Possible pathways in medical assisting
Becoming a medical assistant means joining a growing and necessary field in healthcare. Medical assistants carry out many of the daily tasks in a healthcare organization. Their responsibilities encompass a wide variety of tasks, such as:
- Recording patient history and personal information
- Scheduling patient appointments
- Processing insurance payments
- Measuring vital assigns such as taking blood pressure, pulse and respiration
- And making sure the patient is comfortable during an appointment
In addition to being a vital career, medical assisting is one of the fastest-growing healthcare careers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for medical assistants is expected to grow 19% between 2019-2029, which is well above the national average.*
Medical assistant career pathways
Medical assistants can specialize within their field just as nurses can. While their duties will vary by job, medical assistants generally work alongside physicians and other medical personnel to provide patient care.
To become a specialized medical assistant, you first need to earn a diploma or associate degree in medical assisting. In many cases, your clinical or hands-on training can reflect the specialization that you wish to get into. After completing your degree, you might also choose to earn a specific certification relevant to your specialization.
While there are many different types of specialized medical assisting roles and possible certifications, they can generally be broken into two categories: Clinical Medical Assistants and Administrative Medical Assistants.
1. Clinical Medical Assistants
As a clinical medical assistant, you will be working hands-on with patients. While their duties are broad, their focus is on the clinical aspects of the organization's practice. Clinical medical assistants perform tests, record results, assist physicians during examinations and may instruct patients on home care. Before a patient interacts with a nurse or physician, they will often work with a clinical medical assistant.
According to the National Healthcareer Association (NHA), some additional patient-related responsibilities could include, but are not limited to:
- Check patients in and out when arriving and departing
- Assisting with exams and procedures
- Taking vital signs
- Administering injections and/or medications
- EKGs, phlebotomy, and other key laboratory procedures
- Maintaining electronic health records (EHR)
- Answer phone calls and additional questions from patients
Clinical medical assistants form an important part of the link between patients and the healthcare community. While accuracy is important in any career, a clinical medical assistant must be diligent and detail oriented. Clinical medical assistants need to be comfortable working in diverse and sometimes stressful situations.
Specialties for clinical medical assistants
Medical assistants’ clinical training allows them to work closely with physicians and narrow their focus of practice. The exact role and responsibilities of a specialized medical assistant vary on the area of specialization, role, experience, the size of the practice and the healthcare organization.
Medical assistants can work in many different departments focused in particular types of patient care:
- Cardiology. In this role, you can perform a range of diagnostic tests and procedures for cardiac patients. Some of these include electrocardiography (EKGs), stress tests, coronary revascularization and echocardiograms.
- Endocrinology. In this role, medical assistants aid the endocrinologist by preparing the patients for exams, taking blood samples, administrating electrocardiograms and performing basic wound care to help in the care of hormonal treatment and care.
- Family Medicine. If you like working with a large patient demographic this could be the specialization for you. While their duties can vary, some common tasks include administering weight checks, following up with prescription renewals, taking vital signs and assessing the general purpose of the doctor visit.
- Geriatrics. In this role you will generally work in a long-term health facility. Your tasks could include giving injections, reviewing current medications, arranging tests with specialists and assisting with examinations.
- Obstetrics/Gynecology. This specialization focuses on women’s health. In this role, you will help with women’s health procedures such as pap testing, breast exams, prepping ultrasounds and assisting the general care for pregnant women.
- Transplant Surgery. In this role you work very closely with the transplant coordinator. You need to ensure that all vital information is accurate, recording lab specimens and results, treatment and recovery documentation and checking vital signs.
2. Administrative Medical Assistants
As the name entails, administrative medical assistants mostly perform administrative tasks at a healthcare organization. Although the administrative role does include paperwork, it does not mean that you only work with paperwork. In addition to managing patient records, scheduling appointments and assisting patients as they come into the office, the NHA highlights some other key responsibilities of administrative assistants:
- Using computer systems to perform office tasks
- Answering phone calls and scheduling appointments
- Greeting patients upon arrival
- Updating electronic medical records and maintaining other practice-specific information
- Operating office software and other equipment
- Coordinating practice operation reports, such as time and attendance
Communication and organization are critical in this role. You will have to be comfortable interacting with healthcare professionals, medical staff and patients who will come to you with questions or information.
In many ways, you will be the “face of the healthcare organization” since you are the touchpoint for so many individuals. The organization relies on you to make sure that everything is running smoothly. Administrative medical assistants play a key role in the day-to-day operation of healthcare institutions.