What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

a nurse helping patient
••• Tetra Images / Vstock/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Medical assistants perform administrative and clinical tasks in the offices of physicians or other medical practitioners. They might be responsible for clinical tasks, administrative tasks, or a combination of the two, depending on the size and scope of the practice. Medical assistants in larger practices tend to specialize, while those in smaller practices do everything.

Medical Assistant Duties & Responsibilities

This job generally requires the ability to do the following work and meet the following responsibilities:

  • Greet and escort patients to exam rooms.
  • Prepare patients for physician exams by taking blood pressure and temperature, and determining weight and height.
  • Update patient charts with current health information.
  • Order supplies as needed, or inform the responsible party of the need for additional supplies.
  • Make appointments
  • Take prescription refills.
  • Document clearances and medical records.
  • Records patient care documentation in the medical record.

Specific clinic tasks depend on what medical assistants are legally permitted to do in the states in which they work. Doctors employ most medical assistants, but some work in hospitals or in the offices of other healthcare professionals.

Medical Assistant Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median incomes for medical assistants in 2018 were:

  • Median Annual Salary: $33,610 ($16.16/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $47,250 ($22.72/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $24,790 ($11.92/hour)

Medical assistants working for outpatient care centers were the most highly compensated in 2018, followed by those who worked in hospitals.

Education, Training & Certification

Those looking for careers as medical assistants should ideally have some post-secondary school training and certification.

Education: You're not required to have any particular formal education to become a medical assistant, but many employers prefer to hire job candidates who have completed a post-secondary program, such as a one- to two-year training program at a college or vocational or trade school. Upon completion, you'll earn a certificate or diploma upon completion, and you might earn an associate degree if you receive your education through a two-year training program at a community college.

Certification: Becoming certified is voluntary, but it signals to prospective employers that you've completed appropriate training and have work experience. This can lead to better employment opportunities and higher pay. Several professional organizations that are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) offer certification. The NCCA is part of Institute for Credentialing Excellence, and it maintains a searchable directory of agencies that offer certification.

Licensure: Medical assistants aren't required to receive any formal training or to be licensed, although physicians' assistants—a different occupation—can't work without both a degree and a state-issued license.

Medical Assistant Skills & Competencies

You should possess several skills and qualities to succeed as a medical assistant:

  • Interpersonal skills: You'll need the ability to interact with people with ease, making them feel comfortable in stressful situations. You should be able to react calmly and effectively in emergency situations.
  • Detail-oriented: You'll be responsible for accurately recording information about your patients. Mistakes can have serious consequences for their health and safety.
  • Customer service skills: You must make patients feel welcome and valued, and you must treat them with kindness and compassion.
  • Communication skills: Excellent listening and verbal communication skills will allow you to share information with patients, physicians, and coworkers.
  • Multitasking skills: You might have to address several responsibilities almost simultaneously in a fast-paced environment.
  • Computer skills: This occupation requires proficiency with Microsoft Word, emailing, scanning, and other computer functions.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics anticipates job growth for medical assistants of about 29% through 2026, which is significantly above average for all occupations. The BLS attributes this to an aging Baby Boomer population requiring more in the way of medical care.

Work Environment

The majority of medical assistants—about 57%, according to the BLS—work in physicians' offices. Others work in hospitals and care centers. In any case, this occupation can require a great deal of patient contact, and many of those patients will be ill or in pain and not on their best behavior. You'll likely be on your feet a lot. This isn't a desk job, although you'll spend some time at a desk as well.

Work Schedule

Jobs are usually full time and schedules can sometimes include weekends and evenings if facilities are open during these hours.

How to Get the Job

GET EDUCATED

Online Medical Assistant Programs provides a searchable database of available schools and programs.

ACE THAT INTERVIEW

Advantage Career Institute provides some interview tips specifically for medical assistants.

Comparing Similar Jobs

Some similar jobs and their median annual pay include: