Making Sense of Medical Assistants
A career in medical assisting can open the door to working alongside doctors and nurses within a variety of healthcare facilities and settings.
With the ability to learn hands-on skills in both clinical and management operations, the medical assistant profession is growing rapidly and can translate into a rewarding healthcare career. Let’s look at the road to becoming a medical assistant and the healthcare job opportunities that lay ahead.
Medical Assistant Training
For those interested in becoming a medical assistant, prospective students should consider a trade school to pursue their education. This type of formal training offers a fast-paced curriculum to help prepare graduates and take them from the classroom to their career in a medical office faster.
Generally, in their schooling, a new medical assistant student will first encounter an introduction to medical terminology. This involves four to five-hour days in the classroom. Understanding medical terminology will teach students to read medical records so that they can translate the information to the patients.
Next, students will apply for an externship which generally takes up about a month and a half of the medical assistant program. Externships typically take place in a healthcare facility and get students familiar everyday procedures of a medical assistant.
Further into the medical assistant program, pupils will experience more hands-on training in mock doctor’s office classrooms. Program education includes patient intake and set up and physical exam assistance. Additionally, students learn functions like administering basic lab tests, operating microscopes, and training to do rapid step, mono and COVID tests.
According to Lori Bedford, who is the Director of Education for the Medical Assisting program at Centura College in Norfolk, “Hands-on training is everything; it builds the students’ confidence as they do the work, and it prepares them to learn the skills needed for when they get into the real world.”
The Clinical Side of a Medical Assistant Program
A medical assisting diploma from a trade school provides formal training for students to balance both administrative and clinical duties in the workplace. In order to have a more direct, hands-on approach with patients, medical assistants can choose to channel this training into the clinical portion of the healthcare field. “These workers are the backbone of outpatient clinics,” says Bedford.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the following tasks as prime job functions for medical assistants:
Measure and Record Vital Signs
Taking vital signs is an important part of setting a patient up for their exam or medical procedure.
Among a medical assistant’s duties including administering shots and vaccines.
Collect Patient Information
Medical assistants keep patient records up to date for the healthcare team.
Read Medical Charts
A medical assistant can interpret charts to help a doctor prescribe the best possible medical care.
Assist with Patient Exams
Often, patients spend the majority of their visit with the medical assistant. Whether they are performing an intake exam or preparing patients for clinical procedures, a medical assistant is needed in a doctor’s office.
An electrocardiogram (EKG) is a machine found in doctor’s offices and other healthcare facilities. Medical assistants use this machine when assisting physicians to measure electrical signals of a patient’s heart.
General Laboratory Procedures
A medical assistant can perform other medical procedures or clinical tasks such as drawing blood.
Administrative Work for a Well-Rounded Medical Assistant
Opposite the clinical side, some medical assistants choose to focus on the office management area of the business. Here, learned management, administration, and technological skills will allow them to excel in a rewarding career.
Generally, a medical assistant can be found working the front desk inside a healthcare facility. Typical front desk duties include patient check in and the processing medical records.
According to Bedford, a medical assistant could be in charge of running all of the administrative aspects in a smaller clinic. Those tasks could include:
Overseeing the Books
Whether in hospitals or doctor’s offices, paperwork is crucial to the functionality of a healthcare department. In a small clinic, medical assistants tend to be the one who has to manage all the forms going in and out of the office.
Managing Medical Claims
If a patient has medical insurance, a claim will need to be submitted to the company. Insurance approvals vary depending on the patient’s coverage and validity. Medical assistants oversee this process to make sure things are done efficiently and properly.
Many employers enforce a medical coding system in their office. An administrative medical assistant will convert patient notes, services and procedures into a universal medical code for future reference.
Account ledgers keep track of the monetary transactions within a healthcare environment. Medical assistants will maintain these ledgers in order to ensure the practice is receiving payment for the services rendered.
She also says that this role is not something that nurses and doctors are trained on, making those with a medical assistant certification an important member of the team.
Completing Medical Assistant Training
Students graduating from an accredited institution with a medical assisting diploma will need to gain their medical assistant certification before they can enter the career field. This includes taking the American Medical Tech (AMT) Exam. Once passed, they will then earn the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) Credential to officially become a Registered Medical Assistant.
Other credentials achieved include a phlebotomy certification with the National Health Careers Association (NHA), EKG certification with the NHA, Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) training from a Basic Life Saving (BLS) provider, and a certification in electronic health records (EHRs) with the NHA.
Career Outlook for a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant
Labor statistics are experiencing a positive trend for certified medical assistants. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of medical assistants is projected to grow 16 percent over a 10-year period through 2031. This job growth equates to 123,000 new jobs on average with an annual median wage of $37,190, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data from May 2021.
Certified medical assistants have a variety of options to take in their career within the high demand healthcare industry. For those who choose to stay in the field, they can elect to become an officer manager within a clinic or multiple practices.
Meanwhile, for those who want to be more involved care in patient care, they have the option of returning to school to earn their nursing degree.
According to Bedford, some certified clinical medical assistant graduates also choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration.
Entering the Medical Field as a Professional
A certified medical assistant can apply their training in a variety of other medical office settings. This includes the opportunity to work inside a doctor’s office, hospital, long-term care facility, or any other health care environment.
Their important skills are also well utilized in outpatient clinics of all types such as a physician office, urgent care, or a respiratory clinic. Likewise, medical assistants can work inside an emergency room as a technician with extra training in advanced life care support.
With nurses currently in short supply, medical assistants are stepping in to help assist with critical procedures:
“Knowledge is power, especially medical knowledge, and it seems that a lot of the medical providers tend to miss the mark when informing patients on what is needed and what is expected,” said Bedford.
“Medical assistants fill that gap; with any knowledge gained, you can be an advocate for your own health, making this not just knowledge for a job but knowledge for life.”
Learning About Medical Assistant Education Cost
If you are interested in beginning formal medical assistant training or wonder how much a medical assistant certification costs, it is time for you to meet with a Centura College student services admissions representatives. We will go over registration fees, tuition fees and discuss options for financial aid. In order to attend one of our vocational schools located in Virginia, a high school diploma or GED is required.
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