What Does a Medical Administrative Assistant Do? A Closer Look Behind the Desk

a medical administrative assistant behind a desk greeting a patient

Think back to a time when you visited a physician’s office. The first interaction you likely had was with the medical administrative assistant. These are the friendly folks who greet you and check you in for your appointment. While checking patients in is an important duty for the medical administration team, they’re also responsible for many other tasks that help keep the medical office running smoothly.

In fact, their role is so important, employment of medical administrative assistants is projected to grow much faster than average in the coming years, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.1 With a relatively short educational path, this is an ideal position for those looking to get their foot in the door of the booming healthcare field.

But you’re still left wondering: What does a medical administrative assistant do, exactly? Join us as we take a closer look at the smiling faces behind the check-in desk.

What is the role of a medical administrative assistant?

Medical administrative assistants, also known as medical secretaries, perform administrative functions for a hospital or clinic using their knowledge of medical terminology and applications. They can work in a variety of locations with common job titles like unit secretary, medical office assistant, patient coordinator or admissions coordinator.

This is a unique role in that it combines both direct and indirect patient care duties. It requires a strong balance of administrative skills and interpersonal abilities. Keep reading to learn more about some common medical administrative assistant tasks.

What are some medical administrative assistant job duties?

Medical administrative assistants are responsible for a wide range of tasks to ensure the office they are managing functions smoothly. These tasks can vary by location but typically include:1

  • Checking patients in at the front desk
  • Answering the phone
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Interviewing patients for case histories and key information prior to appointments
  • Compiling medical records and charts
  • Processing insurance payments
  • Operating computer software and office equipment
  • Transferring lab results to the appropriate clinician
  • Maintaining supplies and appearance for the office

What are some important medical administrative assistant skills?

As you can tell from the list above, there’s a variety of skills needed in order to successful carry out these responsibilities. We used real-time job analysis software to examine more than 170,000 medical administrative assistant job postings from the past year.The data helped us identify the top skills employers are seeking. Here’s what we found.

Top technical skills for medical administrative assistants2:

  • Scheduling
  • Appointment setting
  • Customer service
  • Patient care
  • Customer billing
  • Medical terminology
  • Data entry
  • Electronic medical records

Top transferrable skills for medical administrative assistants2:

  • Communication
  • Telephone skills
  • Computer literacy
  • Organization
  • Multi-tasking
  • Attention to detail
  • Teamwork
  • Microsoft Office®

This information will help you gain a better understanding of the important skills and qualities one must possess in order to succeed in this position. But remember that not all medical administrative assistant jobs are the same—some skills and job duties will be unique to the particular job environment.

Where do medical administrative assistants work?

Medical administration duties can vary quite a bit depending upon the type of healthcare setting in which they work. The size of the facility, scope of procedures and geographical location can all play a part in how duties are divvied out to employees.

Let’s take a closer look at the most common work environments.

What does a medical administrative assistant do in a hospital?

Hospitals are some of the largest types of facilities in which a medical administrative assistant can work. With large facilities, roles and responsibilities are typically more specialized and narrowly focused when compared to a small general practice clinic. 

Depending upon the department, there can be emergencies coming in continuously so hospital employees need to know what their role is and be able to perform quickly. It is also important for those working at the front desk to convey a calming demeanor, especially in emergency departments. There are many different types of patients coming in, such as mothers in labor or people with serious injuries, and it’s the medical administrative assistant’s duty to be a steadying presence while gathering important information and updating patients as to when they’ll be seen by the doctor.

Hospitals also tend to require employees to work a less traditional schedule. They are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so they must cover each shift including nights, weekends and holidays. This sometimes includes working 12-hour shifts, three days a week. Whether this is a pro or con depends on the person, but it’s important to be aware of unique schedule differences when choosing a job.

What does a medical administrative assistant do in a clinic?

A clinic differs from a hospital in that it usually is limited to a few specialties, like primary care and pediatrics. The other major difference is that it runs on regular business hours. This means employees have a more predictable schedule, with more holidays off and most shifts ending before dinner time.

A large portion of the appointments are pre-scheduled standard wellness appointments, screenings and specialty visits as opposed to the quick-fire emergencies found in an emergency room or hospital. This means medical administrative assistants in a clinic typically spend more time scheduling appointments, both in person and on the phone. While the front desk may still need advanced customer service skills, the life-or-death situations are generally few and far between.

What does a medical administrative assistant do in a private practice?

The smaller the facility, the fewer the employees and the less clearly defined are the roles. Private physician practices often have an “all hands on deck” philosophy. In this setting, you may be responsible for duties that go beyond the typical medical administrative assistant job description.

This may include duties that would typically be handled by a medical assistant or medical coder. Small practices often focus on a team environment. This type of entrepreneurial thinking empowers employees to pick up on tasks as they are needed.

Since it is common for only one medical administrative assistant working at a time in the office, the ability to multitask and prioritize is especially important. It’s a common occurrence that they will be greeting a patient, the phone will ring and the doctor will ask for something all at once. A successful medical administrative assistant will be able to execute all while keeping their composure.

How do you become a medical administrative assistant?

If you’re intrigued by the dynamic role of a medical administrative assistant, you’re probably curious about the education and training needed to become one. The good news is that, unlike many other in-demand healthcare professions, it won’t take years of schooling to qualify.

In fact, most medical administrative assistant jobs don’t even require a degree. You can earn a Medical Administrative Assistant Certificate in as few as nine months.3 The dynamic curriculum that makes up this program will help you acquire the perfect blend of clerical and interpersonal skills needed to excel in this position. Here’s a taste of the courses included.

Medical administrative assistant courses:

  • Foundations of Medical Administration
  • Medical Billing and Insurance
  • Customer Service in Healthcare
  • Healthcare Administration Office Procedures
  • Technology for Medical Administration

Are you ready for this medical administration role?

You are not the first person to wonder, “What does a medical administrative assistant do?” You’ve likely crossed paths with them countless times but never truly understood their role in a healthcare facility. From your first phone call to making sure your test results get to the right place, it’s clear that hospitals and clinics would not be able to function without them.

Learn more about how a Medical Administrative Assistant Certificate can help prepare you for this multifaceted healthcare career.

1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, [career data accessed May 2020] www.bls.gov/oes/. Data represents national, averaged earnings 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.
2Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 170,712 medical secretary job postings, May 01, 2019 – April 30, 2020).
3 Completion time is dependent on transfer credits accepted and the number of courses completed each term.

Microsoft Office is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in July 2016. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2020.

Callie Malvik

Callie is the Content Manager at Collegis Education, overseeing blog content on behalf of Rasmussen College. She is passionate about creating quality resources that empower others to improve their lives through education.

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