What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

A medical assistant is a professional who helps to keep the medical office running smoothly. They may perform a variety of duties, from scheduling appointments to taking patient medical histories.

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Job Description

Medical assistants are multi-skilled health professionals specifically trained to work in outpatient settings such as medical offices and clinics. They perform both administrative and clinical tasks that support the work of physicians and other health professionals. Their duties vary with the size, location, and type of practice.

Most Medical Assistants have completed a postsecondary education program that lasted either less than 1 year or 2 years. Many programs offer a certificate or diploma upon completion, although some award an associate degree. Some states have approved certification exams for medical assistants, but certification is not required for all positions. Even without formal education or certification, some people learn the necessary skills by working as an unpaid intern or volunteer in a physician’s office or clinic.

Medical assistants typically do the following:

Greet patients and escorts them to the examination room
Measure patients’ vital signs, such as height, weight, blood pressure, temperature, and pulse
Prepare patients for examinations by removing their clothing and wrapping them in drapes
Help physicians during examinations by handing them instruments and holding retractors
Collect specimens such as urine samples from patients for laboratory analysis
Perform routine laboratory tests on blood specimens under the supervision of a medical technologist or physician
Give injections under the skin or into muscles of patients to treat illnesses
Schedule patients for diagnostic procedures such as X-rays, MRI scans, and mammograms
Remove sutures (stitches) after surgery

Duties and Responsibilities

Most medical assistants have various responsibilities and duties, depending on the size and type of facility in which they work, as well as the state in which they are employed. The duties of medical assistants may include:

Answering patient questions
Taking and recording patients’ vital signs
Documenting patient care services
Assisting with minor office surgical procedures
Drawing blood
Prepping patients for examination
Maintaining medical supplies
Scheduling appointments

Medical assistants typically report to an office manager, doctor, or other healthcare worker. They may also be responsible for handling billing and coding, ordering supplies, and maintaining patients’ medical records

Skills and Qualifications

In order to work as a medical assistant you will need to have certain skills and qualifications. These include:
-Good communication skills. Medical assistants must be able to communicate effectively with patients, doctors, and other members of the healthcare team.
-Exceptional customer service skills. Medical assistants must be able to provide excellent customer service in order to keep patients happy and coming back.
-Basic computer skills. Medical assistants must have basic computer skills in order to input patient information into electronic Medical records and perform other tasks such as scheduling appointments.
-Detail-oriented. Medical assistants must pay close attention to detail in order to accurately record patient information and avoid errors.
-Ability to multi-task. Medical assistants must be able to juggle multiple tasks at any given time, such as answering phones, scheduling appointments, and taking patients’ vital signs.

Education and Training

Most medical assistants have postsecondary education such as a certificate. Some programs take as little as 3 months to complete, and other programs last up to 1 year. Some community colleges, technical schools, and vocational schools offer medical assistant programs that lead to a certificate or diploma.

Salary and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical assistants made a median salary of $33,610 in 2018. The job outlook for medical assistants is projected to grow by 29 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations.


There are currently no federal laws regulating the profession of medical assisting. However, many states have begun to adopt certification requirements for medical assistants. Currently, the state of Florida is the only state that requires certification for medical assistants.

The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) offers a voluntary certification program for medical assistants. To be eligible for the certification exam, candidates must have graduated from an accredited medical assisting program and completed an internship or have at least five years of work experience as a medical assistant.

Once certified, medical assistants must renew their credential every 60 months by either retaking the certification exam or completing 60 continuing education credits.

Working Conditions

Medical assistants work in a variety of healthcare settings, such as doctor’s offices, hospitals, and clinics. Most medical assistants work full time, and many work evenings or weekends. Some medical assistants have to travel to different locations to provide care.

Medical assistants typically do the following tasks:

-Take patients’ vital signs, such as blood pressure
-Prepare patients for examination
-Help the doctor or other health practitioner during the examination by handing them instruments or providing other assistance
-Schedule patients for laboratory tests and x-rays
-Instruct patients about medications and special diets
-Prepare and administer medications as directed by a physician
-Draw blood
-Remove sutures (stitches)

Advancement Opportunities

Although most medical assistants start their careers with only a postsecondary nondegree award, some employers prefer or require candidates to have completed a formal training program. Many community colleges, technical schools, vocational schools, and hospitals offer accredited programs in medical assisting. These programs usually take about 1 year to complete and lead to a certificate or diploma. Some programs might also offer an Associate’s degree in medical assisting, which takes about 2 years to earn.

Key Takeaways

Learn about the duties of medical assistants, as well as their education requirements and job outlook.

Medical assistants are those who have been specifically trained to perform both administrative and clinical tasks in a medical setting.

The duties of medical assistants can vary depending on the size and type of facility in which they work, but generally speaking, they are responsible for both clerical work and patient care. This can include everything from scheduling appointments and updating patient records to taking vital signs and assisting with minor medical procedures.

Medical assistants typically need to have at least a high school diploma, although some positions may require postsecondary education or formal training. Most states do not require certification for medical assistants, but many employers prefer to hire those who have been certified by one of the several professional organizations that offer such credentials.

The job outlook for medical assistants is positive, with employment in this field projected to grow much faster than average in the coming years. This growth is largely due to the continued expansion of the healthcare industry and an increasing demand for preventive care services.

Additional Resources

If you’re interested in learning more about medical assisting, there are a number of excellent resources available. Here are just a few of the best:

The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) is the premier professional organization for medical assistants, with over 50,000 members nationwide. The AAMA website offers a wealth of information on medical assisting careers, including job descriptions, salaries, and educational requirements.

The National Healthcare Association (NHA) also provides information on medical assistant careers, along with certification and training programs.

The National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) is another great resource for those interested in becoming certified medical assistants. The NCCT website includes information on certification requirements and examinations, as well as a directory of accredited training programs.

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