Medical assistants help healthcare practitioners provide patient care by assisting them during exams and also by collecting and recording patients’ health information. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects medical assistant jobs to increase by 16% between 2021 and 2031, creating an estimated 117,800 new positions.1 If you’re interested in this type of role, it can be helpful to learn what a medical assistant does and how to become one. We cover both topics here, along with sharing how you can get started.
What Does a Medical Assistant Do?
A medical assistant’s job responsibilities can vary depending on the employer. Tasks that may be assigned to someone in this healthcare role include:
- Collecting and recording a patient’s vital signs (blood pressure, temperature, etc.)
- Asking patients about their medical history, personal information, and recording their responses within their medical records
- Drawing a patient’s blood to submit it for laboratory testing
- Assisting healthcare providers during a patient exam
- Scheduling patient appointments
Maintaining confidentiality is important when working as a medical assistant. One reason is that sensitive patient health information is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, known more commonly as HIPAA.2 Securely maintaining a patient’s health information is also important as it can affect their level of trust in their healthcare providers.3
Where Do Medical Assistants Work?
Medical assistants can work in a variety of settings. You can find individuals in these roles performing their required duties in physician’s offices and hospitals. Some medical assistants are also employed by outpatient care centers and chiropractic offices.
If working for a larger healthcare facility, a medical assistant may be able to specialize in a certain area. Specialization options for medical assistants include:4
- Administrative medical assistant – duties can include answering phones, scheduling appointments, completing insurance forms, and coding patient information
- Clinical medical assistant – duties can include conducting basic lab tests, sterilizing instruments, prepping patients for x-rays, removing stitches, and changing dressings
- Ophthalmic medical assistant – duties can include showing patients how to use and care for contact lenses, also assisting ophthalmologists and optometrists with patient eye care
- Optometric medical assistant – duties can include the same as an ophthalmic medical assistant, in addition to assisting an ophthalmologist with eye surgeries
- Podiatric medical assistant – duties can include assisting podiatrists with foot surgeries, making foot castings, and developing x-rays
Specializing in these areas may not be an option when starting out as some experience as an entry-level medical assistant is typically required before specializing.
How to Become a Medical Assistant
Most medical assistants enter this role after completing a postsecondary education program.5 Even if the state in which you work doesn’t require this, an employer may prefer individuals with this higher level of educational training, which could give you greater standing as a job candidate.
Some states and employers also require that medical assistants be certified before performing these job functions. Certification is available through many different agencies, such as:
- American Association of Medical Assistants – Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)
- American Medical Technologists – Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)
- National Center for Competency Testing – National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA)
- National Healthcareer Association – Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)
To earn one of these certifications, you must first meet the certifying agency’s qualification requirements. These qualifications can vary but often include completing an accredited medical assisting program and, in some cases, may specify certain accrediting bodies as well. Once the necessary qualifications are met, taking and passing an exam is needed to show that you have a basic level of competency in medical assistant knowledge and skills.
If you start your healthcare career as a medical assistant and wish to advance, you have several options. After gaining more experience in this role, you may choose to advance your career by entering into a specialization or pursuing a leadership position, the latter of which includes titles such as medical office manager or billing supervisor. Obtain a higher level of education and you can gain the knowledge needed to advance into higher-level healthcare roles such as registered nurse or medical assistant instructor.
Start Working Toward a Career as a Medical Assistant
If you’re interested in starting your career in this healthcare role, Ultimate Medical Academy (UMA) offers a Medical Assistant diploma program out of its campus in Clearwater, Florida. This program is a blend of online coursework and on-campus lab sessions and can be completed in 15 months.6 The program includes courses in office procedures, pharmacology, phlebotomy, medical communications, and more. Students also engage in an onsite clinical externship, which provides real-world experience in a medical setting.
Upon completion of UMA’s Medical Assistant diploma program, you are prepared to sit for the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) exam. You can also continue your education if you wish, and you don’t even have to leave UMA to do this as we also offer a Health Sciences – Medical Assistant associate degree program. This program includes general education courses, along with several electives, some of which include:
- Accounting for Managers
- Working with People
- Patient Relations
- Diversity in the Workplace
When you enroll as a student at UMA, we are here to support you in any way we can. Have concerns about how to pay for your healthcare education? Our Student Finance advisors can help you research potential financial resources based on your situation and needs. Is life at work or home making it difficult to go back to school? Our Learner Services team can help identify your challenges, and connect you with resources that may help you work through them.
At UMA, we believe that every student deserves access to a quality healthcare education, which includes having access to a team of people who can help you get the most out of your educational program. That’s why we work so hard to provide both.
1 Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Medical Assistants. Summary. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-1
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). https://www.cdc.gov/phlp/publications/topic/hipaa.html
3 Dickerson J. Privacy, Confidentiality, and Security of Healthcare Information. Anaesthesia & Intensive Care Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mpaic.2022.08.014
4 Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Medical Assistants. What Medical Assistants Do. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-2
5 Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Medical Assistants. How to Become a Medical Assistant. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-4
5 Completion time varies depending on the individual student.