Different Types of Medical Assistants

Healthcare jobs are growing very quickly across the US. Statistics show that healthcare job growth should continue for years to come as the aging population grows in number and lives longer than ever before.

Given the strong, ongoing demand for healthcare professionals, now is an excellent time to enter the healthcare field as a medical assistant. In fact, demand for medical assistants is expected to soar by 23% by 2024.

This is occurring because of increased demand from patients, but also because more and more patient care is done on an outpatient basis, rather than inpatient at a hospital. Good medical assistants are needed in doctors’ offices to ensure that quality medical care is provided at a reasonable price.

Medical Assistant Overview

The first thing to know about this field is that there are several types of medical assistants, and all of them play an important role in the healthcare business.

Medical assistants work beside doctors and nurses to help with basic patient care. They also handle simple administrative tasks, and may complete some clinical procedures under the supervision of medical professionals.

In the offices of many healthcare professionals, medical assistants are in charge of running the office, which allows the medical professional to spend all of his or her time providing clinical care.

Duties of most medical assistants consist of the following:

  • Recording patient history and personal data
  • Measuring blood pressure and pulse
  • Help the doctor conduct physical examinations
  • Provide patients with medications or injections, as directed by medical staff
  • Set up patient appointments
  • Prepare blood samples for lab tests
  • Input patient information into electronic medical record database

Depending upon the type of medical assistant you are, your job duties could vary somewhat. If you are more interested in clinical work, you would probably want to be a clinical medical assistant. On the other hand, people who like administrative work would probably rather be an administrative medical assistant.

Clinical Medical Assistant

A clinical medical assistant focuses most of her work on patient care, doing patient assessments, measuring patient vital signs, and related clinical tasks. For example, a clinical medical assistant will often help to prep the patient for their medical exam, take the medical history, and instruct patients on home care.

Clinical medical assistants can also do other jobs in the office, but generally, their focus is on the clinical patient side of care.

Clinical medical assistants are working with patients who may not be well. They may be anxious, tired, sick and could even be at the end of their lives. This means that you have to be a compassionate person so that you can meet their needs.

Clinical medical assistants also are dealing with a lot of patient’s clinical information. So it is very important to stay organized. For example, taking blood samples is a very basic part of many clinical medical assistants’ duties. Mixing up blood samples could be very dangerous, so staying on top of these details is vital.

Administrative Medical Assistant

An administrative medical assistant handles many administrative tasks in a medical office. This usually includes updating and handling patient records, setting up patient appointments, coordinating patient record information transfers with other medical offices, and handling accounting and billing.

The administrative medical assistant plays a vital role in most doctor’s offices. They are very important to ensure that the business and administrative side of the practice is running efficiently.

It is important that these duties are handled for the doctor effectively so that he or she can focus their work on clinical care. Effective administrative medical assistants have excellent communication skills, excellent phone manners, good computer skills, and a basic grasp of medical terms.

Obviously, an administrative medical assistant has to have excellent administrative skills. You will need to have excellent communication skills as you will need to work all day with patients and medical staff. You will spend a great deal of time on the telephone with patients, insurance companies and other medical offices.

Also, you have to be adept at scheduling appointments, entering medical codes accurately, greeting patients, and other important administrative duties.

Specialized Medical Assistant

A specialized medical assistant does many specialized clinical jobs, as their training allows them to work more closely with doctors and patients. Depending upon the size of the doctor’s office, these medical assistants may report directly to the doctor, or to an administrative leader.

The specialized tasks that they handle will largely depend upon which area they are specialized in, how large the practice is, and the type of patients the practice sees. These medical assistants often do a combination of administrative and clinical tasks.

HealthGrad.com Job Tip: One of the keys to becoming an effective medical assistant and enjoying long term job security is to make yourself indispensable to doctors on staff. One of the ways to do this is to acquire more software knowledge.

Every office will use some kind of software to keep track of patients’ clinical and administrative data. For example, if your office uses Microsoft Excel to keep track of patient appointments, make yourself an expert in Excel. Other common office software programs could include Office, QuickBooks and Peachtree. Do some independent study and become an expert in these systems, and you could have a job for a long time.

Education for Medical Assistants

The majority of medical assistants have earned a postsecondary certificate in the field. Others may enter the profession after high school and learn with training on the job.

There are no mandatory training requirements for becoming a medical assistant, but most doctor’s offices will prefer to hire medical assistants who have graduated from a program.

Medical assistant programs are commonly available at local community colleges, technical schools and vocational schools. Most of them take a year or so to finish. Some community colleges offer an associate’s degree program that can be completed in approximately two years.

Whichever type of program you enter, you will have both classroom and laboratory portions to take.

Common courses to take in medical assistant programs include:

  • Career development fundamentals that focus on communication skills, critical thinking and making decisions in an ethical manner.
  • Career development principles that include problem solving skills, managing finances, and employment law.
  • Health sciences essentials, including information on OSHA, HIPAA, how to work safely with dangerous materials; an overview of HIV and hepatitis; and a basic introduction to medical terminology. Courses will usually include basic first aid, and certification for CPR and automated external defibrillation.
  • Law, ethics, and communication
  • Medical laboratory procedures
  • Pharmacology
  • Specialty examinations
  • Healthcare insurance
  • Reimbursement
  • Cardiac specialty procedures

Certifications for Medical Assistants

While most states do not mandate certification for medical assistants, most employers prefer workers who are certified. You can choose several different types of certifications that are offered by different organizations.

For each certification, you need to  pass an examination that is offered by that particular organization. Below are the five different certifications that are available for different types of medical assistants:


Becoming a medical assistant in either the clinical or administrative area is an excellent career choice that can lead to many other exciting, good-paying jobs in healthcare.

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Written by Robert Sanchez
Robert Sanchez is HealthGrad.com's Chief Editorialist. Robert Sanchez has over 10 years experience in the Healthcare field and more recently has become an avid writer advising on career and job topics in this exciting field.

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