Medical Assisting Overview – Degrees and Career Paths

Medical assistants are healthcare professionals that ensure that the facility in which they work is running efficiently, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2010-2011 Occupational Handbook (BLS). They may perform administrative as well as clinical tasks in physicians’, chiropractors’ and podiatrists’ offices. Overall, the exact duties medical assistants perform may vary based on the type of facility in which they work.


What types of medical assistants are there?

Professionals in this field may be administrative, clinical, ophthalmic or podiatric medical assistants, according to the BLS.  Administrative medical assistants perform tasks such as filing patients’ medical records, completing insurance forms and arranging hospital admissions. These professionals may also do secretarial work, such as answering phones, scheduling appointments, bookkeeping and greeting patients.

The tasks that clinical medical assistants are allowed to perform depend on state regulations. However, generally these professionals do things like explain treatment procedures to patients, record vital signs and help patients get ready for exams. They may also be responsible for sterilizing medical equipment, collecting laboratory specimens and removing contaminated supplies.

Ophthalmic medical assistants work in a more specialized environment. These professionals work in eye care and assist ophthalmologists. Generally they complete tasks such as conducting diagnostic tests, measuring patients’ vision and testing the function of the eye muscle.

Podiatric medical assistants also work in a specialized field. They assist podiatrists and often do things like make castings of patients’ feet, help podiatrists during surgeries and expose and develop X-rays, according to the BLS.


What degree is required to become a medical assistant?

Most medical assistants are required to finish a one- or a two-year program in the field, the BLS reports. These programs are generally offered at vocational schools as well as junior and community colleges. Individuals who go to one of these institutions typically enroll in one-year courses of study and earn either a certificate or a diploma upon graduation.

Students who enroll in a medical assistant program can expect to study subjects such as transcription, accounting, medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, according to the BLS. These courses can teach participants necessary skills, including first aid, laboratory techniques and pharmaceutical principles. Many people who enroll in these classes may also be required to complete an internship in order to gain professional experience.

Although it is not required by most employers, some medical assistants decide to get a certification to show that they are experienced in the field. There are many organizations that offer these types of certificates, including the American Association of Medical Assistants. Overall, earning this credential may lead to a higher salary as well as advanced employment opportunities.


What will the future of the industry look like?

According to the BLS, individuals who become medical assistants might be able to find many jobs in the future. Employment opportunities in the field are expected to increase by 34 percent in the next seven years, which is much faster than average for all occupations.

This field is expected to grow rapidly for many reasons. For example, as conditions like obesity and diabetes become increasingly common, more physicians will be needed to treat them. In order to allow doctors to help as many patients as possible, a large number of medical assistants will be needed. Additionally, these professionals tend to work in primary care offices, which are drastically expanding as more Americans have access to healthcare.


How much do medical assistants typically make?

According to PayScale’s 2011 National Pay Data, medical assistants who work on an hourly rate tend to earn between $9.66 and $16.61 per hour, with overtime pay ranging between $12.67 and $25.04 per hour. Professionals who work on salary can make between $20,118 and $36,190 per year, on average.



*Source Reference: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.