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Health Care Assistant: Job Info & Career Requirements

Learn about the type of work a health care assistant performs. Read about the education and certification requirements, as well as employment outlook and salary potential, to see if this is the right career choice.

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Career Definition of a Health Care Assistant

Health care assistants perform a variety of patient care and administrative duties. In medical offices, they interview patients, assist with patient exams, record data, and maintain exam room equipment. In long-term care facilities and hospitals, they often help patients with hygiene needs, serve meals, and check vital signs. Health care assistants in the dental field may sterilize equipment, take x-rays, and make casts of teeth. Some health care assistants with nursing assistant certifications become home-care aides to provide health-related services to homebound patients. Health care assistants work in fields ranging from physical therapy and mental health to cardiology and nursing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that over one-half work in medical offices. Medical assistance professions are growing much faster than average compared to the job outlook for all professions.

Educational Requirements High school diploma and completion of a 1-year certificate program or 2-year associate's degree in medical assistance
Job Skills Strong communication skills, adept at dealing with patients, general office skills, ability to multitask and work as part of a team; multiple language skills often preferred
Median Salary (2015)* $30,590 (all medical assistants)
Job Outlook (2014-2024)* 23% (all medical assistants)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Required

Health care assistance careers generally require a high school diploma and completion of a 1-year certificate program or a 2-year associate's degree in medical assistance. Programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Coursework includes a combination of medical and office procedures, from anatomy and physiology to record keeping, transcription, and insurance processing. Additional certification is voluntary, but required for many positions, including Basic Life Support, CPR, and Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) offered through the American Association of Medical Assistants. Certified Nursing Aide (CNA) certification is a state requirement for many positions.

Skills Required

Health care assistants must have good communication and patient-care skills, including medical knowledge and an efficient bedside manner. Solid office skills, including computer proficiency, word processing, data entry, record keeping, and insurance processing are essential for many positions. A Health care assistant needs to be a self-starter who can multi-task but also work as part of a team. Multiple language skills are often preferred. Employers may also require health care assistants to have a yearly physical and up-to-date immunizations.

Economic Trends and Outlook

With both medical and administrative skills, health care assistants are particularly well-positioned to take advantage of job growth generated by increased demand in the healthcare industry. The BLS predicts that job opportunities for medical assistants will increase by 23% during the 2014-2024 period. In 2015, the median salary among health care assistants was $30,590, with the highest ten percent earning more than $43,880.

Alternative Careers

Similar career options in this field include:

Health Information Technician

For those who are interested in managing and organizing medical records and other health information, a career in health information technology should be considered. Information technicians gather patient data, enter it into computer databases, track clinical trial statistics, code for insurance purposes and review records for accuracy and completeness. To enter this field, a certificate or associate degree in health information technology is generally necessary, and many employers prefer to hire those with professional certification. Jobs for medical records and health information technicians are predicted by the BLS to increase at a rate of 15% during the 2014-2024 decade. In May 2015, the BLS estimated that these professionals earned a median yearly salary of $37,110.

Licensed Practical Nurse

If a job with more hands-on patient care and interaction is desired, then becoming a licensed practical nurse is another option. These nurses perform simple medical procedures, such as inserting catheters, changing dressings, monitoring vital signs, and depending on state regulations, starting IVs. They also assist with basic care, such as dressing and bathing. Completion of a career training program, usually a year in length, is required to gain employment. All states also require licensure of practical nurses that includes passing the practical nursing National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN). The employment outlook is strong, and the BLS expects a 16% increase in job opportunities for licensed practical and vocational nurses between 2014 and 2024. The median salary for these nurses was reported by the BLS to be $43,170 in 2015.

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