How to Become a Medical Assistant
What is a medical assistant?
According to the American Association of Medical Assistants, medical assistants “work alongside physicians, mainly in outpatient or ambulatory care facilities, such as medical offices and clinics”. If you become a medical assistant this is exactly what you will be doing.
Simply put, the role of a medical assistant is to support physicians and therefore ensure the smooth running of the medical facility they are working in. If you take a look at a medical assistant job description, you will see that the role they do is very varied. Lots of different skills are required to do the job.
You will need to be organized, have excellent communication skills and medical knowledge. There are also lots of different types of medical assistant, so read on to find out how to be a medical assistant and the options available to you.
What does a medical assistant do?
What do medical assistants do? Mostly, they will be working in a facility such as a clinic or a physician’s office, assisting with the provision of healthcare.
There are two main sections that a medical assistant’s duties could be split into. The first being administrative duties and the second being clinical duties.
• Taking phone calls
• Scheduling appointments
• Greeting patients
• Updating medical records of patients
• Coding insurance forms
• Handling billing or invoicing
• Arranging hospital admissions for patients
• Taking medical history of a patient
• Preparing patients for examinations
• Assisting during examinations
• Explaining treatment and procedures to patients
• Performing necessary tests in the laboratory
• Preparing and administering medication
• Drawing blood
• Changing dressings
• Removing sutures
• Sterilizing equipment
• Authorizing prescription refills
Medical assistant duties will change from day to day and are often very varied. There is an enormous range of medical assistant objectives as you can see from the lists above, and there are loads of things that haven’t been listed.
A medical assistant will have an excellent set of skills to enable them to do all these different types of tasks. The number of different tasks you will be doing each day will depend on your employer. The size of the facility and the field they specialize in will have a bearing on your daily tasks.
A certain amount of medical knowledge is required if you are to be a medical assistant. Having a good amount of medical knowledge will assist you in explaining procedures to patients and filling out and coding medical insurance forms.
For this reason, there are many courses you can do to graduate as a medical assistant and give you the best start for your career. It isn’t strictly necessary that you qualify as a medical assistant, as this is not mandatory. But most employers will be looking for someone who has the relevant training and is certified in their field.
Types of Medical Assistants
There are an enormous number of terms you may hear when you are looking into becoming a certified clinical medical assistant. It might sound like there is a load of different types of medical assistants, but there aren’t that many.
The biggest distinctions are between a certified medical administrative assistant and one who is not certified. A certified medical assistant has taken an examination and passed, to prove they can do the job. Someone who is not certified has not taken this test.
You might hear someone referred to as an RMA medical assistant. All RMA stands for is Registered Medical Assistant, it isn’t a particular kind of assistant you need to start worrying about. This is the same with an AMT medical assistant and an AAMA medical assistant.
AMT stands for American Medical Technologists, and AAMA stands for American Associates of Medical Assistants. The acronyms are just referring to the body which is offering the qualification, rather than it being a particular kind of qualification.
There are three main types of a medical assistant; an administrative medical assistant, a medical physician assistant, and a specialized medical assistant.
This role ensures the business side of the practice is running smoothly, so physicians do not have to divert their attention away from patient care.
A clinical medical assistant or a medical physician assistant focuses more on the patient care side of things. This may involve conducting assessments, explaining assistants or drawing blood. They will do less of the administration work and focus more on caring for patients when they are in the health care facility.
A specialized medical assistant will focus on serving patients and working more closely with physicians. They will have had specialist training allowing them to perform specialized clinical tasks, relating to their area of expertise.
An example of a specialization would be geriatrics, oncology, urology or a pediatric medical assistant. There are different certifications for specialized medical assistants available. Often a certified medical assistant salary is higher than your average clinical medical assistant jobs.
What is a certified medical assistant?
Once you have completed and graduated your course to become a medical assistant, you may become certified. You do not need to be certified to enter into this profession, but it may be helpful if you are.
Employers are often looking for candidates who are certified, so certification may make you distinctly more employable. It costs less than 200 dollars to gain your certification as a registered medical assistant. Employers often pay more for a certified person, and you could be offered a higher paid job.
If you wish to gain certification, you will need to take an exam and pass. This exam will be on things you have learned during your training, and it will test this knowledge. This exam will ensure you know everything you need to know to be a good medical assistant.
Before you take the test, there are lots of practice tests online you can have a look at. This will give you an idea of the questions you may be asked, and you will be able to see the areas in which you need to do more study or revision.
You can take this test as soon as you are ready after your course has completed. This certificate lasts for five years, after that you will need to re-certify. You can either do this by retaking the exam, or by ensuring you keep earning education credits throughout this period.
What does a medical assistant make?
The average hourly rate for this role is around $15, with the normal range being between $12 and $17 an hour. The lowest paid people in this role are receiving as little as $10 an hour, with the highest earners taking $19 an hour, so there is a big difference.
The average yearly salary for a medical assistant is around $31,000. At the lower end of the pay scale for this role, you could be earning $23,000, and at the higher end, you could be making in the region of $39,000.
This could be the difference between someone with some experience and certification and someone with no experience and no certification.
How long does it take to become a medical assistant?
It can take less than a year to qualify as a medical assistant, or up to two years, depending on the route you take. Medical assistant education requirements state that you will need a high school diploma or a GED to enroll on a course.
You will then be able to enroll upon and complete a medical assistant program. This will take you between one and two years. If you want to be certified, you will need to complete an accredited program.
You will need to be accredited by ABHES (Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools) or CAAHEP (Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs). When you are selecting your course, ensure they are accredited by one of these two.
These programs will include the study of anatomy, medical terminology, pharmacology, coding for insurance and first aid. These are only a few of the things you will cover, and you will learn a tremendous amount on the course you select.
Once you have completed your course and you wish to be certified, you will need to pass your CMA examination. There is a fee to pay to enter the CMA examination and if you pass, the certificate is valid for five years.
This shouldn’t take too long to complete, and if you progress swiftly, you can complete the entire process in a year.
Medical assistant requirements mean that you will need to re-certify once your five years are up. You can retake the test and gain certification for another five years.
Or, you can make sure you complete 60 education units over that period. You then won’t need to retake the test at the end of your five years.
Medical assistant vs. LPN
An LPN is a Licensed Practical Nurse. An LPN is most likely to work in a hospital, nursing care facility or do home health care. Mostly, you would be working with the elderly or infirm, or be looking after patients hospitalized due to illness or for surgery.
As an LPN, you would be monitoring vital statistics of patients, providing basic care and reporting concerns to a physician. An LPN is more likely to do night shifts, whereas a medical clinic assistant will tend to do day and weekend shifts.
You can train to be an LPN in a year. Accelerated programs can be completed in less than a year. If you choose to complete an associate’s degree, it will take you two years to complete. Once you have graduated from your course, you must pass an exam called the NCLEX-PN.
This stands for National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses. Your training program will need to have been licensed for you to be able to enroll for the examination. The salary for an LPN is higher, with the average yearly wage being around $43,000. The top ten percent of people in this role are earning in the region of $60,000 a year.
Medical assistant vs CNA
A CNA is a certified nursing assistant. A CNA has specific duties like bathing patients and helping to feed them. A CNA is a caregiving role, often looking after patients who need long term care or who need help with basic hygiene.
You will often find a CNA working in hospitals and care homes, tending to the elderly and their needs. If you are more interested in providing basic care and performing tasks such as dressing patients and bathing them, then a job as a CNA will suit you.
You can train to be a CNA within a year; most of the training is practical rather than classroom based. To become certified you will need to pass your CNA certification examination. There is a written section to the exam and a practical section to the exam.
Medical assistant job outlook
The job outlook is good for the medical assistant role. Due to changes in the US healthcare system and practices, the number of jobs available is on the rise. The number of jobs is expected to increase more than twenty percent in the next few years.
There is a tonne of medical assistant info available for you to read, to give you an even more comprehensive idea of what the role entails. If you are looking for a career change, then now is a perfect time to make the jump.