Your health care is about more than you and your doctor. Even a simple check-up involves a small team of support personnel. These people are called certified medical assistants, and they’re the heart of the medical industry. Certified medical assistants take care of administrative functions, help with routine medical procedures and otherwise ensure the entire practice runs smoothly.
The certified medical assistant field has plenty of projected future growth. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of medical assistant positions could rise by 29 percent from 2012 to 2022. With an aging Baby Boomer population and changing technologies, the demand for medical assistants has grown along with an overall demand for health care.
The role of a certified medical assistant is an important and growing one, and those considering a career in this field need to know what will be expected of them.
What Does a Certified Medical Assistant Do?
Certified medical assistants perform a variety of duties and fill numerous roles within a health-care setting. They handle the details behind the scenes so that physicians can concentrate on patient care.
Many times, the assistant will work the front desk. They are often the first person from the office to interact with a patient in person and on the phone. However, a medical assistant’s duties go far become those of a receptionist.
Certified medical assistants perform clinical duties, too. In larger offices, they could be more specialized and report to a department head. Many offices, however, fully utilize assistants in all capacities. Certified medical assistants update and file medical records, fill out insurance forms, schedule appointments, handle billing and more.
The clinical side of the position is more hands-on, involving a variety of patient care. This includes preparation and cleaning of the exam room, disposal of medical waste and other specialized procedures. They also often work with patients directly — drawing blood, removing sutures and other types of routine care.
Note: For many, becoming a certified medical assistant is the first step towards a career in nursing or other roles in health care. The real world experience can often be incorporated into continuing classwork.
Other duties of the medical assistant revolve against patient diagnostics. Typically, the assistant will record vital signs, prepare X-rays, work with the patient to develop a medical history and perform similar duties. Also, a certified medical assistant will work closely with the doctor and other members of the staff.
A certified medical assistant can wear many hats during the course of a day, from administrative to medical. Overall, however, they ensure that the patient’s medical care flows smoothly and is done correctly.
Where They Work
While many medical assistants find great success in private medical practices, working for either one doctor or a small group of doctors, that’s not the only type of job available.
Medical assistants also work in major hospitals, insurance companies and other large organizations related to health care. They also find successful careers working in small, specialized fields such as pediatrics, podiatry and optometry.
What They Need to Know
A certified medical assistant must have specialized skills in order to succeed in the field. They must know medical terminology. They must know how to use the ever-changing industry-specific technology that is used, and they have to be trained and tested in order to become certified.
In order to gain this knowledge and skill set, these candidates take part in a program at a vocational school or community college. A medical assistant program can last between one and two years. During the program, subjects are taught a wide variety of skills including medical terminology, medical technology, coding, record-keeping and other administrative skills.
On the clinical side, the programs cover lab techniques, clinical procedures and basic medical training.
It’s key for those interested in becoming a certified medical assistant to take part in an accredited program. The two accreditation bodies recognized in the field are the Accreditation Bureau of Health Education School (ABHES) and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Schools (CAAHEP).
If a potential administrative medical assistant candidate wants be certified, they must go through a program that is accredited. Achieving certification shows those in the health care field that the person is qualified for the position and has the expertise needed for success. Certification isn’t a one-time deal. Medical assistants who achieve the CMA designation must be recertified every 60 months.
Who They Need to Be
In order to be successful, a medical assistant must love the medical field and have a genuine interest in helping others. They must have quick minds, and also be quick on their feet. They must also be personable, reliable and have excellent communication skills.
Certified medical assistants work with both in-office staff and patients. Because of this, they need to have certain personal and professional qualities that serve the needs of the patient and coworkers in the office.
They need to be sociable and enjoy spending time with others. Medical assistants are the first face a patient sees when they see the doctor or visit a clinic. Friendliness is not an option — it’s a necessity.
Consistency and reliability are also key. Because the assistant is working with the public, dealing with important medical forms and details, medical assistants need to be reliable.
Communication is the final key to being a successful medical assistant. They speak to patients all day long, either in person or on the phone, and they have to communicate important instruction in writing. There are many forms and records to fill out, so medical assistants need excellent spelling, grammar and communication skills.
A certified medical assistant is an essential component of a functioning health care facility. The health care field is growing, and career prospects look great for many years to come.
Plus, being a medical assistant is also a fun, rewarding job. While the assistant may not know what specific tasks they’ll perform each day, they can be assured they’ll be making a positive difference in the lives of many.