Want a career in the medical field, but don't want to commit to years of going to medical school? Want to make a difference in patients' lives, but prefer office work to hands-on care?
A career as a medical administrative assistant could be a good option for you.
Medical administrative assistants are often the first faces a patient sees during a healthcare visit, and they assist with the smooth operation of a healthcare system. Keep reading to learn more about what a medical administrative assistant does, what the work environment is like, what an assistant can expect to earn, and what you need to become one.
What Is a Medical Administrative Assistant?
A medical administrative assistant works at the cross-section of customer service and healthcare, providing support to both patients and colleagues.
It can be a rewarding job, and one that helps keep the healthcare world turning. Most offices would struggle without an organized assistant to help ensure day-to-day operations run smoothly!
So, what does a medical administrative assistant actually do in the course of a day?
This professional can fulfill a variety of office roles, from greeting patients the moment they walk through the door of a doctor's office and getting them signed in to working behind the scenes with patient files and computer programs.
The typical day of a medical administrative assistant may include such tasks as:
- Scheduling patient appointments and confirming appointment times
- Answering phones and returning messages and emails
- Submitting insurance information
- Maintaining patient charts
- Logging medical and patient information into an electronic database
- Sending out bills and invoices
- Processing healthcare claims
- Updating medical records
- Providing medical and insurance forms to patients and ensuring they are filled out properly.
Medical Administrative Assistant Salary
Keep in mind that pay for this type of work will vary based on where you live, the facility where you work, the type of work you do, and how experienced you are.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical secretaries and administrative assistants earn a mean (average) salary of $35,870 per year or $17.25 per hour. The top 10% in this field can achieve annual earnings in excess of $50,340.
Medical administrative assistants can work in a wide range of healthcare settings, including:
- Hospitals (local, state, and private)
- Outpatient care centers
- Private practice/physicians’ offices
- Offices of chiropractors, physical therapists, orthopedists, and other specialists
Most assistants work full-time in an office environment. Their exact role depends largely on their particular workplace; for example, a medical administrative assistant working in a busy emergency department may have a very different experience than one working in a private practice.
In large departments, especially emergency or intensive care units, assistants have to be prepared to act quickly and perform well under pressure when admitting critical cases. Private practices, on the other hand, can tend to be quieter and allow for more personal interactions with patients.
Hospitals need staff working around the clock, so medical administrative assistants could end up working day, evening, or overnight shifts on weekdays and/or weekends. By contrast, private practices and clinics are often just open during regular business hours, which means workers usually have weekends and holidays off.
While medical administrative assistants in hospitals and large clinics frequently have more specialized roles, such as reception and scheduling or recordkeeping and billing, those in private practices may experience more of an “all hands on deck” philosophy since there are usually fewer employees on staff. Because of this, medical administrative assistants in physicians’ offices may perform duties that would typically be assigned to a medical coding and billing specialist.
As such, when considering your future as a medical administrative assistant, it's important to consider what kind of work life you want to have each day. Do you thrive under pressure? Are you a night owl who would like to work overnight shifts? Or would you prefer a calmer setting with standard office hours?
Employment of medical secretaries and administrative assistants is predicted to grow by 22% from 2016 to 2026, which the BLS notes is much faster than the national average for all occupations.
The BLS indicates this is due in large part to the aging baby boomer population, which will continue to fuel demand for preventative medical services, care for chronic conditions, and treatment of falls and other injuries. This means that physicians and hospitals will need more personnel to handle the influx of patients and medical data.
You may be able to improve your employment prospects if you earn a certification and have experience working with electronic health records and billing systems.
Skills Required of a Medical Administrative Assistant
Given what a day in the life of a medical administrative assistant entails, what skills can help a job candidate stand out from the crowd?
Since this role performs office work within a healthcare setting, the best assistants excel at administrative tasks and also have specialized knowledge of the healthcare field.
Like most administrative assistants, professionals in this role need a stellar set of office skills, which can include:
- Answering phones
- Managing correspondence
- Message taking
- Forwarding and routing phone calls
- Managing written communications, such as forms, emails, memos, and correspondence
In addition, you should have excellent organizational skills, as you'll often be expected to multitask while keeping everyone else's schedule on track. This can include everything from data entry and billing to appointments and front desk operation.
You'll also need administrative skills, particularly relating to the healthcare field and your specific workplace.
For example, you may be responsible for scheduling patient appointments at a doctor’s office or arranging hospital admissions.
You may also be in charge of making sure that medical records are accurate and up-to-date, which requires careful attention to detail when recording or transcribing a patient’s medical history.
Some medical administrative assistants handle billing, which means that you might have to process insurance claims, reconcile co-pays, resolve any billing issues as they arise, and advocate for your patients to their insurance companies.
While some medical administrative assistants do strictly back-office work, others have regular patient interaction.
Reception and admissions assistants often spend much of their time working with patients directly. As such, you should have a combination of customer service skills and a comforting manner to calm and reassure those who may be dealing with a medical emergency or a troubling diagnosis.
On one hand, you'll need to explain medical information, instructions, and procedures to patients in a manner that is clear, informative, and non-technical. But you may also need to provide support or comfort for difficult or distressed patients.
At all stages of the process, you’ll also have to maintain strict patient confidentiality to ensure your employer is compliant with federal and state laws and regulations.
In summary, this position requires a combination of people skills and a detail-oriented mindset, as well as a talent for multitasking with steadfast empathy and patience. You should know how to solve problems and prioritize independently, and you should also be highly adaptable to manage changing priorities in emergency situations.
In other words, you should be able to provide the comfort your patients need while performing with the efficiency your supervising doctor, nurse, or office manager requires to keep things running properly.
How to Become a Medical Administrative Assistant
So, do you think that becoming a medical administrative assistant is the right path for you?
Below, we outline two key steps that can help you embark on your journey.
Complete Your Training and Education
A career as a medical administrative assistant starts with education and training.
The good news is that the entry requirements for a medical administrative assistant are not nearly as time-consuming as those of doctors, nurses, and other practitioners. Some employers may only require a high school diploma and are willing to train medical administrative assistants on the job.
However, if your local job market is more competitive or if you want to prepare for a position with more responsibilities, it's a good idea to enroll in a postsecondary education program for medical administrative assistant training.
You have a couple of options to prepare for a career in this field. Some community colleges and healthcare schools offer a two-year program that leads to an associate degree. Alternately, if you’re eager to begin your career and want to train in as little time as possible, you may prefer to enroll in a certificate or diploma program, which can be completed in under a year.
Your coursework will typically include classes in medical terminology, computers, medical law and ethics, diagnostic and procedural coding, and medical billing. If you pursue an associate’s degree, you’ll also take general education courses such as math, science, and communications.
Pass the CMAA Certification Exam
After completing your training, you may wish to enhance your credentials by earning industry certification, such as the Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) designation offered by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA).
Once you have earned your certification, you can add it to your résumé and start applying for jobs.
Ready to Start Your Career?
Do you feel ready to embark on your career as a medical administrative assistant? Ultimate Medical Academy can help you start your journey on the right track with an online Medical Administrative Assistant diploma or associate’s degree program that also prepares you for the CMAA exam.
If you're just starting the process, stop by our admissions page and learn how to get started on your training and certification prep today.
Gainful employment information can be found at ultimatemedical.edu/student-information/#ge and includes information on tuition, loan debt, completion, placement, and occupations.