Career Spotlight: Medical Assistant

Medical assisting is a very misunderstood profession in healthcare. People often ask: What exactly is a medical assistant? Do they serve as a nurse, a nursing assistant, or a physician's assistant? This is the question that I asked Certified Medical Assistant, Melissa Cole:

According to Melissa, a medical assistant is trained in many different aspects of clinical procedures and are a valuable asset to a medical office. Medical assistants facilitate medical procedures including phlebotomy, laboratory testing, they deal with medical billing and coding, medication administration, and assess vital signs, take x-rays, and other patient care activities. They are mostly employed in an outpatient setting such as a clinic, but some hospitals hire assistants to work in laboratories.

Salary Range and Job Outlook

Medical Assisting is predicted to be one of the fastest growing occupations through the year 2014 (AMT, 2010). In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in this field is projected to grow much faster than average, ranking Medical Assistants among the fastest growing occupations over the 2008–18 decade. This is due to the technological advances in medicine which is causing the health care field to expand. The BLS states that the median annual wages of wage-and-salary Medical Assistants were $28,300 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $23,700 and $33,050. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,600, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $39,570.

Training, Certification and Advancement

Though it is not required for Medical Assistants to become licensed, they can hold a national certification. They work directly with a physician and their scope of practice falls under the physician’s license. They take their orders from a physician and not a nurse, so that is why they do not need a license to practice.

There are two credentials Medical Assistants may hold. One is the CMA and the other is the RMA. The CMA stands for Certified Medical Assistant, and the RMA stands for Registered Medical Assistant. CMA credential is given to those that pass a national exam given by the American Association of Medical Assistants and is the only credential that requires candidates to be graduated from an accredited medical assisting program (AAMA, 1996-2010). The RMA is given to those that pass the exam given by the American Medical Technologists, and they only require that a physician statement that you have worked in the field for a minimum of five years (AMT, 2010).

Medical Assisting programs are offered in postsecondary vocational schools, and various other accredited colleges. According to the BLS, postsecondary programs usually last either one year and result in a certificate or diploma, or two years and result in an Associate’s in a Medical Assisting degree program. Courses cover anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology, as well as keyboarding, transcription, recordkeeping, accounting, and insurance processing. Students learn laboratory techniques, clinical and diagnostic procedures, pharmaceutical principles, the administration of medications, and first aid.

Advantages of the Profession

There are many advantages to this profession—one of them being that you work in a medical office and work hours that coordinate with a standard 8-5 schedule. Another advantage is that in this career you are exposed to a lot of face-to-face interaction with patients and doctors. There are many things a Medical Assistant can be trained to do that a nurse cannot because it does not fall within their scope of practice or under their license. The downfall to the profession is that it is not highly recognized like the title LPN or RN and the pay scale reflects it. The fact that it is a growing profession may help to change that in the near future.

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Lisa Ludescher, CMA, is a full-time instructor at Rasmussen’s St. Cloud, MN college campus. She serves as Medical Assisting Program Coordinator, working with students pursuing the Medical Lab Technician Program. Lisa received her Associate’s degree at Anoka Technical College.

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