What Does a Medical Assistant Do?
Medical assistants wear many hats. These healthcare professionals typically cross-train to perform administrative and clinical duties. They are crucial to keeping fast-paced physicians’ offices and other healthcare facilities organized and running smoothly.
Medical assistants — MAs as they are sometimes called — may do different tasks based on the size, type or speciality of a medical facility. In some practices, medical assistants specialize in either administrative or clinical duties but not both. The best detail? As healthcare needs grow, so do employment opportunities in this field.
Does this in-demand career sound interesting to you? Learn more about what kind of training is required, hear from a medical assistant why she loves her job, and many more details.
- Record patient history and other confidential information
- Learn and master the office's preferred electronic health records (EHRs) system
- Take patient’s vital signs
- Explain procedures to patients and make them feel at ease
- Prepare examination rooms, including sterilizing equipment
- Assist the physician or nurse during an exam
- Prepare samples for lab tests
- Answer phones and emails
- Schedule appointments
- Some MAs manage billing, do medical coding and insurance forms
How To Become a Medical Assistant: FAQs
What are the requirements to become a medical assistant?
First, you’ll need a high school diploma or equivalent. Students typically complete formal training and become certified because employers prefer assistants with these credentials. However, you can also learn MA skills through on-the-job training and then decide to take a certification exam. There are also some apprenticeship programs for medical assistants that combine supervised training and education in one program that's free to the student.
What other qualifications do I need?
As mentioned, many MAs become certified by graduating from an accredited program and passing an exam. In most states, students must be 18 years of age to sit for the exam. No special license is required. Many organizations, such as the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), offer specific certifications, but the options vary by state. Here's a good list of medical assistant certifications.
You can earn certifications for medical skills, clinical skills and even specific skills, like drawing blood. None are required, but employers like candidates who have them.
How long does it take to become a medical assistant?
Programs typically last one year and training options are available from community colleges, technical schools and trade schools. These programs usually lead to a certificate. Longer programs result in an associate degree, which takes two years. All programs include classes in anatomy and medical terminology.
What’s the demand for medical assistants?
U.S. News And World Reports ranks medical assisting as one of the best health care support jobs. It's one of the fastest-growing jobs in the nation, expected to grow 16% from 2021 to 2031, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a lot of job openings! The secret is finding the best situation for your skills and interests.
Where can medical assistants work?
Medical assistants are needed in many different medical settings, including hospitals, general medical offices, specialty physician offices and any type of healthcare clinic.
What color scrubs to medical assistants wear?
You may be surprised by this question, but a lot of people want to know! Not every practice uses color-coded scrubs, but many bigger facilities do because it establishes a dress code and helps patients determine who’s doing what task. However, each healthcare center or medical practice establishes its own rules — such as dark blue scrubs for medical assistants and burgundy for nurses. Unfortunately for patients, those rules don’t translate to other medical facilities.
Can medical assistants give injections? Do medical assistants draw blood?
State laws determine if a medical assistant’s responsibilities include giving patients injections as directed by a doctor.
In contrast, individual medical office rules typically determine if a medical assistant can draw blood. Drawing blood, or basic phlebotomy, is typically covered in MA training programs.
To know how it works in the state you want to work in, see this scope of practice chart from the American Association of Medical Assistants.
What skills and qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?
Many successful medical assistants share these top traits:
- Good communication skills
- A good understanding of medical terminology
- Excellent organizational skills
- Able to prioritize tasks
- Good analytical and technical skills