Medical assistants work as support staff to doctors, physician assistants, chiropractors, and podiatrists, and nurses. They primarily work in private medical offices, often sitting at the front desk to greet patients. If you are seeking to enter the field of health care in a position which requires minimal education combined with challenging and diverse responsibilities, the field of medical assisting may be a great option for you!
The specific duties of a medical assistant may vary from office to office depending on the size of the practice and physician specialty. In smaller offices, medical assistants may be responsible for both administrative and clinical tasks and typically report to the physician, office manager, or head nurse. Those employed by larger practices usually specialize in a specific area, under the supervision of department mangers. It is important not to confuse medical assistants with physician assistants who are eligible to perform patient examinations, diagnose illness, and treat patients under the supervision of a licensed physician.
Administrative Medical Assistants primarily perform office support functions to include updating patient records, completing insurance forms, coordinating hospital admissions, scheduling patient visits, as well billing and bookkeeping.
Clinical Medical Assistants have varied responsibilities. Common tasks include recording patient histories, taking vital signs, explaining treatment procedures, preparing patients for physical examinations, and assisting the clinician during the exam. Other duties include:
- Collect and prepare laboratory specimens.
- Laboratory testing under the supervision of a physician or physician assistant.
- Dispose of contaminated equipment.
- Instruct patients in the proper use of medications and special dietary plans.
- Prepare and administer medication and telephone drug orders and refillsto the pharmacy.
- Draw blood and prepare patients for X-rays.
- Record electrocardiograms.
- Remove sutures and change dressings.
- Arrange medical instruments for patient examination.
Ophthalmic medical assistants, optometric assistants, and podiatric medical assistants perform additional duties to those noted above.
Ophthalmic assistants help ophthalmologists provide eye care by:
- Performing diagnostic eye tests, measuring and recording visual acuity, and testing eye muscle strength.
- Applying eye dressing and administering eye drops and salve.
- Maintaining optical equipment and instruments, and assisting the ophthalmologist during surgery.
- Provide chair-side assistance to optometrists during eye exams.
- Instruct patients in the use of contact lenses and care.
- Perform preliminary eye chart exams.
Podiatric medical assistants create castings of feet, expose and develop X-rays, and may assist podiatrists in surgery.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of medical assistants is expected to grow at a rate of 34 percent from 2008 through 2018, much faster than the rate for all other occupations. There is an increased need for healthcare workers at all levels due to the advances in technology combined with the aging of the population and rising need for medical care. The increased prevalence of obesity and diabetes will also result in an increased demand for healthcare services within private physician offices.
Education and Training Requirements
According to Don Balasa, Executive Director and Legal Counsel for the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), there are no mandatory educational requirements to become a medical assistant in Texas with many entry level candidates being trained on the job in private medical offices. However, Mr. Balasa, states that “increasing numbers of employers prefer to hire medical assistants who have graduated from a CAAHEP or ABHES accredited medical assisting program and who have the CMA (AAMA) credential.” Graduating from an accredited training program can result in a greater number of employment opportunities with higher starting salaries and advancement opportunities.
Medical assisting programs are offered at private vocational schools, as well as junior and community colleges. Programs typically last one year and include coursework in anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, computer skills, office management, accounting, and insurance claims processing. Students will also learn clinical and diagnostic procedures, laboratory techniques, basics of pharmacology, and first aid. Most programs offer an internship experience that provides real-world experience in private medical offices or other healthcare facilities.
There are two agencies that provide accreditation to medical assisting training programs: the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Graduates of accredited programs are eligible to sit for the Certification exam administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA).
View a list of medical assisting programs in Texas.
Certification as a Medical Assistant
As per the Mr. Balasa of the AAMA “medical assistants are not licensed in Texas or in almost any other state.”However, as noted although certification is not required to enter the field of medical assisting, a large majority of job opportunities in Texas will require that you possess this credential. You may obtain certification through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA).
Certification process with AAMA:
As per the AAMA the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) designation is the “gold standard” of the profession which confers increased prestige among your colleagues, along with enhanced job opportunities and job security.
- Must be a graduate of a medical assistant program accredited by either the CAAHS or ABHES.
- Apply to sit for the certification exam administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners by completing an application and submitting all required documentation.
- If you are a recent graduate the only documentation required is a verification letter from school director attesting to your graduation from the program.
- Non-recent graduates (over 12 months) will need to supply an official transcripts showing program completion.
The exam consists of 200 multiple choice questions of which 180 will be scored, the remainder being in the pre-test phase. These pre-test questions are spread throughout the exam so you will not be able to identify them. You can read the exam handbook which provides complete details about test construction and testing sites by visiting:
- Pay the certification exam fee. This fee is $125. for members of AAMA, CAAHEP or ABHES. All others pay $250. Personal checks are not accepted.
- The certification department of AAMA will notify you of your application status within a 30 day period.
- Schedule an appointment to take the exam after your application has been approved. You will receive a testing schedule permit that will allow you to make an appointment at a Prometric test center in your area. The exam is given on a rolling basis and may be taken at any point during the year.
- Review the Content Outline for the exam and take the practice test. You can also take a review CMA review course offered by a local chapter of the AAMA. The Texas chapter may be found at http://www.tsma-tx.org/.
- Once you pass the exam you will receive an official certificate and wallet-size card to attesting to possession of the CMA credential. Potential employers will also be able to verify your certification via the AAMA Web site.
- You are required to recertify every 60 months. You can do so by passing another exam or by participating in continuing education. For further details regarding recertification, visit http://www.aama-ntl.org/recertified/faqs_recertification.aspx
Medical assistants may advance their careers through additional training or experience. Some medical assistants go on to teach medical assisting in vocation schools or community colleges. Others choose to return to school to work in some other healthcare capacity such as nurses, physical therapists, even physician assistants. Administrative medical assistants can advance into position of office manager and have responsibility for office operations, as well as supervision of other support staff.
Salary of Medical Assistants
The following provides median entry level salaries for medical assistants in select Texas cities:
Source: Salary.com, June 2011
View a list of medical assisting programs in Texas.