Home » Medical Assisting » Duties

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

Medical assistants need specific skills, including working well with patients, to excel at their jobs.

medical professional checking patients blood pressure
Home » Medical Assisting » Duties

A typical day for a medical assistant is never lacking in excitement. As a medical assistant, your primary responsibility is to ensure that everything is working smoothly.

With a highly versatile skill set, you’re an important extra set of hands for nurses and other healthcare professionals. In this role, you’ll communicate with doctors, nurses, patients, medical billing staff, insurance representatives, and pharmacists. Your duties may include:

  • Stocking supplies
  • Answering phones
  • Setting up an EKG machine
  • Drawing blood
  • Explaining treatment procedures to patients

In a fast-paced medical assistant career, you’ll need to solve problems and be everywhere at once, while remaining calm and professional.

Day-to-Day Duties

Your daily duties will vary depending on where you work, but here’s a general guide to what you’ll do in many medical settings.

Build Relationships with Patients

Being a good listener ranks high as one of the most vital medical assistant skills. Whether they see a patient once a year or several times a month, medical assistants offer an understanding ear for patients—whether they’re in the office for a routine doctor’s exam or struggling with a chronic disease.

Good medical assistants know when to talk, when to listen, and how to match a patient’s mood or personality in their responses. The relationships they build with patients can have a positive influence on both the patient’s outlook and the medical office’s reputation.

In a fast-paced medical assistant career, you’ll need to solve problems and be everywhere at once, while remaining calm and professional.

Update Patient Medical Records

One of your most important tasks as a medical assistant is keeping patient medical records current. You’ll record a patient’s weight and blood pressure and type their pre-exam interview responses into a computer database. You may also be responsible for filing patient medical records and adding written notes from physicians or nurses based on exams and any lab tests.

Prepare Exam Rooms

On the clinical side of a medical assistant’s duties, preparing exam rooms is a top priority. This requires a number of steps, from disposing of contaminated supplies to sterilizing medical tools. Medical assistants might also perform the following tasks:

  • Restocking medical tools and equipment
  • Arranging exam room instruments
  • Setting up lab trays necessary for a patient’s exam

Manage Laboratory Tests and X-rays

As a medical assistant, you’ll frequently arrange for laboratory services. Depending on their certification and employer, some medical assistants might collect and prepare lab specimens and perform basic lab tests. Further, many play a role in patient X-rays, as coordinators with the medical imaging team or in assisting with X-ray preparation and development.

Perform Routine Medical Tasks

From drawing blood and giving injections to administering medications, removing sutures, and changing dressings, clinical medical assistants may perform any number of medical tasks. In addition, you may explain medical procedures to patients and instruct them on dietary issues, medications, and other areas related to their health.

Good medical assistants know when to talk, when to listen, and how to match a patient’s mood or personality in their responses.

Use Current Technology

Technology plays a major role in a medical assistant’s day-to-day duties. It would be rare today to see a healthcare facility that doesn’t use electronic health records (EHRs). Medical assistants entering the field should be prepared to manage patient records in a digital format. You’ll be entering into a computer information such as diagnoses, medical history, treatment plans, test results, and immunization dates.

Medical assistants should also be prepared to use other forms of technology. On the clinical side, they need to know how to run lab tests and use medical equipment such as EKG technology. On the administrative side, medical assistants need to know how to use scheduling software, applications to check in patients, and video for telehealth patient appointments.

Specialized Medical Assistant Tasks

While most medical assistants work in primary care, some decide to move into a specific area of healthcare, such as ophthalmology and podiatry. Many of the main tasks listed above will be part of your day, but you’ll also have specialized duties. You’ll find online and classroom programs to help you specialize, should you choose to pursue a specific area.

Here’s a look at tasks associated with four specialties.  

Ophthalmology and optometry:

You’ll provide support to patients and demonstrate how to insert, remove, and care for contact lenses.

Podiatry:

You’ll assist by making castings of feet and developing X-rays. Medical assistants are often present during surgeries to help the podiatrist.

Chiropractic:

The tasks for a chiropractic medical assistant range from doing blood draws to performing certain procedures, such as ultrasounds and traction, on patients.

OB/GYN:

In this setting, you’ll help a physician care for women. Medical assistants often provide support during Pap exams and minor surgeries.

Skills of a Successful Medical Assistant

Danielle Sadighi is the founder of the American Medical Certification Association (AMCA), one of five accrediting groups for medical assistants. She’s been involved in certification for 28 years and says there are seven areas that medical assistants need to master:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Medical law and ethics
  • Medical office/patient care skills
  • Healthcare systems
  • EKG
  • Phlebotomy
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations/infection control

While medical assistants must be knowledgeable in all of these areas, there’s been a shift in emphasis on certain skills in recent years, says Sadighi.

“We can see that EKG and phlebotomy have drastically decreased, and professionalism has drastically increased,” she says. “And, if you talk to a medical assistant, they’ll tell you, ‘Years ago, I needed to know how to perform EKGs and how to draw blood.’ Now, everything has gone very individualized—hospitals want medical assistants, they want phlebotomists, they want EKG.”

Where You’ll Work

Typically, most medical assistants will learn how to perform tasks on the clinical side and the administrative side. Some might go into a job that focuses on one more than the other, but most medical assistants will find themselves doing both. 

The type of healthcare setting you work in will determine many of your responsibilities and can be a factor in your salary. The number of employees, patient volume, and type of patients can also play a role.

Here’s what a medical assistant might do in three settings.

Physician’s Office

  • Take patient medical histories
  • Update patient medical records
  • Talk to patients about procedures or tests
  • Prepare patients for exams
  • Help the physician with tasks
  • Take lab specimens
  • Perform lab tests

Hospital

  • Schedule appointments
  • Keep tabs on medical records
  • Assist the physician in small procedures
  • Help patients feel comfortable
  • Fill doctors in on patient updates
  • Update treatment plans
  • Help patients navigate care 

Outpatient

  • Use applications, software, and EHR systems
  • Answer telephones and/or direct calls
  • Book appointments and manage physician schedules
  • Update patient medical records
  • Welcome patients and take medical histories
  • Communicate with hospitals and labs
  • Correspond with insurance companies
  • Handle bookkeeping

Advancing Your Career

As more physicians’ practices convert to using electronic health records, medical assistants must be adaptable to this change. Your responsibilities and professional stature will grow as you learn EHRs and other software and are able to analyze the data they generate. Another way to stand out and move ahead is to earn professional certification.

There are many paths you can take to further your career, depending on your interests. For example, if you love working with information and recordkeeping, you can branch out as a health information technician. On the clinical side, you can move on with education and training to become a nurse or even a physician assistant.

hana larock

Written and reported by:
Hana LaRock
Contributing writer

danielle sadighi

With professional insight from:
Danielle Sadighi
Founder, American Medical Certification Association (AMCA)