Medical assisting is a future-looking field. At a time when jobs are disappearing because of technology, the demand for frontline healthcare workers is skyrocketing. Americans are getting older, and as they do, they require more wellness services. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for medical assistants is predicted to grow more than 23 percent from 2018 to 2028, and the role is expanding. What does a medical assistant do, where do they work, and what are the benefits of getting a diploma? Now is the perfect time to find out.
What Does a Medical Assistant Do?
Medical assistants are support specialists. From managing the schedule to assisting with treatments, they perform a broad range of clinical and administrative tasks that are an important part of every patient visit. Their responsibilities vary by setting but may include triaging calls, managing schedules, greeting patients, taking vital signs, preparing exam rooms, obtaining specimens, administering phlebotomy, performing diagnostics, assisting with procedures, ensuring infection control, providing patient education and managing referrals.
When patients phone their doctor to make an appointment or report troubling symptoms, they expect a knowledgeable, reassuring voice to address their needs. Medical assistants have the clinical and clerical expertise necessary to handle complex calls, responding to inquires or directing them to the most appropriate provider.
Managing the Schedule
Handling the schedule in a doctor’s office is surprisingly challenging. Appointments must meet a patient’s needs when both the right provider and the proper equipment is available, and slots need to be managed to accommodate emergencies. Medical assistants oversee practice resources so providers can be more productive. It’s a win for patients because they get the care they need promptly while the practice maintains a sound bottom line.
Medical assistants greet patients when they arrive, escorting them to exam rooms while performing routine clinical tasks. They review current symptoms, medication and allergy lists and demographic data as they help patients prepare physically and mentally for their exams. A friendly but professional approach makes patients feel welcomed and inspires confidence in their care. Medical assistants are ambassadors of first impressions.
Taking Vital Signs
Vital signs are measurements of basic bodily functions. There are four primary vital signs: blood pressure, temperature, respirations and heart rate, or pulse. Secondary vital signs include height, weight and peripheral oxygen saturation.
Taken before each visit, vital signs help doctors diagnose illness, track changes in condition and calculate drug dosages. It’s a technical skill medical assistants are trained for, using the latest equipment. Accuracy is a must.
Preparing Exam Rooms
Medical assistants keep exam rooms clean and well-stocked between appointments. When everything the doctor needs to perform exams is within arms-reach, visits are more efficient, doctors are more productive, and patients feel like their time is valued.
Medical assistants collect and preserve biological samples for lab tests. Careful sampling techniques are required to avoid contamination, and samples must be packaged as directed for shipment to outside labs, each laboratory has an independent protocol. Errors can result in specimen rejection and subsequent delays in care.
In-house blood testing is common in most modern healthcare practices, it saves patients’ time and money, speeds results and creates an additional source of revenue for the physician. As part of a vocational school’s medical assistant diploma program, students are taught phlebotomy, drawing blood from a vein with a needle. It’s a simple yet technical task that requires clinical judgment and good communication skills.
Diagnostic tests such as electrocardiograms once required a trip to the hospital, but now they can be performed in minutes before an exam. Medical assistants can do many tests independently under the supervision of licensed staff. They also help calibrate and maintain sensitive diagnostic equipment.
Assisting with Procedures
Medical assistants help with in-office surgical procedures. They set-up the proper equipment, hand the doctor instruments, collect tissue samples and provide emotional support for the patient. They also handle routine aftercare, such as applying simple dressings, and later, removing skin sutures or staples.
Ensuring Infection Control
Healthcare settings can harbor dangerous pathogens, so following infection control protocols is paramount. Medical assistants are responsible for sanitizing exam rooms and disinfecting equipment between uses, to keep patients safe. Weekly duties may include sterilizing instruments and linens used for surgical procedures.
Providing Patient Education
Medical assistants serve as liaisons between patients and their healthcare team. They can’t give medical advice, but they take an active role in patient education. They serve as a clinical resource for patients with general health questions, using their clinical savvy to teach topics from nutrition and heart health to immunizations and medication safety.
Seeing a specialist is costly, so most insurers require patients to get referrals from their regular doctor before seeing one. The process requires the timely exchange of a patient’s private health data between physicians as well as insurance preapproval, it can be complicated. Medical assistants have the clerical and clinical knowledge needed to do the job.
Where Do Medical Assistants Work?
After completing a medical assistant diploma program, graduates work a broad range of settings, including doctor’s offices, hospitals, urgent care clinics, long-term care facilities, laboratories, and insurance companies.
Over half of all medical assistants are employed in doctor’s offices. Cross-trained in both clinical and administrative functions, they can choose to work as either specialists or generalists. It’s a face-paced environment, and the work is always challenging. Graduates of medical assistant diploma programs can find employment with a general practitioner or a specialist in an area of interest. Popular specialties include obstetrics, pediatrics and cardiology.
Medical assistants working in hospitals are most likely to work in outpatient or records departments. In an emergency room or ambulatory surgery unit, they save nurses time by reviewing patients’ health information, collecting samples, caring for equipment and restocking supplies. In a records department, medical assistants help organize and store critical data.
Urgent Care Clinics
Urgent care clinics are changing the way healthcare is delivered in the United States. They ease the burden on emergency departments by handling non-life-threatening issues when patients can’t see their primary provider. The lower level of care they offer is an ideal match for a medical assistant’s versatile skills.
Long-Term Care Facilities
Medical assistants can’t provide direct patient care in long-term care centers, but they can fill ancillary positions such as unit clerks and physician liaisons. Responsibility may include updating medical records, ordering supplies and helping with billing.
Medical assistants are qualified for entry-level laboratory positions in doctor’s offices and hospitals, after graduating from a medical assistant diploma program. Responsibilities include processing samples, operating chemistry analyzers and calibrating equipment. With continuing education, medical assistants can become certified phlebotomists.
As more administrators realize the value of medical assistants, nontraditional opportunities are slowly growing. The same skills used in hospitals and private practices are transferable to business settings. Health insurers, equipment makers and billing agencies all need specialists with both clinical and clerical know-how. Duties could include fielding patient inquiries and reviewing claims.
Why Become a Medical Assistant?
Of the many careers available to choose from, why become a medical assistant? Because benefits like these are hard to beat. These benefits include a quick start, job security, a sense of purpose, everyday excitement, and feeling valued.
A Quick Start
Most jobs in healthcare require a college degree, but medical assisting is a quick-launch career. Students attending a vocational school diploma program can be trained in less than a year. For students who want to work in healthcare but can’t afford to be out of work for two or more years, becoming a medical assistant is an ideal option.
Healthcare is widely available in the US, but as millions of Baby Boomers approach retirement age, the need for routine services is increasing. Getting care at an emergency room is expensive, so public health officials are trying to expand services at the primary care level, and that means more trained support staff will be required in the future.
While the future of jobs in other fields is uncertain, positions for medical assistants are projected to rise consistently in the coming decade. Students graduating with a diploma in medical assisting enjoy job security.
A Sense of Purpose
Jobs pay the bills, but careers bring fulfillment. As valued members of the healthcare team, medical assistants make a lasting difference in the lives of their patient. Few careers are as meaningful.
The pace in a doctor’s office is energetic. Medical assistants stay busy, and there are new challenges to tackle every day, the job never gets boring.
Medical assistants can fulfill their passion for medicine by learning new things, the healthcare field is continually evolving, and staff are among the first to get a look at new developments in the industry. It’s an exciting time to work in medicine.
Medical assistants are part of a dedicated team of health specialists with a common goal, no one works alone, and members feel supported. Contributions don’t go unnoticed. And unlike other occupations, healthcare workers are appreciated by the community. It’s a good feeling.
Why Get a Medical Assistant Diploma?
Employers are legally accountable for their staff’s performance, and major insurers, including Medicare, require medical assistants to be formally trained for certain tasks, such as entering doctor’s orders in health records. Employers naturally give preference to applicants with a medical assistant diploma.
Many graduates build on their diploma with certifications from the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) or similar agencies. Others pursue separate certification as phlebotomists. In healthcare as in most professional fields, education is a springboard for professional growth and advancement. Each credential added to a resume makes a job applicant more attractive to potential employers.
The job outlook is bright for medical assistants because wherever healthcare professionals work, support specialists are needed. In less time than it takes to plan for the next round of holidays, students can complete a training program and be ready to earn. All that’s required to apply is enthusiasm for helping others and the desire to learn. Getting a medical assisting diploma is time well spent and an investment in the future.
Did learning what you can do with a medical assistant diploma interest you? Gwinnett Colleges & Institute offers medical assisting courses to gain essential skills and training. The core curriculum focuses on the medical assisting skills and training you will need to seek entry-level employment in physicians’ offices, clinics, hospitals, and other medical settings needing the services of associates trained in both front and back office medical assisting skills. These medical assisting courses will be the first step in starting a rewarding career.