Medical assistants provide direct support to professional staff in medical facilities. A medical assistant is generally responsible for greeting patients and preparing them for the doctor’s examination. The assistant also makes sure that all of the examining rooms are fully stocked with the necessary equipment at all times. Some medical assistants work in administrative office roles as well as assisting the medical staff with patient care.
There are many different working environments that a medical assistant can choose from when he or she is building a career. Some larger medical offices employ several medical assistants who answer to a single supervisor. Other offices are small enough that one medical assistant serves all of the needs of the staff. Assistants can work in private offices, or they can work in more public locations such as hospitals or urgent care clinics.
All health related fields are experiencing a rising demand for qualified workers. The aging population and increased awareness of the benefits of preventative care are driving the increased need for medical facilities. Each medical office needs at least one qualified medical assistant to make sure that everything is running properly and patients are processed efficiently.
The average salary for a medical assistant depends on several different factors. The most important salary indicator is the level of training and certification that a medical assistant holds. Since there are no legal training requirements to work as a medical assistant, some assistants begin employment at the lowest entry level. Those who have attended formal schools and gained degrees or certification can expect to earn higher salaries. Experience and competence also play a big part in a medical assistant’s salary expectations.
Where a medical assistant works also has an impact on what he or she makes. Smaller doctor’s offices tend to pay lower wages than large hospitals. Medical facilities that are located in metropolitan cities generally pay higher wages than offices that are located in smaller towns. The type of medicine that is practiced is another salary factor. Doctors who perform expensive elective surgeries or practice specialized medicine can pay their assistants more than doctors who practice general family medicine, for example.
The median salary for a medical assistant is around $24,000 per year. Entry level positions can begin at $17,000 per year, while the highest paid assistants bring home as much as $35,000 per year.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Job Description and Outlook
The job outlook for medical assistants is very bright at the moment and is expected to continue to increase over the next few decades. There are many reasons for the fast growth in the medical field. A large portion of the American population is beginning to enter their senior years, which means that there will be record numbers of patients who need to be treated for the normal illnesses that accompany old age. There is also an increasing number of small medical clinics and doctor’s offices instead of large corporate medical facilities. Medical assistants are an important part of the staff for any medical office, which means that there will continue to be a growing number of medical assistant positions available over the next few years.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Training and Education Requirements
Most medical facilities prefer that their medical assistants have at least two years of formal training through an accredited community college or vocational school. Since the responsibilities of a medical assistant are so vital to a medical office, employers need to feel confident that the assistant is aware of all of the aspects of the job. Medical assistants who have earned national certifications are highly sought after by most medical facilities. The training for medical assistant work includes courses on medical terminology, medical office administration, patient care, and organization. Students also learn about the common equipment used in a medical office. There are training programs that offer certificates of completion, as well as programs that award associate’s or bachelor’s degrees to medical assistant program graduates. The more training an assistant has had, the better the outlook for finding steady employment in the medical field.
The American Association of Medical Assistants offers a national certification test that awards a Certified Medical Assistant credential to those who pass the exam. The American Medical Technologists also offer an exam for those who wish to hold a Registered Medical Assistant credential. These certifications are not required, but they can help advance a medical assistant’s career and open up more job opportunities.
Medical assistants who are interested in working in ophthalmology can earn three different levels of certification. There is a Certified Ophthalmic Assistant designation, Certified Ophthalmic Technician designation, and Certified Ophthalmic Medical Technologist designation. All of these are offered by the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology.
There are four nationally recognized professional associations for medical assistants in the United States. They each offer different types of medical assistant certifications as well as support for their members on a national level. These professional associations include:
- American Medical Technologists
- The American Association of Medical Assistants
- The Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology
- The American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants
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