Medical Assistant Archive

Medical Assistant

Medical assistants serve in support roles to such healthcare professionals as doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists, and podiatrists.  They primarily work in private offices, often sitting at the reception desk to greet visitors. If you seek a healthcare career requiring minimal training combined with diverse and challenging work that of medical assistant may be an ideal option. Before you find out what Medical Assistant education requirements and training involve, let me first show you what the career entails.

Career Overview

The tasks of a medical assistant vary depending on the type of practice for which they work and it size. Within smaller practice settings, medical assistants may be responsible for handling both administrative and clerical tasks, in addition to clinical services. Medical assistants are generally supervised by physicians/healthcare providers, physician assistants, head nurses, or office managers. Medical assistants that are employed by larger practices usually specialize in one area (e.g. internal medicine, cardiology, or neurology) and are supervised by department managers.

Administrative Medical Assistants perform routine office support and clerical tasks that include recording patient information in charts and maintaining files, completing insurance forms and submitting to carrier for reimbursement, scheduling patient appointments, as well as patient billing.

Clinical Medical Assistants are responsible for varied tasks which can include taking patient medical histories, testing vital signs (blood pressure and heart rate), preparing patients for examination, discussing procedures, and assisting the healthcare provider during the exam by preparing equipment and handling instruments.  Other tasks can include:

  • Preparing laboratory specimens for evaluation by the physician.
  • Conducting laboratory procedures under the direct supervision of a physician or physician assistant.
  • Performing blood tests and preparing patients for radiology (X-ray) exams.
  • Providing patient education with regard to proper nutrition and medication usage.
  • Disposing of used equipment and material.
  • Telephoning prescriptions and refill orders into the pharmacy.
  • Monitoring electrocardiograms.
  • Removing stitches and changing wound dressings.

Ophthalmic assistants work with ophthalmologists in providing eye care to patients. Duties include:

  • Conducting eye exams that measure visual acuity and evaluate eye muscle strength.
  • Providing eye drops or salve and applying eye dressings post-surgery to protect damaged areas.
  • Maintaining all instruments and equipment.
  • Assisting the ophthalmologist during surgical procedures by handing instruments and adjusting equipment.

The duties of Optometric assistants include:

  • Acting as chair-side assistant to optometrist during visual exams.
  • Conducting preliminary visual exams such as reading eye charts.
  • Providing patient education with regard to the insertion and care of contact lenses.

Podiatry medical assistants assist podiatrists during foot surgery, create casting impressions of patient feet, and take/develop X-rays for further evaluation.

Career Outlook

This career offers attractive growth opportunities.  As per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of growth is expected to be about 34 percent through 2018, which reflects a much faster rate than for most other occupations. This growth arises from three primary factors: 1) an increased demand for healthcare workers in nearly all professions due to the aging of the population with accompanying need for medical care; 2) the increased incidence of such chronic conditions as obesity and diabetes resulting in higher demand for medical services within private medical settings; 3) the rising emphasis on preventative healthcare so that increasing numbers of people are becoming more proactive with regard to health monitoring.

Medical Assistant Education Requirements and Training

As per the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), there are no mandatory educational or training requirements to begin a career as a medical assistant. Most entry-level medical assistants are trained on-the- job by supervisory staff or experienced medical assistants. However, the AAMA does advise that rising numbers of employers prefer to hire candidates who have graduated from a program that has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education (CAAHEP) or Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).  Those who graduate from an accredited program are eligible to take the certification exam given by the AAMA. Those who pass will be awarded the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential.

Graduating from an accredited program can result in enhanced job prospects, higher entry-level salaries, as well as opportunities for promotion.

Medical assisting programs are offered at two year community colleges and private vocational schools. Most programs are one year in duration with coursework in anatomy and physiology, medical billing and terminology, accounting office procedures, and insurance processing. Additional training is provided in clinical and laboratory procedures and pharmacology.  Most programs also offer a practicum experience, providing students with actual work experience in private medical offices, hospital- based settings and other facilities.

Visit the Web site of either the CAAHEP or ABHES to locate an accredited training program in your area.

Certification Process for Medical Assistants

Certification can be obtained through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). The process includes:

1.      You must be a graduate of a training program that has received accreditation by either the CAAHS or ABHES.

2.      Apply to take the certification examination that is administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners (a division of the AAMA) by completing an online application form and submitting required paperwork:

i.      If you are a recent (less than one year) graduate of an accredited program the only paperwork required will be a letter from the director of your program verifying program completion.

ii.      Those who graduated over 12 months ago will need to supply an official transcript verifying program completion.

The certification exam is comprised of 200 multiple-choice questions of which 180 will be scored. The remaining 20 questions are being pre-tested and not counted. Because these pre-test questions are spread throughout the entire exam, you will not be able to determine which they are. The exam handbook provides complete details about the exam. You can access this guide by visiting the Web site of the AAMA.

3.      The examination fee is $125. for those who are members of the AAMA, CAAHEP, or ABHES. Non-members are required to pay $250. You may pay by credit or debit card, cashier’s check or money order (personal checks are not accepted).

4.      You will be notified of your eligibility to sit for the exam within 30 days after you submit your application and required paperwork.

5.      When you receive your eligibility letter you can then schedule your exam by making an appointment at a Prometric test center near you. The exam is administered on a rolling basis throughout the year.

6.      Preparation is important. You can enroll in a review course offered by local chapters of the AAMA and/or take a practice test available on this agency’s Web site.

7.      Once you have passed the exam you will receive an official CMA certificate and wallet-size identification card. You will also be listed on the AAMA site where prospective employers can verify your status.

8.      It is required that you renew your certification every two years. This can be done by passing an advanced examination administered by the AAMA or enrolling in continuing education coursework. Visit the AAMA Web site for additional information regarding recertification.

Earnings of Medical Assistants

The following provides median entry level medical assistant salary ranges in select cities :

Los Angeles CA


Boulder, CO


Boca Raton FL


Atlanta, GA


New York ,NY


Dallas, TX


Figures from


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