How to Become a Medical Assistant

Written by Kate Lopaze

The healthcare industry. You hear about it all the time—the politics, the technology, the human interest stories. It’s also one of the fastest-growing industries around, as the Baby Boomer population ages and people increasingly focus on their health and wellness. If you’re looking for a career path with strong long-term employment potential, or if you’re looking to change careers, it can be a solid and rewarding choice. One of the best things about the healthcare industry is its variability, and its need for qualified people at all levels—from assistants to nurses to technologists to physicians. So whether you already know what you want to do, or you think you want to find a way into the field but don’t know how yet, becoming a medical assistant might be the right first step. It’s a hot career in a hot field—but is it for you?

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

Medical assistants are administrative and clinical professionals who work in healthcare settings (think hospitals, doctors’ offices, labs, or clinics). They provide support for physicians, nurses, and other members of the medical staff. The medical assistant may help with all aspects of life in the medical office (including assisting with patients), or they might be more administratively focused. It can be a flexible role, depending on your skills and the job description. Their tasks may include:

  • Answering telephones and greeting patients
  • Updating and filing charts and medical records
  • Coding and handling insurance information
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Taking patient medical histories
  • Taking patient vital signs
  • Educating patients on procedures and follow-up care
  • Assisting physicians during exams
  • Collecting and preparing laboratory samples and specimens
  • Preparing medication under the instruction of a doctor
  • Drawing blood and giving injections
  • Confirming prescription information (such as refills)
  • Acting as a point of contact for patients
  • Performing basic tests and lab procedures

As you can see, medical assistants are multitalented members of the team, supporting patient care in many different ways.

What Skills Do Medical Assistants Have?

Because medical assistants are such versatile professionals, they need to have versatile skill sets as well.

Tech skills: Medical facilities are increasingly going high-tech, so the medical assistant will need to be well-versed in a number of different areas, like digital records management and billing software. Being up on the current trends in health apps and systems is a huge plus.

Medical assistants should also be fairly tech-savvy when it comes to regular administrative apps as well, like Microsoft Office or similar products.

Customer service/patient care skills: Being a medical assistant may include working with all different kinds of people (including colleagues, patients, and families), so patience, a positive attitude, and a strong bedside manner will go a long way to help you in your job.

Communication skills: Stakes are high in healthcare—someone’s life and well-being could very well be on the line, so communicating information clearly and accurately is essential.

Organization skills: Life in a medical office can get very busy and hectic, so it’s important to be able to juggle responsibilities and information effectively, without making mistakes or causing confusion.

What Education Do Medical Assistants Need?

To start, medical assistants typically have at least a high school diploma. Some medical assistant jobs provide on-the-job training. However, most aspiring medical assistants get either a certificate in Medical Assisting or an associate’s degree in Medical Assisting, to gain a background in the necessary science and clinical skills that the job requires.

There is no absolute requirement that medical assistants be certified, but some states and many jobs require certification by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). Medical assistants can become certified by completing an accredited Medical Assistant program and passing the Certified Medical Assistant Exam offered by the AAMA.

How Much Do Medical Assistants Get Paid?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical assistants make a median salary of $31,540 per year, or $15.17 per hour, depending on location and experience. This can vary according to experience and location, as well as areas of specialty and expertise. (for example, administrative vs. clinical).

What’s the Outlook for Medical Assistants?

The outlook for the medical assistant field is bright indeed—demand for these medical professionals is not likely to slow down anytime soon. Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field is expected to grow by 23% by 2024, much faster than average.

If you know you want to work in the healthcare arena, medical assisting can be a great way to break into a medical career. Good luck!



About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.