Medical assistants perform routine administrative and clinical tasks to keep the offices of physicians and other health practitioners running smoothly. The duties of medical assistants vary from office to office, depending on the location and size of the practice and the practitioner's specialty.
Administrative duties include: answering telephones, greeting patients, updating and filing patients' medical records, filling out insurance forms, handling correspondence, scheduling appointments, arranging for hospital admission and laboratory services, and handling billing and bookkeeping.
Clinical duties vary according to state law and include: taking medical histories and recording vital signs, explaining treatment procedures to patients, preparing patients for examination, and assisting the physician during the examination.
Medical assistants collect and prepare laboratory specimens or perform basic laboratory tests on the premises, dispose of contaminated supplies, and sterilize medical instruments. They also arrange examining-room instruments and equipment, purchase and maintain supplies and equipment, and keep waiting and examining rooms neat and clean. Medical assistants should not be confused with physician assistants, who examine, diagnose, and treat patients under the direct supervision of a physician.
- Medical assistants work in well-lighted, clean environments.
- They constantly interact with other people and may have to handle several responsibilities at once.
- Most full-time medical assistants work a regular 40-hour week. Some work part time, evenings, or weekends.
Training, qualifications and advancement
- Applicants usually need a high school diploma or the equivalent.
- Most employers prefer graduates of formal programs in medical assisting. Such programs are offered in vocational-technical high schools, postsecondary vocational schools, and community and junior colleges.
- Although medical assistants are not licensed, some states require them to take a test or a course before they can perform certain tasks, such as taking x rays.
- Employers prefer to hire experienced workers or certified applicants who have passed a national examination, indicating that the medical assistant meets certain standards of competence.
- Medical assistants deal with the public; therefore, they must be neat and well groomed and have a courteous, pleasant manner.
- Medical assistants must be able to put patients at ease and explain physicians' instructions.
- 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.
- Medical assistants may be able to advance to office manager. They may qualify for a variety of administrative support occupations or may teach medical assisting. With additional education, some enter other health occupations, such as nursing and medical technology.
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