Medical Assistant Training
Overview of Medical Assisting
Medical assistants are integral members of physician offices performing a wide variety of duties including clinical, administrative and specialized services. Training programs to prepare for a career in medical assisting take one to two years to complete and are offered through vocational-technical schools and community colleges. Job growth for this occupation in the healthcare field is projected to demonstrate sustained growth as physicians increasingly depend on their support staff to handle administrative and clinical responsibilities allowing them to see a greater number of patients. Employment opportunities in this field will be excellent given the advancements in medical technology and the aging population creating an overall need for more healthcare workers.
Training and Certification of Medical Assistants
Students considering a career in medical assisting have two options providing the training necessary to successfully obtain employment in a medical practitioner’s office. Previously medical assistants trained on-the-job and were not required to complete an accredited training program. However, most employers currently prefer to employ individuals who demonstrate a commitment and understanding of the field through obtaining certification. A one-year certificate program is offered through vocational-technical schools and postsecondary vocational skills with a focus on subjects directly related to the occupation.
Academic coursework includes anatomy and physiology, record keeping, insurance procedures and medical terminology. Students will also learn ethics and health laws governing medical practices in addition to basic first aid and specimen collection laboratory methods. For those interested in obtaining their associate’s degree in medical assisting they will combine coursework directly related to the medical assistant degree as well as general studies including literature and composition, mathematics and social sciences to graduate. Both training options couple classwork with field experience through internships or clinical rotations.
Obtaining field experience is crucial to put into practice concepts learned in the classroom and develop a comprehensive understanding of the range of responsibilities expected of a medical assistant. Regardless of the career training path chosen, those interested in the program should research local programs that are accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). The certifying board of the American Association of Medical Assistants grants the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) designation through documentation of graduation from a CAAHEP or ABHES program and successfully passing the CMA national examination. Certified medical assistants are then required to apply for recertification every 60 months by completing continuing education credits, thereby ensuring optimal patient care and competency of the CMA. Areas of medical assisting specialization are podiatry, ophthalmology or optometry.
Administrative and Clinical Duties of the Medical Assistant
The majority of medical assistants are employed in the offices of primary care practitioners and their assigned responsibilities will vary based upon the size and organization of the office. Smaller offices may expect CMAs to perform generalized services covering both administrative and clinical duties while the structure of larger practices assigns specific responsibilities to medical assistants related to the department they are employed in.
Although not all CMAs will perform similar duties, both administrative and clinical medical assistants are essential to the effective operation of a medical office. Furthermore, states vary on their regulations of medical assistants and the CMA can reference their specific state laws for further clarification of which patient procedures they are permitted to perform. The administrative responsibilities of a medical assistant are confidential and secure handling of patient records, scheduling appointments, greeting patients, insurance processing and coordinating referrals to specialists and hospitals as recommended by the primary care physician. Clinical medical assistants are expected to obtain and review a patient’s medical history, obtain vital signs including blood pressure, weight and pulse, collect laboratory specimens and prepare the patient for physical examination.
Patient Care Expectations
Patients should expect that their care by the CMA will be competent, confidential and performed in an ethical manner. Medical assistants are charged with greeting and preparing patients for procedures in addition to being capable of patiently explaining instructions for medications, lifestyle changes and follow-up care. The ability to multi-task is central for a successful medical assistant given the amount of patients with vastly different needs they are expected to treat and counsel. They need to be capable of listening to the patient’s needs and concerns in a professional and empathetic manner and treat each individual with respect and dignity. The CMA is often an initial point of contact for patients in their primary care doctor’s office and is responsible for communicating and explaining physician instructions and test results to the patients.