As the name implies, the position of medical assistant is to aid the physician with both administrative tasks and clinical duties. The job requires careful attention to details and many different types of abilities.
Medical assistants should not be confused with physician assistants who perform entirely different duties such as examining, diagnosing, and treating patients under the direct supervision of the physician.
Almost everyone has seen a medical assistant at work when visiting a healthcare facility. Most likely this is the first person after the receptionist or medical secretary patients generally see. The medical assistant will take the patient to the appropriate examining room, ask questions and write down information for medical histories, and make necessary preparations before the physician enters the room.
In this article we will examine the work of the medical assistant, the educational requirements, and the work environment of the medical assistant. For the person who has limited educational background but a strong desire to enter the field of healthcare, this position offers perhaps the best entry opportunity. The work can be exciting and fulfilling to a healthcare oriented person.
MEDICAL ASSISTANT JOB DESCRIPTION
The medical assistant's main function is to keep the office running smoothly. The work is fairly routine but will vary slightly from office to office. In large offices, the medical assistant may perform either clerical duties or clinical duties but not both as may be the case in smaller offices. Among the clinical duties of the medical assistant are the following:
- Taking medical histories by interviewing patients waiting to see the physician
- Recording vital signs, taking blood pressure, weight, pulse rate
- Preparing the patient for examination by the doctor before the examination, making sure the patient is comfortable
- Collecting and preparing specimens for lab work, giving patients instructions and showing them the privacy rooms
- Doing simple lab tests on premises when qualified
- Disposing of contaminants, making sure that trash containing blood or other contaminants are disposed of properly
- Sterilizing medical equipment that is used in the examining rooms
- Prepare medications by the instructions of the physician when those are being administered in the office or clinic
- Explain the proper use of medications to patients, being careful to warn against misuse
- Authorize drug refills as directed by the physician preventing the doctor from being tied up on the phone
- Call in prescriptions to the pharmacy to assist in getting medications ready for the patient
- Arrange examining room equipment so that everything the physician needs is at hand during the examination
- Keeping the exam rooms neat and clean so that they will be ready for the next patients
Certain specialized medical assistants have additional duties, depending upon the type of healthcare office they work in. Although sometimes their work involves directly administering medications to patients, it is all done under the doctor's supervision.
Because the medical assistant comes into daily direct contact with patients, good people skills are a requirement for the job. In many cases the patient will spend more time with the medical assistant than he or she does with the doctor. The medical assistant with the best skills at dealing with people will be able to calm the anxieties of patients in the stressful situation of a visit to the doctor.
In many cases no formal training as a medical assistant is required, and everything is learned on the job. For this reason, the position of medical assistant is one of the best entry-level jobs in the healthcare industry. Formal training, available in many vocational schools and community colleges, is a plus for the applicant, however. The vocational school courses usually last for one year or less and result in a certificate of training. Courses offered in community colleges are normally two-year courses and result in an associate degree. Students in these programs will learn basic medical terms, physiology and anatomy, some pharmacology, word processing, and other skills and knowledge that will help them on the job. Licensing and/or professional certification is possible for medical assistants. Some special licensing such as Basic X-ray Machine Operator (BXMO) license may be an advantage to the medical assistant. If further education is pursued, the medical assistant may become a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) or Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) and such credentials may be accepted in transitional medical schools. As an entry level occupation, therefore, the position of medical assistant offers many chances for advancement into other areas of the healthcare system.
Medical assistants work in offices or clinics that are well lighted and clean. Normally, the medical assistant will work a 40-hour week but may be asked to work some evenings. The work environment is usually pleasant and work hours may be flexible. Uniforms may be required but are usually covered by a stipend given for the purchase of uniforms. Some medical assistants only work part time in the evenings or on weekends. In any case, the assistant may have to handle a number of responsibilities at one time, so the ability to multitask with accuracy is prerequisite.
At present, the national average compensation for a medical assistant is slightly above $15.00 per hour. Because of the potential raises after periods of service and the chances for advancement, this position offers great future opportunity.