Your guide to becoming a Certified Medical Assistant

Written by Kate Lopaze

Healthcare is a hot industry, no doubt about it. As care becomes more advanced and an ever-growing population needs care in every aspect of health and wellness, these are jobs that will keep growing and demanding qualified professionals willing to take on these crucial roles. And while technology will continue to be a growth area for the field, the most in-demand roles of all may be the ones that handle patient care on the front lines, with and without cutting-edge tech. Certified Medical Assistants are just such professionals, who work directly with medical staff and patients to keep care running smoothly.

What Does a Certified Medical Assistant Do?

Certified Medical Assistants (or CMAs) are skilled, versatile professionals who may work in patient care assisting doctors, nurses, and other medical team members; in administration; or in a combination of both areas. They can be found in virtually any kind of clinical medical facility (hospitals, clinics, agencies, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, government facilities) in support roles.

A CMA’s tasks may include:

  • Scheduling appointments and lab tests/procedures
  • Answering phones and receiving patients
  • Cleaning and preparing exam rooms
  • Taking patient vital signs and medical history information
  • Preparing patients for specific procedures or tests
  • Explaining treatment plans and follow-up care to patients
  • Giving injections or medications under the direction of a physician
  • Preparing patient samples for lab tests
  • Entering patient information into charts and records

As you can see, CMAs take a large part in the everyday functions of a medical office, helping to make sure the basics are covered so that patients are receiving high-quality care. Thorough, accurate record-keeping is a large part of the role, as is being able to work equally well with both patients and other staff to make sure that information is clear and correct.

Some CMAs have a more administrative focus, with their jobs more heavily weighted toward scheduling, record-keeping, and managing the office aspects of a medical practice. Others are more oriented toward direct, clinical patient care, handling medical tasks and prep. The focus of the job really depends on the type of medical office and the skills and strengths of the CMA. For example, if you find you’re more inclined toward medical records expertise than drawing blood or taking blood pressure, there are CMA jobs that focus more heavily on administrative tasks.

Medical assistants typically work a 40-hour work week, depending on the size and specialty of the practice.

What Skills Do CMAs Have?

CMAs need to have a pretty diverse skill set, given that their jobs can take on many different tasks.

Medical skills: Medical assistants need to have a strong base in biology, anatomy, physiology, and science in general.

Patient care skills: In addition to the medical know-how necessary to do the job, medical assistants also need to have strong customer care and service skills. They may be dealing with people as both patients and customers, and so need to have good people skills and bedside manner.

Attention to detail: Small details can mean very big things when it comes to medical care, so CMAs need to have an eagle eye for details. This is especially true for administrative tasks like setting appointments and working with patient medical information, as inaccuracies can completely disrupt a medical practice, or a patient’s level of care.

Teamwork skills: Medical assistants are crucial members of a whole medical team that may include doctors, nurses, administrative staff, and more. They need to be able to take directions from physicians and help ensure seamless care for the patients.

Organizational skills: Efficiency and accuracy are two huge skill areas for medical assistants. CMAs may be juggling a waiting room full of patients on an aggressive appointment schedule, or need to process large numbers of samples for lab testing. Keeping everything calm and organized is essential.

Communication skills: CMAs need to be able to record complicated medical information, as well as potentially be able to explain instructions or treatment plans to patients. Listening skills are crucial, as is the ability to communicate clearly with people at all points in the process to make sure that patients are getting what they need, and that other medical staff have the information they need too.

How Much Do CMAs 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.

How Do You Become a CMA?

Although some medical assistants start their careers right after high school, it is far more common for CMA jobs to require some college, or a certificate from an accredited Medical Assisting program. To become officially certified, candidates also need to pass the Certified Medical Assistant Exam offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants.

What is the Outlook for Certified Medical Assistants?

It’s a bright one—the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the demand for certified medical assistants will grow by 23% by 2024. This is much faster than average. As the need for quality healthcare doesn’t seem to be shrinking anytime soon, the need for high-quality medical assistants will continue to grow as well.

If you’re considering joining a healthcare-related field, and can juggle the many needs of a medical practice, becoming a certified medical assistant could be the natural next step for your 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.