Interested in a job where you can perform an administrative role in a hospital or clinic—but also do some hands on clinical work? You may be interested in becoming a medical assistant. Medical assistants perform a wide range of duties which can vary depending on the setting of employment. Those who work in larger hospitals tend to specialize in clerical, administrative, or clinical work. Those who work in small clinics tend to do all three types of duties. The goal of a medical assistant is in many ways to fill in operative gaps and keep a hospital or clinic running smoothly.
What are the job descriptions for medical assistants who specialize in clerical, administrative or clinical work? Clerical medical assistants are receptionists. It is their responsibility to make sure that all communications go smoothly. They answer the phone, schedule appointments, answer questions, take down notes and memos, greet patients at the front desk of the clinic, and sort through mail and distribute it throughout the office. Clerical work is well suited to someone who enjoys providing great customer service, making people feel comfortable and welcome, and organizing. This is one of the most public medical assistant roles available.
Administrative medical assistants, like clerical medical assistants, do not focus on the clinical aspect of the job, but instead contribute to the office work. Whereas clerical medical assistants interact with the public, however, administrative medical assistants frequently stay in the backdrop. Tasks which may be allocated to administrative medical assistants include things like updating patient files, submitting claim forms and handling billing, scheduling tests and procedures, and other organizational tasks. Administrative medical assistants who handle billing may sometimes interact with the public, and many administrative medical assistants are also clerical medical assistants. There is a big crossover in the job responsibilities and many people fulfill both roles, even in larger hospitals.
If you are interested in medicine, not just interested in working in a medical environment in an administrative or clerical capacity, you may want to become a clinical medical assistant. Clinical medical assistants do things like prepare patients for examinations, ask questions about histories or symptoms, and sometimes assist with examinations. Clinical medical assistants often explain procedures to patients, send and receive laboratory samples, and prepare medical instruments for use through sterilization. Occasionally medical assistants may directly participate by drawing blood or doing other minor procedures.
If you are interested in a specific area of medicine or want to command a higher rate of pay through specialization, you might choose a specific area of medicine to focus in, especially if you plan to become a clinical medical assistant. Medical assistants in podiatry clinics for example would need to learn additional skills like how to take castings of feet. Some clinical medical assistants specifically work in laboratories and help with testing of samples and documentation of the results of tests. All of these areas take extra training. Specialization can be rewarding, though, and may result in special opportunities for career and salary advancement.
Just how much will you make if you decide to become a medical assistant? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most medical assistants make somewhere between $34,000-$40,000 a year. This salary varies depending on factors such as geographical location and also the nature of the work environment. Depending on what state you live in, you might make more or less than if you did the equivalent job in another state. The type of environment you choose to work in can make a difference too. Medical assistants who work in psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals make an average of $39,220 a year, for example, while those who work for insurance carriers make an average of $34,080 a year.
It is true that these aren’t the highest salaries in the world, but one very beneficial thing about medical assistant jobs is that they are in high demand and offer a form of job security. People will always need medical help, which means that there will always be a place for you if you perform a medical role. The BLS projects that demand for medical assistants will increase 30% by 2018—that’s about triple the rate which they project for most other professions!
How do you become a medical assistant? You’ll have to complete an accredited training program at a college, trade school, or online university (complete with hands on training as needed). Whatever program you choose should be accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accreditation Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). The longest course of study is an associate’s degree, which will take you two years to earn. With the associate’s degree you’ll need to complete general education classes as well as classes which are specific to your area.
If you don’t have as much time to invest, you can try the Diploma or Certificate route. Either of these will only take you a year to complete and all of your curriculum will be focused on your training. You may have to also participate in an externship before your training is complete. An externship can give you valuable hands on experience and also allow you an opportunity to preview the professional environment and maybe even make some important connections.
Following up your education, you can go for certification. This isn’t necessarily required, but it can be a big help when it comes time to find a job. To become certified you’ll have to take and pass the Certification/Recertification Examination which is offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). Certification gives potential employers a measure by which to gauge you which is objective and uniform.
A career as a medical assistant can be rewarding financially and professionally; it gives you an opportunity to help doctors and patients and to fulfill a role which is stable and long lasting. You’ll be likely to find work wherever you go, and the BLS projects that this opportunity in the medical assistant field will only continue to grow.