Medical administrative assistants handle much of the paperwork involved in running a doctor’s office. They take care of medical records, insurance forms and arrange for patients to be admitted to a hospital or to have laboratory tests. In small offices, they may have limited clinical duties.
Assistants often are responsible for greeting patients and explaining a doctor’s instructions so they must have strong communication skills and an understanding of medical terminology. Most work full-time, but some medical administrative assistants may work part-time or on evenings or weekends.
Expansion of the health care industry over the next decade means that job prospects for medical administrative assistants are excellent, although salaries are modest.
Salaries of medical administrative assistants are influenced by several factors, including their skills and experience, the type of office or clinic and the geographic location.
The median annual salary for all medical assistants, including medical administrative assistants, was $28,650 in May 2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Half of the assistants earned between $24,060 and $33,760 a year.*
The highest average wage of $30,850 was earned by medical assistants working for colleges and professional schools while the lowest average wage of $29,810 was earned by assistants in doctor’s offices, where 62 percent of them worked.*
Medical assistants working for specialty physicians earned more than those who worked for general practitioners. The average wage for medical assistants in psychiatric hospitals was $46,430, while those in dental offices earned an average wage of $35,920.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Pay for medical assistants was highest in the District of Columbia, Alaska and Massachusetts as well as the metropolitan areas of Vallejo-Fairfield, Calif.; Salinas, Calif.; Barnstable, Mass.; and San Francisco.
Training and Education Requirements
Medical administrative assistants must be high school graduates and they may have completed one-year or two-year educational programs. They also receive on-the-job training.
Volunteering with a health care organization can provide helpful experience as can related high school courses such as bookkeeping, health and biology.
Community colleges and vocational schools offer one-year programs that lead to a diploma or certificate as well as two-year programs to qualify for an associate degree. Required courses cover a variety of skills related to running a medical office such as anatomy, accounting, insurance processing, laboratory tests, medications and medical law. Some programs also require students to complete internships in medical offices.
Medical assistants may provide some basic medical services in some states if they have completed the appropriate training.
Job Descriptions and Outlook
Medical administrative assistants perform many tasks and must be able to work on several tasks at the same time.
The paperwork handled by assistants includes keeping patient records up to date and completing insurance forms. They also schedule appointments, answer telephones, open the mail, take care of billing and do some bookkeeping. They must transcribe dictation and help physicians with articles, reports and speeches. They may order supplies, keep offices and examination rooms clean and keep track of instruments used in exams.
In smaller offices, medical administrative assistants who qualify for clinical duties may give vaccinations, take x rays or dispense medication under a doctor’s supervision. In a large office, they may work with several other assistants and specialize in a particular type of job.
Due to the aging population and advances in medical technology, the number of jobs for medical assistants is expected to grow 34 percent to 647,500 jobs during the decade ending in 2018, making it one of the fastest growing occupations. More clinics and medical offices are expected to open and they will need assistants to staff them.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Medical administrative assistants with education, experience and certification can compete for the best jobs. They also have excellent opportunities for advancement to become office managers and with additional education and training to become nurses or seek other medical jobs.
Certification is not required to become a medical administrative assistant, but it demonstrates a greater knowledge that can enhance salaries and job opportunities.
The National Healthcare Association offers certification as a Certified Medical Administrative Assistant after successful competition of an examination that covers billing, insurance and medical terminology. The association also offers specialized billing and coding certification.
Other organizations that certify medical administrative assistants include the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and American Medical Technologists (AMT). AAMA certification requires passing an exam after taking a course in medical assisting. Assistants also can become certified in a specialty like optometry or podiatry. AMT provides certification for medical administrative specialists as well as laboratory technicians, dental assistants and other medical workers.
A major professional association for medical assistants is the American Association of Medical Assistants, which was founded in 1955 to enhance the skills and professionalism of medical assistants. American Medical Technologists, established in 1939, is a certification agency and membership society.
Medical administrative assistants also may become members of the National Healthcare Association, the International Association of Administrative Professionals and the National Association of Executive Secretaries and Administrative Assistants.
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