What to Expect from a Medical Assistant Career: An Inside Look
One of the great things about working in healthcare is the wide range of career possibilities. While doctor and nurse may be more familiar titles, there are plenty of other professionals working both up-front and behind the scenes. Medical assisting is one of these crucial careers.
While you may have heard the term before, it can be hard to pin down exactly what medical assistants do. To give you an inside look into their daily responsibilities, we talked with Lauren Ramirez, department chair and associate dean of the Medical Assisting program at Rasmussen College.
If you’re looking to go beyond the facts and figures of a medical assistant career, this article will lay out just what you need to know.
What is it like being a medical assistant?
“It’s a team career for sure,” Ramirez says.
Having worked as an MA in both a pediatric urgent-care and a family practice clinic, Ramirez knows first-hand that medical assistants play a crucial role. As you may have already guessed based on the title, most MAs provide assistance to doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses and physician assistants. In most cases, they will work with one provider at a time, helping with procedures, taking messages, room setup and more. This one-on-one partnership is a hallmark feature of a clinical MA career.
“Usually the provider is not able to run the show without an MA,” Ramirez says.
In fact, she says, many clinics don’t even employ nurses but rely instead on the versatile skills of a medical assistant.
“We focus more on the hands-on,” she says. “We will be the ones drawing blood. We’re going to be the ones giving all the flu shots, all the hepatitis vaccines, injections and splints.”
While your duties will vary depending on the career path you choose as a medical assistant, you can safely anticipate a blend of medical and administrative tasks. Computer skills for scheduling, billing, and electronic health records are another area that Ramirez says is key.
What do medical assistants like about the job?
Some people love a job with a consistent routine. Others thrive with a little more variety in their day-to-day. While the job duties of a medical assistant are consistent, Ramirez says she enjoys the variety she found in how any given day would unfold.
“Everything was very unpredictable,” Ramirez recalls. “You didn’t know what situation was going to walk in the door.”
If medical assisting interests you because it doesn’t involve sitting behind a desk all day, then you’ll be pleased to know that it will keep you on your toes.
“Even in a tiny clinic, people will walk in with life-or-death situations because they don’t know what else to do.”
While she admits it can be overwhelming at times, Ramirez says this is what kept her days exciting even after years on the job.
“Some days it could be something as simple as a cold, a broken leg or a patient walking in throwing up all over the floor—and even though that’s gross, it was kind of exciting because no matter what, you are always on alert.”
Of course, medical assistants never have to face an issue alone. The ups and downs of a particularly wild or boring day are handled as a member of a team, and these experiences can lead to a pretty tight bond with your coworkers. Not everyone gets to see this side of healthcare and the genuinely interesting experiences that came with patient care.
What parts of the job aren’t so great?
Like with any job, it’s not all going to be sunshine and rainbows—there’s a reason you get paid to work, after all. But what stands out as one of the not-so-great facts of life as a medical assistant?
“Having to give bad news to a patient can be really hard,” Ramirez says.
While medical assistants will never diagnose a patient, they are often responsible for “closing the books,” as Ramirez puts it.
“We have to make sure that the patient understands what the doctor told them. We follow up and do the discharge. If it’s something that nobody wants to hear, that’s probably the worst part of the job,” she says.
While medical assistants eventually get used to handling tough conversations for common situations like unplanned pregnancies, STDs and broken bones, Ramirez says some of the particularly tough conversations will stick with you.
“A patient was coming in for an annual physical,” she says. “She just kept saying, ‘I haven’t been feeling well,’ so we did her blood work and it came back very abnormal.”
After running some more tests, the physician was able to reach a diagnosis—it turned out the patient had cancer.
Like she’d done countless times before, Ramirez accompanied the provider into the patient’s room and helped deliver the news.
“We were able to get her treated right away and ultimately saved her life, but it was devastating at first. No one wants to hear that they have cancer, and it was very emotional for her and her family.”
What are some unexpected things about being a medical assistant?
When Ramirez first started as an MA, she admits she had no idea what the role would entail. Yet over time, she recalls how struck she was by the impact that medical assistants can have.
“What you’re doing means a lot,” she says. “One little mistake and that patient is going to have the wrong results which could affect their entire life.”
In the same way, the work you do as an MA can improve the lives of patients in lasting ways.
“Even though there’s a sadness to it sometimes, you’re able to assist people and make them feel better,” she says. “It’s fun, and you get to hang out with your coworkers who like doing the same thing.”
While medical assisting for some is a great stepping stone to other opportunities, Ramirez says many realize along the way that this role is far more impactful than they expected.
What career growth opportunities are available to medical assistants?
Though working in a clinic is common for MAs, Ramirez points out that there are plenty of other ways to explore avenues of healthcare with this qualification.
“You never know where you’re going to end up,” she says.
Performing life insurance health assessments, traveling to different clinics, collaborating on textbooks and exam questions and teaching MA courses are all potential opportunities Ramirez points out to medical assisting students.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the 2019 median annual wage for medical assistants was $34,800.1 This combined with much higher than national average projected 19 percent increase in medical assistant jobs by 2029 makes medical assisting a great way to gain experience while earning a healthy income.1
Working as an MA also provides a solid base to pursue further education. At Rasmussen College, for example, you can easily transfer credits from your Medical Assisting Diploma into a Healthcare Associate’s degree. From there, the career possibilities only increase as your credentials do. Whether your additional education plans from here lead you to becoming a nurse or a clinical director, you’ll be sure to rely on, and build upon, the knowledge and experience you gain as an MA.
Jumpstart your medical assistant career
Now that you know more about what a medical assistant career looks like, you may be curious about what training is involved in becoming one. Dive into what it’s like earning an MA diploma in our article “Medical Assistant Training: What to Expect from Your Courses.”
If you’re ready to learn more about tuition, timelines, and the specifics of a quality MA program, check out the Rasmussen College Medical Assisting program page and see how you could earn your diploma in as few as 12 months.2
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [career information accessed September, 2020] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Completion time is dependent on transfer credits accepted and the number of courses completed each term.