Medical assistants provide a valuable service within the growing medical field. Whether it is through providing assistance to other medical professionals, or through working directly with the public, medical assistants perform a variety of functions that are critical to the successful operation of certain medical facilities.
As of 2015, the state of Pennsylvania had the fourth highest level of employment of medical assistants in the United States. This was based on an estimated employment level of 26,490 medical assistants across the state, earning an average annual wage of $30,590. Nationally, the number of employed medical assistants was estimated at 601,240, and that number is expected to continue growing into the foreseeable future, making this an excellent time to begin working towards a career as a medical assistant.
Medical assistants perform a variety of job duties ranging from administrative to supporting certain medical processes and procedures. Many participate in gathering patient history and other pertinent information, as well as gathering vital signs such as pulse rate and blood pressure. You may have the opportunity the assist physicians as they perform medical examinations or to administer certain medications or injections as permitted by the state of Pennsylvania. Other duties can include scheduling appointments and preparing samples for various laboratory tests.
As more hospitals and clinics begin using electronic health records (EHRs), medical assistants will likely regularly use computers and associated technological equipment to perform certain job functions. This will put a special emphasis on acquisition and maintenance of technical skills related to HER input and updates as time progresses and the technology is more widely adopted.
Additional qualities of a successful medical assistant include being detail-oriented and analytical in nature as this provides a solid basis for most medical professions. Further, a medical assistant must possess strong interpersonal skills in order to work closely and effectively with other medical professionals as well as patients with a variety of needs and capabilities.
Medical assistants may be function in a general capacity or may specialize in certain duties or medical fields. For example, certain medical assistants focus on administrative duties, spending a great deal of time working with medical records, insurance forms, and ensuring proper coding on documents. Others may specialize in certain clinic duties such as proper sterilization of equipment and the preparing of various clinic spaces.
While the state of Pennsylvania does not require any certifications in order to perform the work of a medical assistant, many employers will show preference to those who are certified, and some may require it as a condition of employment. That being said, it is possible to receive on the job training to learn the skills necessary to perform the duties of a medical assistant. The primary caveat to learning in this forum is that it will not allow you to be deemed eligible for the main certification examination offered within the industry.
For those interested in working as a medical assistant, obtaining the proper education to successfully complete the certification examinations would be a wise first step.
A medical assistant educational program provides the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively perform the duties of the position safely and efficiently. Programs may vary in duration, with some being as short as nine months while others run for around two years. Certain two year programs will result in the student being awarded an Associate’s Degree in Medical Assisting, while other programs may end in a certificate of completion. Additionally, certain programs may lead to various skills-based certifications as particular skills, such as phlebotomy, are learned by the student.
Educational institutions offering medical assistant programs may provide the opportunity to receive financial aid in order to attend. This can range from internal scholarships and institutional grants to certain federal funding options including Pell grants and certain student loan options. The receipt of financial aid is not guaranteed as each option has its own set of requirements. Those who qualify for a sufficient amount of assistance may experience little to no out-of-pocket expenses directly related to their education.
Medical assisting educational programs cover a variety of topics that will prepare you for working in the growing field. You will attend courses in medical terminology to provide a foundation for future learning, as well as information on the medical insurance industry and how it relates to the job duties you may perform. Additional focus is provided on customer service skills and how to properly communicate with coworkers and patients.
Coursework will be provided on applicable laws and regulations, as well as ethics as it pertains to the field. Information on anatomy and physiology will be covered, as well as material on subjects such as pharmacology, emergency medical procedures, and medical assisting techniques in different work environments.
Even if certifications are presented as part of the coursework, it is important to recognize that these certifications are not necessarily the same as becoming certified as a medical assistant. Additionally, these individual skill certifications may be viewed differently by different employers or states.
Even though it is not required by the state of Pennsylvania, becoming certified as a medical assistant will help provide you the widest range of employment options. The Certification examination is offered by the American Association of Medical Assistant (AAMA). Upon successful completion of the requirements set forth by the AAMA, you can be awarded the title of Certified Medical Assistant (CMA).
In order to be eligible to take the exam, you must fit into one of the three following categories; a recent student or graduate of an accredited medical assisting program, a non-recent graduate of an approved medical assisting program, or a current or former CMA who has successfully completed the examination on a previous testing occasion.
In order to be considered fully eligible to participate, an application must be submitted for consideration by the AAMA. Depending on your unique situation, additional documentation may or may not be required in addition to your examination application and associated nonrefundable application fee.
Those who have been convicted of a felony may not be eligible, as well as those who have had a professional license or certification previously revoked, denied, suspended, or placed on probation by certain regulatory authorities or certification boards. In those instances, a waiver and supporting documentation will be necessary for further consideration.
The certification examination consists of 200 questions, all in the multiple choice test format, and is divided into multiple segments, each with a testing period of 40 minutes. Examination dates are available regularly throughout the year at approved Prometric testing centers. Once an application for examination has been accepted, you will be provided with a 90-day window in which to complete your certification test.
The first section covers certain general knowledge areas and skills. This includes subsections on psychology, communication, professionalism, medical law and regulatory guidelines, medical ethics, and medical terminology.
The second section covers the knowledge and skills required to perform the administrative duties associated with the profession. The primary subject areas included in this section are medical reception, patient navigator and advocate, medical business practices, patient medical record establishment, appointment scheduling, and medical practice finances.
Section three covers information regarding the required clinical knowledge and abilities a successful medical assistant must possess. Topics covered in this examination include anatomy and physiology, infection control, patient intake and care-related documentation, patient preparation and provider assistance, nutrition, specimen collection and processing, diagnostic testing, pharmacology, and emergency management and first aid techniques.
You will have up to three attempts to pass the CMA examination to become certified. While there is no required waiting period before a retest can be attempted, a new application with the required application fee must be submitted for consideration. If you are unable to pass the examination on the third attempt, you will no longer be eligible for retest opportunities.
Once you have received your certification as a CMA, you will need to renew that certification every five years. This helps ensure that everyone working as a CMA has the most current knowledge and abilities as it relates to the field. Recertification can be achieved either by successfully retaking and passing the certification examination or through the completion of 60 hours of approved continuing education.
Continuing education credits can be earned through a variety of approved methods, with some based online as well as others working as self-study courses. Some coursework can be completed directly through the AAMA while others are sponsored by local educational institutes.
Some examples of continuing education coursework include:
• Conservative Foot Care
• Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation
• Zika Virus
Different courses are offered at different times, allowing a CMA to take coursework that is most relevant to their area of interest or current employ, but it does mean that certain options are not available at all times. Depending on the duration and difficulty of the course material, classes may qualify for different numbers of continuing education units (CEUs) or hours. Most coursework will qualify for a minimum of one CEU while others may qualify for six CEUs.
Certain courses may even result in the receipt of a particular specialty certification. In these situations, courses may include significantly larger amounts of hours to complete such as 25. Coursework does not have to be completed in the state in which you live or are employed as approved continuing education coursework can be applied to the CMA recertification requirement. It is important to note that other requirements may be set forth by the institution sponsoring the course.
Medical assistants work in a variety of medical environments, though they may also work in certain outpatient home-based capacities as well. Most commonly, medical assistants work in hospitals, physician’s offices, or outpatient care health centers. Shift length can vary, though the majority of medical assistants do work full time hours. Additionally, depending on the environment in which you work, you may be required to work evenings, weekends, or holidays as needed.
Most work is completed alongside another medical professional or, at a minimum, with indirect supervision, depending on the nature of the tasks. Most administrative duties will likely not require direct supervision at all times while some other duties will always be performed as an assistant to a qualified professional.
While most work environments would be considered professional in nature, it is not uncommon for medical assistants to be required to wear medical scrubs to perform many of the duties as assigned. Additionally, a significant time may be spent on one’s feet, so appropriate footwear will likely be required.
Pay and Other Compensation
Pay can vary depending on the exact workplace involved as well as the nature of the duties required. Across the U.S., the median annual wage is $30,590. With many medical assistants working full time, these wages may only be part of an overall employee benefit package. Some employers will offer medical, dental, vision, and prescription coverage options along with items such as retirement plans, long-term disability insurance, and even continuing education assistance.
The CMA certification is recognized nationwide. This allows a person working as a CMA the ability to work in many different location without having to pursue additional certification. However, specific requirements may vary by state.
Working as a medical assistant can be the focus on one’s career. In 2015, the top 10 percent of medical assistants in the U.S. earned an annual wage of $43,880 or higher. Becoming a CMA can also be the first step in a longer career plan. It can provide introductory experience into the field, spurring an interest in more advanced medical areas, such becoming a nurse or physician, or may introduce a person to a specialty of interest, such as radiology or pharmacology.
The demand for medical assistants is predicted to grow significantly, with a 23 percent increase anticipated between the years of 2014 and 2024.