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What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

Learn more about what you’ll do as a medical assistant.

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Home » Medical Assisting » Duties

The Basics

  • What you’ll do: From measuring vital signs and performing lab tests to greeting patients and scheduling appointments, medical assistants are crucial members of a health care team. In a typical day on the job you’ll fill a variety of clinical and administrative roles. As electronic health records (EHRs) become standard in offices, assistants will need to be adept and precise at record keeping.
  • Where you’ll work: Physicians’ offices, hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, emergency rooms
  • Average annual salary: $35,720*

Job Environment

A typical day in a medical assistant career 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 health administrators.

In this role, you’ll communicate with doctors, nurses, patients, medical billing staff, insurance representatives, and pharmacists. Other 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

1. Build Relationships With Patients

Being a good listener falls among the most vital medical assistant duties. Whether they see a patient once a year or several times a month, medical assistants offer an understanding ear for patients going through routine doctor’s exams or struggling with 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 result in a positive influence on both the patient’s outlook and the medical office’s reputation.

2. 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 current weight and blood pressure, and key their pre-exam interview responses into a computer database. You may also be responsible for filing patient medical records, and adding written accounts from physicians or nurses based on exams and any lab tests.

3. Prepare Exam Rooms

On the clinical side of 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:

  • Restock medical tools and equipment
  • Arrange exam room instruments
  • Set up lab trays necessary for a patient’s exam

4. 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.

5. Perform Routine Medical Tasks

Drawing blood, delivering injections, administering medications, removing sutures, changing dressings—clinical medical assistants may complete any number of these tasks. In addition, you may explain medical procedures to patients and instruct them on dietary issues, medications and other areas relevant to their specific health condition.

6. Use the Latest Technology

Healthcare technology isn’t what it used to be. More practices and healthcare facilities are moving from paper records to electronic health records (EHRs). Medical assistants entering the field should be prepared to manage patient’s records in a digital format. While it may take some getting used to if you’re used to working with hard copies, you’ll find EHRs offer plenty of benefits, from real-time updates to streamlining communication between providers.

As a medical assistant, you’ll input patient information, such as diagnoses, medical history, treatment plans, test results, and immunization dates, into a database. An EHR can be accessed (securely) from anywhere making it easier for multiple practitioners to see the same information.

Medical assistants should also be prepared for other evolving technology. These days, they communicate with patients via video and email. There’s even an app for medical assistants preparing for professional certification exams.

Many medical assistants also use MEDITECH software, which provides modules such as patient discharge instructions and scheduling and referral management.

Specialized Medical Assistant Tasks

While the majority of medical assistants work in primary care, some specialize in a certain 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 complete specialized duties. You’ll find online and classroom programs to help you specialize should you choose to pursue a unique area:

Ophthalmology and optometry: 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 provide help to the podiatrist.

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

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

Career Advancement

As more physicians’ practices convert to using electronic health records (EHRs), medical assistants must be adaptable to this change. Your responsibilities in the office will grow as you learn the software and analyze the data, improving overall health care information, and professional certification can help as well.

There are many paths you take to further your career, depending on what you’re most interested in. For example, if you love working with information and record keeping, you can branch out as a health information technician. On the other end of the spectrum, you can move on with education and training to become a nurse or physicians’ assistant. Your salary as a medical assistant will differ depending upon your area of specialty.

According to the BLS, the highest concentration of medical assistant employment is in the following environments:

  • Physicians’ offices
  • Offices of other health care practitioners
  • Outpatient care centers

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2019 Edition, Medical Assistants.

*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

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