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Medical Assistant Career

Career Description

A Medical Assistant performs administrative and certain clinical duties under the direction of physician. Administrative duties may include scheduling appointments, maintaining medical records, billing, and coding for insurance purposes. Clinical duties may include taking and recording vital signs and medical histories, preparing patients for examination, drawing blood, and administering medications as directed by physician.

Common Work Tasks

  • Perform administrative and clinical tasks to keep the offices of physicians, podiatrists, chiropractors, and other health practitioners running smoothly
  • Update and file patients’ medical records, fill out insurance forms, and arrange for hospital admissions and laboratory services
  • Perform tasks less specific to medical settings,  such as answering telephones, greeting patients, handling correspondence,  scheduling appointments, and handling billing and bookkeeping
  • Take medical histories and record vital signs,  explain treatment procedures to patients, prepare patients for examinations,  and assist physicians during examinations
  • Collect and prepare laboratory specimens and sometimes perform basic laboratory tests on the premises, dispose of contaminated supplies, and sterilize medical instruments
  • Instruct patients about medications and special diets, prepare and administer medications as directed by a physician, authorize drug refills as directed, telephone prescriptions to a pharmacy, draw blood,  prepare patients for x-rays, take electrocardiograms, remove sutures, and change dressings
  • Arrange examining room instruments and equipment, purchase and maintain supplies and equipment, and keep waiting and examining rooms neat and clean
  • Interview patients to obtain medical information and measure their vital signs, weight, and height
  • Show patients to examination rooms and prepare them for the physician
  • Record patients’ medical history, vital statistics and information such as test results in medical records

Other Job Titles                   

Medical Assistants are also known by other titles,  including:

  • Physician Assistants
  • Medical Records Technicians
  • Nurses
  • Home Health Aides

Education,  Training, and Experience

Education and Training
Postsecondary medical assisting programs are offered in vocational-technical high schools,  postsecondary vocational schools, and community and junior colleges. Programs usually last either 1 year and result in a certificate or diploma, or 2 years and result in an associate degree. Courses cover anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology, as well as typing, transcription, recordkeeping,  accounting, and insurance processing.

Formal training in medical assisting, while generally preferred, is not always required. Some medical assistants are trained on the job, although this practice is less common than in the past. Applicants usually need a high school diploma or the equivalent.  Recommended high school courses include mathematics, health, biology, typing,  bookkeeping, computers, and office skills. Volunteer experience in the health care field also is helpful. Medical assistants who are trained on the job usually spend their first few months attending training sessions and working closely with more experienced workers.

Certification and Licensure
Employers prefer to hire experienced workers or those who are certified. Although not required, certification indicates that a medical assistant meets certain standards of competence. There are various associations—some listed in the sources of information below—that award certification credentials to medical assistants, and the certification process varies. It also is possible to become certified in a specialty, such as podiatry, optometry, or ophthalmology.

  Medical assistants deal with the public; therefore, they must be neat and well groomed and have a courteous, pleasant manner and they must be able to put patients at ease and explain physicians’ instructions. They must respect the confidential nature of medical information. Clinical duties require a reasonable level of manual dexterity and visual acuity.


The median annual salary for a Medical Assistant is $27,000. The top 10 percent earn more than $38,000, and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $19,000.  Median earnings in the industries employing the largest number of medical assistants are:

  • Offices of Physicians - $28,460
  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals- $29,840
  • Offices of Other Health Practitioners- $25,170
  • Outpatient Care Centers - $28,660
  • Employment Services - $28,590

Job Outlook

  • 2006-2016 Employment growth:  35%
  • Number of new jobs created 2006-2016: 148,000
  • Employment 2006 : 417,000
  • Employment 2016:  565,000
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