what is a medical assistant?

A medical assistant is one of the most valuable employees at any healthcare facility. While doctors see patients and write prescriptions, medical assistants are the ones who keep the clinic running. As the American Association of Medical Assistants explains, being a medical assistant means that you handle all sorts of necessary operational details. Your job includes everything from taking patients' vital signs to scheduling appointments. This interesting job includes a blend of office duties and working with patients. You get to understand exactly how a healthcare facility functions and directly help those in need.

medical assistant vs. physician's assistant

Keep in mind that these two jobs are very different. Though they sound similar, a physician's assistant job is closer to the role of a nurse or doctor. The physician's assistant job requires a license and allows you to treat and diagnose patients. Meanwhile, if you're a medical assistant, you get to learn on the job and don't need the same kind of degree. Being a medical assistant also means you help with record keeping and conveying patient concerns to their doctor.

Would working as a medical assistant suit your interest in medicine and personal interactions? Then read on to find out what competencies and qualifications you need to thrive in a medical assistant role.

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average medical assistant salary

Since it involves some specialized knowledge, being a medical assistant lets you earn a little more than a generic office assistant does. The average wage for a medical assistant is $37,190 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, there is quite a bit of variation in salary due to skill, experience, and regional cost of living rates. Salaries can range from $29,070 to as much as $48,170.

factors that impact pay

If you want a medical assistant job that pays on the higher end of the spectrum, it's important to choose your job carefully. On average, medical assistants make more when they live in big cities or work in areas with a high demand for healthcare. Certain types of healthcare facilities also tend to pay more. Those working in hospitals or outpatient care centers get a higher salary than those working in private clinics. If you select a job that includes opportunities to work evenings, weekends, or holidays, you can earn even more with overtime pay.

Would you like to know what a medical assistant earns? Where the highest salaries are paid for a medical assistant? Then check out this medical assistant salary page and find out all about the salary of a medical assistant in the USA.

Male with glasses smiling and looking to the side
Male with glasses smiling and looking to the side

types of medical assistant

This field is very broad, so some medical assistants choose to focus on a certain area. Common types of medical assistant jobs for you to consider include:

  • clinical medical assistant: These assistants spend most of their day interacting with clients. You'll do things like update records, take vital signs, and help with procedures.
  • administrative medical assistant: This type of assistant mostly deals with paperwork and office care. Your job includes tasks such as filing records, scheduling appointments, dealing with customer service, and answering telephones.
  • specialized medical assistant: Some assistants specialize in a certain field like geriatrics, cardiology, gynecology, or pediatrics. You'll do typical medical assistant tasks but also need specialized knowledge in subjects like managing Medicare documents or calming upset children.

working as a medical assistant

Working as a medical assistant is typically an engaging job with a variety of interesting tasks. Here's what you can expect when working as a medical assistant.


medical assistant skills and education

If you want to become a medical assistant, the path is relatively straightforward. First, you'll need to have a high school diploma or GED. For some jobs, this level of education alone is enough to get you the position. You can learn most of the skills on the job, and most states do not have any formal licensing requirements.

However, you'll find it easier to get a job if you do take the time to pursue a little more education. Unlike nurses, medical assistants don't need years of college. However, having an associate's degree can be helpful. Some states and certain employers will also require you to have a certification. You get certified to become a medical assistant by taking some classes and passing an exam. Most medical assistant certifications require knowledge of things like anatomy, medical terminology, and medical ethics.

To access the highest-paying jobs, it is a good idea to get formal training as a medical assistant. Some colleges and universities offer degrees for medical assistants, and you can also take courses at community colleges and vocational schools. These programs often allow you to graduate with both a degree and a medical assistant certification.

skills and competencies

Successful medical assistants work hard to make sure they excel at these skills:

  • organization: Being able to handle large amounts of information in a clear and logical manner is very valuable. For best results, you should be comfortable dealing with organizing paperwork, office supplies, and even your own time.
  • administration: As a medical assistant, you're in charge of making the workplace function smoothly. Administrative skills like being able to answer phones and schedule appointments are quite useful.
  • communication: According to Allied Health, communication is the main skill all medical assistants need. You'll benefit from being able to pass on complex medical information in an accurate and easy-to-understand manner. It's also important to be able to speak professionally to a broad range of coworkers and patients.
  • medical knowledge: You don't need to know how to perform surgery, but you do need to understand basic terminology and anatomy.
  • technical skills: If you're a clinical medical assistant, you'll do things like draw blood or change bandages. Therefore, you'll need to know about some basic medical treatment procedures.
Smiling male nurse working in a hospital
Smiling male nurse working in a hospital

FAQs about working as a medical assistant

Here you will find answers to the most frequently asked questions about medical assistants.

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