What does a medical assistant do?

Are you looking at becoming a medical assistant? If you answered "Yes" to this question, you are in good company! The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) ranks Medical Assistant as one of America's fastest growing occupations, with employment projected to grow 19% between 2019 and 2029. 

Whether you are pondering a career in healthcare or thinking about re-entering the workforce as a medical assistant, you likely have a variety of questions. For starters, you might be curious about job responsibilities or how much money medical assistants make. You may also wonder whether you are a good fit for the job. Below are the answers to these questions as well as some other points to keep in mind if you are thinking about becoming a medical assistant.

What types of people become medical assistants?

One of the reasons medical assistant ranks so high on the BLS job growth list is because the job is appealing to a wide variety of people. You can find positions filled by young adults, senior citizens, recent graduates, and seasoned veterans. Here is a snapshot of some of the many types of people who decide to become medical assistants:

  • People in search of a rewarding career helping othersExperienced workers seeking a career change
  • Recent graduates looking for an entry level job in the healthcare field
  • Individuals in search of a job with flexible hours
  • People who long to work in healthcare who don't want to complete 4 years of college or a graduate degree

What does a medical assistant do?

A medical assistant wearing PPE stood outside.

Medical assistants perform a wide range of duties ranging from patient care tasks to paperwork. In general, most job tasks fall into two broad categories: administrative job duties and clinical job duties. Administrative duties may include greeting patients, answering the telephone, organizing patient records, and appointment scheduling. Clinical responsibilities, on the other hand, may include the following:

  • Obtaining patients' medical histories
  • Assisting physicians with procedures and examinations
  • Administering medications under the direction of a physician
  • Collecting and labeling samples and specimens
  • Helping patients prepare for procedures or exams
  • Taking patients' vital signs
  • Changing bandages and dressing
  • Review special care instructions with patients

The exact job responsibilities will depend on the employer, the setting, and the size of the facility.  For example, a medical assistant working at a hospital may spend more time on clinical tasks than a medical assistant at an office based general practice.

How much money does a medical assistant make?

The median annual pay for medical assistants in 2020 was $35,850 USD. The top 10 percent of medical assistants earned over $50,000 USD, while medical assistants at the lower end of the income spectrum earned less than $27,000 annually.

Due to the high demand for their services, many medical assistants take on PRN work or extra shifts to boost their take home pay. Depending on the total number of hours worked, medical assistants can end up earning significantly more than $50,000 per year. 

What types of certifications may be required for employment?

Most employers will give preference to individuals who possess one or more certifications. The type of certification requested may vary by state and employment setting, but the four most common certifications are as follows:

  • Certified Medical Assistant (CMA): This type of certification is awarded by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). It is the most popular type of certification offered. CMAs must be recertified by an examination or completion of 60 hours of continuing education every 5 years.
  • National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA): This certification is awarded by The National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT). Recipients must graduate from an NCCT-approved medical assistant program or must demonstrate completion of at least two years of qualified employment as a medical assistant within the past 10 years. NCMAs must complete 14 hours of continuing education in order to be recertified.
  • Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA): The National Healthcareer Association (NHA) awards this type of certification to individuals who meet two key criteria. First, they must show they completed an allied health program during the past year. And second, they must complete a year of employment as a medical assistant. 10 hours of continuing education is required for recertification. 
  • Registered Medical Assistant (RMA): The American Medical Technologists (AMT) award this type of certification to individuals who graduate from an approved medical assistant program or who demonstrate completion of an approved course of employment. RMA certification may sometimes be awarded to applicants who are already certified by another organization such as the AAMA.

Some people who graduate from medical assistant programs decide to pursue other types of highly specified certifications that enable them to be hired as Electronic Health Records Specialists, Certified EKG Technicians, or Certified Phlebotomy Technicians. 

Can medical assistants move into other job roles?

It is not uncommon for medical assistants to stay in the same role until they retire. However, some people become medical assistants with the intention of moving into higher paying positions or jobs that involve more responsibility. For example, they may decide to continue their education to become a nurse or biomedical technician. Here is a look at some of the careers medical assistants sometimes decide to explore:

  • Medical office manager
  • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
  • Registered Nurse (RN)
  • Biomedical Technician
  • Surgical Technician
  • X-Ray Technician

Some medical assistant positions offer a great deal of flexibility. For example, some positions involve working three 12-hour shifts or night-shift work. This enables people to attend classes or complete certification requirements after work, or on non-work days.

Your path to becoming a trusted medical assistant

Clearly, there are many reasons to pursue a career as a medical assistant. From a rosy job outlook to a flexible schedule, working as a medical assistant is a great way to enter the field of healthcare. To discover how you can become a trusted medical assistant, we invite you to search our healthcare jobs area to learn more about the many current opportunities we have available.