Friends of yours are medical assistants and when you go to the doctor your medical assistant visits with you before the doctor does. So what exactly does being a medical assistant entail? Medical assistants can work for any medical facility and for any kind of doctor. They are the right hand man for doctors and nurses, fulfilling duties that are crucial to the operation of a medical office. The jobs they perform vary on what type of medical assistant they are, what type of doctor they work for and what size the office is. In smaller offices the medical assistant will typically report directly to the physician on staff and the job will include a wider variety of requirements. In larger offices, like a hospital or imaging center, they will most often report to department heads or the administrator and the scope of their position will be more limited to a specialty. Begin taking control of your career by enrolling in this Medical Language or Terminology course. The more you know the better off you’ll be.
Types of Medical Assistants
There are three recognized medical assistant types: the administrative assistant, the clinical medical assistant and the specialty medical assistant.
- Administrative Assistant
Like any administrative assistant, a medical admin aid will deal primarily with bookkeeping, appointment setting, greeting patients, filling out insurance forms, handling admissions, and answering phones. In this type of position you will be the all-encompassing secretary for a medical office. You’ll be responsible for various other office tasks as well, like answering emails, sending faxes, organizing files and keeping the admissions area well-kept. If you’re interested in becoming a medical administrative assistant you should have good people skills, maintain a professional demeanor and have computer knowledge. You’ll need to be able to multi-task and overcome billing obstacles when patients call to settle outstanding dues. If you work in a smaller office environment you may also be responsible for some of the duties discussed below. Even though you’re not typically caring for patients you should possess compassion and the desire to help others when you work in a medical environment. Often times you are the first and last point of contact for patients visiting the office. You want to leave a good impression and make them feel taken care of.
Administrative medical assistants don’t need a certificate per se to become employed, but the more medical training they have the better chance of getting hired. Take a course on medical terminology to impress your employer at your interview.
- Clinical Medical Assistant
This job will vary state to state as laws inhibit medical assistants from performing some tasks that other states allow. Almost always, clinical medical assistants are responsible for patient intake which includes obtaining a patient history and taking the patients vitals. This information is recorded and passed along to the physician or nurse to use in their diagnostics. Clinical medical assistants are also required to prepare the patient for any procedures they may undergo and to explain treatment options and dietary restrictions that may be necessary. Other duties can include collecting specimens (urine, strep cultures), phlebotomy (taking blood samples), administering medications, dressing wounds, participating in X-ray’s or electrocardiograms and performing laboratory tests. Depending on the training of the medical assistant and the state law, some assistants can authorize medication refills and can call in prescriptions to local pharmacies.
A less glorious part of the clinical admin’s duties include disposing of contaminated waste. Most states require special training for this. Medical assistants can also expect to sterilize equipment and ensuring that all of the exam rooms are clean, replenished and sterilized before a new patient arrives. In some states, the aid will assist the doctor during medical procedures by organizing and handing off medical instruments being used for a treatment. See dental assistants under specialty medical assistants for an example of organizing instruments.
To become certified as a clinical medical assistant you will need to obtain a certificate or an associate’s degree from a vocational or trade school. The course usually only takes between 1-2 years, depending on your state requirements and the kind of extra training you may desire. This type of medical assistant can expect to study physiology, pharmacology, anatomy, biology, diagnostics, first responder first aid and medical terminology. Take this online course called Primary Medicine for Allied Health Professionals to help you study for your certification exams.
- Specialty Medical Assistants
There is a specialty doctor for just about everything you can image. A foot doctor, podiatrist; an eye doctor, optometrist; a kidney doctor, nephrologist; a cancer doctor, oncologist – you get the point. These doctors need assistants, too. However, these assistants require more specialized training so they can perform better in the specific medical environment. When you work at say, an optometrist, your medical assistant duties would include doing diagnostic tests, recording vision test results, doing peripheral vision assessments, educating patients on eye health care and helping them learn how to use contacts. Again, depending on state laws, specialty medical assistants can be allowed to administer medications and participate in more exclusive procedures like X-rays and surgeries.
In a dental office there are a lot of medical assistants. It would be kind of hard for a dentist who is half way down your throat during a procedure to keep pulling out to search for the correct tool. I mean, it happens, but it’s just so much easier with a dental assistant there to hand him the tools he needs – when he needs them. The dental assistant will also perform the teeth cleaning procedure and talk to you about dental health and potential treatments needed. Sometimes, depending on what you’re having done, you’ll have more than one assistant in the room assisting the dentist. Needless to say, it’s an important job to have.
If you think you’d prefer a specialty medical office over a general physician’s office you’ll need to look into training programs for the specialty you’re interested in. Not all medical offices will require you to have “dentistry” training, or “optometry” training; but you certainly increase your chances of standing out amongst your peers if you do. Visit the Association of Medical Technologists or the American Association of Medical Assistants for more information on how to begin training in your specialty.
Is This the Right Job for You?
It should go without saying that if you’re getting in to the field of medicine in any capacity you should have a good-natured character with a passion to help others. Have you ever heard of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test? If not, consider taking it and see what your four-character personality indicator is. ISFP’s are a great fit for the medical assistant type of job. Read more about it in ISFP Careers. If you don’t get ISFP as your personality archetype – it’s okay, it doesn’t mean you can’t be an assistant!
In addition to all of the job requirements discussed above, you’re primary job is to care for the patients. The patients comfort level is of utmost importance so do your best to be compassionate and accommodating when working in these environments. Medical assistant positions are a great way to get your foot in the door to become a medical professional. Nurses and doctors all started somewhere! In case you decide to skip the assistant position and head straight for your PhD – check out this course on how to get into medical school.