|Recommended Degree Level||Certificate or Higher|
|Number of Jobs, 2012||553,140|
|Annual Job Growth Rate||4.0%|
|Job Openings per Year (est.)||24,380|
- Most employers don't require their medical assistants to have two-year or four-year degrees in a medical discipline. In fact, assistants who do have such degrees may be considered overqualified.
- All aspiring medical assistants must have high school diplomas and should be willing to complete a rigorous program of on-the-job training. Since the specific duties of a medical assistant will depend upon the environment in which he or she works, these training programs can last for six months or more.
- Most medical assistants choose to obtain career-enhancing certifications.
What you study:
Although there is no formal education program for aspiring medical assistants, new workers are expected to be familiar with the following practical skills and subjects:
- Basic anatomy
- Basic bookkeeping
- Electronic health record administration/manipulation
- Basic medical vocabulary
- Communication skills
A quick intro into the work of medical assistants. Created for the US Dept. of Labor.
A Day in the Life
After deciding to become a medical assistant, you learned that you had several distinct career paths available to you. As the medical field continues to diversify, demand for competent medical assistants is blossoming in the nation's hospitals and specialists' offices. Many new medical assistants now find employment with 24-hour clinics, charity hospitals and specialists like podiatrists and geriatricians. Some have become highly specialized: In fact, many medical assistants now function primarily as administrative assistants who update and synchronize patients' electronic health records.
However, you chose to take a more traditional career path and find employment with a primary-care practice in your area. Although you work in the same office every day and see many of the same patients, you appreciate the varied nature of your job. You're also a fan of the regular "nine-to-five" work schedule that gives you plenty of opportunity to spend time with your family and friends.
When you arrive at the office sometime before 9 a.m., you wash up and don the scrubs that you'll wear for the remainder of the workday. Before seeing the first patient, you check your office's schedule to see how the next few hours will unfold. It looks to be a busy morning.
You grab a notepad and call the first patient of the day into the examination room. You lead an older gentleman in with a smile and ask him how his morning has been going.
Once he's settled, you take his blood pressure and ask him a few basic medical questions. You carefully note each of his answers. Later, you'll transfer this information into an electronic health record system. The physicians who run your office have hinted that they may soon purchase mini-tablets that allow you to enter this information directly into the system from the examination room. You're excited by this prospect.
After you've taken his history, you draw the patient's blood in preparation for some standard blood work. While you won't actually perform these tests on your own, you're responsible for drawing and handling these blood samples. You thank the patient for his time, inform him that the doctor will arrive momentarily and take his blood sample to the on-site nurse who is responsible for analyzing it.
The rest of your morning proceeds in this fashion. After seeing each patient, you make sure to enter their information into the electronic system before calling the next one into the examination room. This ensures that your office keeps its records straight and doesn't expose itself to needless liability claims. On average, you would guess that 20 percent of the time you spend in the office is devoted to updating and maintaining its electronic health records.
After taking a half-hour break for lunch, one of the physicians in your practice asks you to give a routine vaccination to a small child. Since this is the first time that you've been asked to perform such a task, you're both nervous and excited. This represents a big step forward in your career as a medical assistant. Happily, the injection comes off without a hitch. You hope that this small victory proves to your superiors that you're capable of taking on even more complex and exciting tasks.
Although the last patient of the day won't come through the office until after 6 p.m., you're allowed to leave an hour early. As you drive home, you're glad to have a job that doesn't require you to work late into the evenings. The fact that your work as a medical assistant is interesting and personally rewarding doesn't hurt either.
Certifications and Licensing
Early in their careers, most medical assistants choose to obtain at least one certification or accreditation from a recognized authority in the field. There are four such designations. While it's entirely possible for ambitious medical assistants to earn all four, most obtain one or two. They are:
- American Medical Technologists's Registered Medical Assistant designation (RMA)
- American Association of Medical Assistants's Certified Medical Assistant designation (CMA)
- The National Center for Competency Testing's National Certified Medical Assistant credential (NCMA)
- The National Health Career Association's Certified Clinical Medical Assistant designation (CCMA)
All of these require applicants to complete a comprehensive pre-testing preparation program and attend continuing-education or professional-development classes.
Full-time versus part-time and work location:
A clear majority of medical assistants work in a full-time capacity. Most work in primary-care clinics or medical practices that feature multiple doctors. Others work in specialists' offices or hospitals. While most practice-focused assistants generally work during regular business hours, some hospital-based assistants may need to work overnight or weekend shifts. This is an "on-site" job that's impossible to do from home. However, the regular shifts that most medical assistants work may allow for an acceptable work-life balance.
The following websites may be helpful to individuals who wish to pursue a career as a medical assistant:
- American Association of Medical Assistants -- Through its website, this national professional organization offers a range of resources, information and practical assistance for aspiring medical assistants. These include a full primer on medical assisting careers, future job growth projections, continuing-education assistance and preparation resources for the association's Certified Medical Assistant exam. The site also contains links to state-specific AAMA chapters that have full job listings.
- National Center for Competency Testing -- Despite its generic name, this organization is dedicated to offering certification assistance for prospective medical assistants and several other sub-categories of aspiring medical workers. It offers a comprehensive look at the field's certification requirements and provides an exhaustive array of preparatory materials. The National Center for Competency Testing also administers a widely taken certification exam and provides state-specific continuing-education resources as well.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics -- The Bureau of Labor Statistics maintains an up-to-date primer on the field of medical assistance. This interactive online document contains salary information, job-growth projections, educational requirements, basic certification information and other pertinent job-related resources. Unfortunately, it lacks a jobs board feature.
- American Medical Technologists -- This umbrella organization is dedicated to serving the needs of a variety of medical workers, including medical assistants. It offers information about certification, primary education, continuing education and general career-related resources. The American Medical Technologists's site also links to state-specific chapters with job listings and other practical information.