include lessons in anatomy and medical terminology.

Some medical assistants have a high school diploma or equivalent and learn their duties on the job. High school students interested in a career as a medical assistant should take courses in biology, chemistry, and anatomy, and possibly business and computers.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Medical assistants must be able to understand and follow medical charts and diagnoses. They may be required to code a patient’s medical records for billing purposes.

Detail oriented. Medical assistants need to be precise when taking vital signs or recording patient information. Physicians and insurance companies rely on accurate records.

Interpersonal skills. Medical assistants need to be able to discuss patient information with other medical personnel, such as physicians. They often interact with patients who may be in pain or in distress, so they need to be able to act in a calm and professional manner.

Technical skills. Medical assistants should be able to use basic clinical instruments so they can take a patient’s vital signs, such as heart rate and blood pressure.

Training

Medical assistants who do not have postsecondary education certificates learn their skills through on-the-job training. Physicians or other medical assistants may teach a new assistant medical terminology, the names of the instruments, how to do daily tasks, how to interact with patients, and other tasks that help keep an office running smoothly. Medical assistants also learn how to code both paper and electronic health records (EHRs) and how to record patient information. It can take several months for an assistant to complete training, depending on the facility.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Medical assistants are not required to be certified in most states. However, employers may prefer to hire certified assistants.

Several organizations offer certification. An applicant must pass an exam and have taken one of several routes to be eligible for each certification. These routes include graduation from an accredited program and work experience, among others. In most cases, an applicant must be at least 18 years old before applying for certification.

The National Commission for Certifying Agencies, part of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence, accredits five certifications for medical assistants:

Some states may require assistants to graduate from an accredited program, pass an exam, or both, in order to practice. Contact the state board of medicine for more information.

Advancement

With experience, medical assistants can specialize and move into leadership roles. With more education they may advance into other healthcare occupations such as registered nursephysician assistant, or nurse practitioner.


salaries for Medical Assistants

The median annual wage for medical assistants was $32,480 in May 2017. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.

The median annual wages for Medical Assistants in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Outpatient care centers: $33,820

Hospitals; state, local, and private: $33,590

Offices of physicians: $32,710

Offices of chiropractors: $29,010

Most medical assistants work full time. Some work evenings, weekends, or holidays to cover shifts in medical facilities that are always open.


Job Outlook for Medical Assistants

Employment of medical assistants is projected to grow 29 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. The growth of the aging baby-boom population will continue to increase demand for preventive medical services, which are often provided by physicians. As a result, physicians will hire more assistants to perform routine administrative and clinical duties, allowing the physicians to see more patients.

An increasing number of group practices, clinics, and other healthcare facilities will also need support workers, particularly medical assistants, to complete both administrative and clinical duties. Medical assistants work mostly in primary care, a steadily growing sector of the healthcare industry.

Job Prospects for medical assistants

Medical assistants are expected to have good job prospects; however, those who earn certification and have familiarity with electronic health records (EHRs) may have better job prospects.

Employment, 2016: 634,400

Projected Employment, 2026: 818,400

Change, 2016-2026: +29%, +184,000


Careers Related to Medical Assistants

Dental Assistants

Dental assistants perform many tasks, ranging from providing patient care and taking x rays to record keeping and scheduling appointments. Their duties vary by state and by the dentists’ offices where they work.

Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists clean teeth, examine patients for signs of oral diseases such as gingivitis, and provide other preventive dental care. They also educate patients on ways to improve and maintain good oral health.

Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) provide basic nursing care. They work under the direction of registered nurses and doctors.

Medical Records and Health Information Technicians

Medical records and health information technicians, commonly referred to as health information technicians, organize and manage health information data. They ensure that the information maintains its quality, accuracy, accessibility, and security in both paper files and electronic systems. They use various classification systems to code and categorize patient information for insurance reimbursement purposes, for databases and registries, and to maintain patients’ medical and treatment histories.

Nursing Assistants and Orderlies

Nursing assistants, sometimes called nursing aides, help provide basic care for patients in hospitals and residents of long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes. Orderlies transport patients and clean treatment areas.

Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

Occupational therapy assistants and aides help patients develop, recover, improve, as well as maintain the skills needed for daily living and working. Occupational therapy assistants are directly involved in providing therapy to patients; occupational therapy aides typically perform support activities. Both assistants and aides work under the direction of occupational therapists.

Pharmacy Technicians

Pharmacy technicians help pharmacists dispense prescription medication to customers or health professionals.

Phlebotomists

Phlebotomists draw blood for tests, transfusions, research, or blood donations. Some explain their work to patients and provide assistance when patients have adverse reactions after their blood is drawn.

Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides

Physical therapist assistants, sometimes called PTAs, and physical therapist aides work under the direction and supervision of physical therapists. They help patients who are recovering from injuries and illnesses regain movement and manage pain.

Psychiatric Technicians and Aides

Psychiatric technicians and aides care for people who have mental illness and developmental disabilities. Technicians typically provide therapeutic care and monitor their patients’ conditions. Aides help patients in their daily activities and ensure a safe, clean environment.

OccupationENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION2017 MEDIAN PAY
Dental AssistantsPostsecondary nondegree award$37,630
Dental HygienistsAssociate's degree$74,070
Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational NursesPostsecondary nondegree award$45,030
Medical Records and Health Information TechniciansPostsecondary nondegree award$39,180
Nursing Assistants and Orderlies$27,510
Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides$56,690
Pharmacy TechniciansHigh school diploma or equivalent$31,750
PhlebotomistsPostsecondary nondegree award$33,670
Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides$46,920
Psychiatric Technicians and Aides$29,330

Citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Medical Assistants,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm