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Medical Assistant: Occupational Outlook & Career Info

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a medical assistant. Get a quick view of the requirements - such as job duties, degree programs and certification - to see if this is the right career for you.

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Medical assistants typically complete a postsecondary program, and can opt for voluntary certification in the field. They work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, medical offices, outpatient care centers, and nursing homes, performing both office and medical procedures. Job growth through 2024 is expected to be much greater than average.

Essential Information

Medical assistants are essentially office managers for medical practices and institutions. As such, they require combined knowledge of office and medical procedures. Several schools offer preparation for this specific career through certificate and associate degree programs. Optional certification could make a medical assistant more desirable in the job market.

Required Education Postsecondary non-degree award
Certification Options American Association of Medical Assistants, American Medical Technologists
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 23%
Median Salary (2015)* $30,590

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Occupational Outlook for Medical Assistants

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of medical assistants was expected to grow 23 percent, much faster than the average for all occupations, from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). The BLS explained that increased demand would stem from the addition of medical group practices and the need to provide basic patient services in order to allow doctors to administer treatment. Medical assistants work in medical offices, hospitals, nursing homes and outpatient care centers. As of May 2015, the median annual earnings of medical assistants were $30,590, and the highest paid worked for computer systems designs and services, scientific research and development services organizations, and insurance carriers.

Job Description

Medical assistants in larger healthcare facilities could provide either clinical or administrative services. Clinical medical assistants perform basic medical procedures, such as taking vital signs or collecting laboratory specimens, and they work closely with patients before and after treatment. Administrative medical assistants manage an office, including scheduling appointments, filing documents and answering phones. Medical assistants who work in smaller facilities might handle both clinical and administrative duties.

Licensure and Certification

Medical assistants generally don't have to be licensed with their states, but they could consider certification through professional organizations, such as the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) or American Medical Technologists (AMT). The BLS indicates that these certifications can help with career advancement and employment opportunities. To earn certification, applicants must meet education or experience requirements before passing their certifying examinations. Certification might need periodic renewal by participating in continuing education or passing an exam.

Educational Requirements

To prepare to become a medical assistant, students can enroll in certificate or associate's degree programs offered at many community colleges and vocational schools. Topics of study usually include clinical procedures, medical insurance, anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, medical terminology, record keeping and coding. Certain programs allow students to select clinical or administrative concentrations. They might also be able to participate in practicums or internships in healthcare facilities to gain actual experience.

If an individual doesn't have formal education, he or she might be able to find an employer who offers on-the-job training. In some states, medical assistants who receive specialized training and pass a state-issued exam could perform additional tasks, such as distributing medication, drawing blood or operating an x-ray machine. The training, experience and other requirements necessary for these services vary by state.

Medical assistants manage offices or perform basic medical procedures, and sometimes do both. While completion of a postsecondary program is typically required for this job, a high school diploma with on-the-job training may suffice, and there are certifications and state exams available that allow medical assistants to take on additional duties in some states. Demand is high for this occupation, with job opportunities expected to rise by 23% through the year 2024.

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