Behind every great doctor is a great nurse. But behind every great doctor and nurse, you’ll usually find a great medical assistant making their lives, and the lives of patients – a whole lot easier. They are key players on any healthcare team and deliver a wide range of clinical and administrative support to doctors and nurses. So, if you’re looking for a career in healthcare but aren’t interested in the traditional 4-year university education route, a career as a medical assistant is a great option. Plus – there are many different career paths you can take as a medical assistant. But before we talk about that, let’s explore a little bit about medical assisting in general.
Life as a Medical Assistant
Medical assistants are trained to perform routine medical tasks like – drawing blood, giving injections, removing sutures, and administering medication. They also receive training in CPR and medical emergencies, clinical and lab procedures, and administrative tasks like – medical coding, patient scheduling, and medical office software. But each day in the life of a medical assistant is different and can mean interacting with people from all walks of life.
What are the Requirements to Become a Medical Assistant
Depending on the state you’re in, the requirements to become a medical assistant vary. But typically, you must complete an accredited program in medical assisting. Some diploma and certificate programs can be completed in as little as 12 months. But an associate degree program can take from 18-24 months to complete and prepares students to pass the National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) exam. Even though certification is not mandatory in every state, many employers prefer to hire certified medical assistants.
Once you’ve completed your medical assistant training, there are a number of alternate career paths to choose from. Some career paths will require additional training and education but having a solid foundation of medical assistant training to build on can be very beneficial.
If you’re not squeamish about the sight of blood, working as a phlebotomy technician is a good option. Phlebotomy technician work in doctor’s offices, labs, hospitals – just about anywhere there’s a need for healthcare. Some phlebotomy technician’s even travel to people’s homes to draw blood samples. Basic phlebotomy is typically covered in medical assistant training, but many employers require technicians to be certified. That means taking and passing the CPT (Certified Phlebotomy Technician) exam. Being certified is a plus as it can open the door to even more opportunities in the field. On average, there are approximately 21,500 openings for phlebotomists annually, making this a career path with an excellent career outlook for the foreseeable future.
Home Health Aide
If working directly with people providing patient care appeals to you, a career as a home health aide might be a good fit. Medical assistants apply their training to assisting elderly or disabled patients in their homes and provide basic care and support such as bathing, dressing, feeding and administering medication. Most employers require home health aide certification which involves an additional 75 hours of training. But this career path has the potential to be extremely rewarding as well as flexible in terms of schedule. The demand for in-home care professionals is rapidly growing also, with a predicted increase in new jobs of 25% by 2031.
Administrative Medical Assistant
Medical assistants are trained to perform both clinical and administrative duties. But if you prefer a role that does not include the clinical side of medical assisting, working as administrative medical assistant is a great alternative. Typical duties in this role would include filing paperwork, scheduling appointments, entering data into the facility’s electronic records system, answering phone calls and providing customer service to patients and their families. You might even wish to pursue additional training in medical billing and coding to enhance your skill set, or to advance your career towards medical office management. Either way, getting the administrative experience as an administrative medical assistant is a good place to start.
Health Information Technician
Another career path for medical assistants that is non-clinical in nature and involves managing patient medical records. If you’re tech-savvy, this could be a great option because the primary role of a health information technician is to manage Electronic Health Records (EHR). This includes:
- Auditing patient records for compliance
- Abstracting clinical information for reports
- Performing basic coding to submit reimbursement claims
- Processing Release of Information (ROI) requests for medical records
- Reviewing patient demographic and insurance information
- Discussing patient information with physicians and insurance professionals
The importance of maintaining accuracy and security around patient records is critical and EHR skills are in high demand in the healthcare industry. Medical assistants who wish to pursue a career path as a health information technician can seek certification by taking and passing the CEHRS exam but must meet the eligibility requirements of completing an EHR training program in the last 5 years, or have at least 1 year of supervised work experience within the previous 3 years. The career outlook for health information technicians is strong and new jobs are expected to grow by more than 8% by 2031, and the average annual salary hovers around $47,000, with the top 90% earning as much as $71,000.
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
If you enjoy working directly with patients and don’t mind the clinical side of healthcare, a career as a CNA could be a great fit! CNAs provide basic care such as bathing, grooming, feeding and caring for patients. These healthcare professionals typically complete very similar training to medical assistants and become certified by meeting the state specific requirements and passing the CNA Certification Exam. CNAs look for job opportunities in nursing homes, hospitals and other inpatient settings. Jobs for CNAs are expected to increase by 8% by 2031 and the annual median salary in 2021 was $30,290.
Suggested Reading: 2023 Salary Guide for US Nurse Practitioners
Over To You
Doctors, nurses, patients – the entire healthcare industry, rely on the skills and support medical assistants deliver on a daily basis. And with so many options to choose from, this is a career path that has virtually unlimited potential. If you’d like to learn more about medical assisting careers, please visit MyCareers Job Portal for more information about the programs available in your area. To stay updated on all healthcare career trends and tips, join our growing healthcare professional community.