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What is a Medical Administrative Assistant?

Medical administrative assistants are responsible for many of the tasks that help medical practices operate efficiently and care for patients effectively.

two people in scrubs discuss paperwork over reception desk
Home » Specialties » Medical Administrative Assistant

The Basics

  • What you’ll do: Medical administrative assistants handle tasks like record keeping and appointment scheduling that help patients get the care they need.
  • Where you’ll work: Hospitals, doctors’ offices, dental offices, clinics
  • Degree you’ll need: High school diploma or GED; certificates, diplomas, and degree programs available
  • Median annual salary: $37,350

A medical administrative assistant plays a vital role in keeping a healthcare facility running smoothly. They handle tasks like record keeping and appointment scheduling that help patients get the care they need.

A role as medical administrative assistant is a great way to join the fast-growing healthcare industry if you’re not sure clinical patient care is for you. Plus, since this is not a manager or administrator role, many medical administrative assistant jobs are entry-level positions.

In many cases, you can jump into many medical administrative assistant jobs with just a high school diploma, although certificates and associate degrees are available if you want to advance your career.

What Do Medical Administrative Assistants Do?

The medical administrative assistant is usually the first person a patient sees when they come in for an appointment. They greet patients and help them check in for their visit. When they’re not helping patients in person, many medical administrative assistants answer phones and schedule appointments. They also have behind-the-scenes responsibilities such as organizing patient information and office records.

“A medical administrative assistant must pay attention to detail, be comfortable with multi-tasking, have strong organizational skills, and be an excellent communicator, both verbally and in writing,” says Elisha B. DeNeal, president of the Association for Healthcare Administrative Professionals (AHCAP) and current manager of executive and administrative support for Mary Washington Healthcare in Fredricksburg, Virginia.

A medical administrative assistant is usually the first person to greet patients when they arrive for appointments.

Your exact job duties will vary depending on your employer, but medical administrative assistants are often responsible for:

  • Organizing patient charts and records
  • Keeping files updated
  • Sending billing invoices to insurance companies
  • Processing patient payments
  • Answering phones
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Sending orders to pharmacies

Also Known As …

You might see the job of medical administrative assistant listed under a few different titles. Most of the job duties for these titles overlap. Some other titles for medical administrative assistants include:

  • Medical receptionist
  • Medical office assistant
  • Medical secretary
  • Office coordinator
  • Unit secretary

All of these roles fall under the general umbrella of medical administrative assistant. However, a medical administrative assistant is not the same as a medical assistant. Medical assistants perform clinical tasks and have different training.

Where Can I Work?

Just about any healthcare facility that has files to keep and phones to answer has a need for medical administrative assistants. Some common employers include:

  • Hospitals
  • Doctors’ offices
  • Dental offices
  • Chiropractic offices
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Rehabilitation facilities

These aren’t the only places medical administrative assistants can find work. Some less common and often overlooked employers of medical administrative assistants include:

  • Insurance companies
  • Correctional facilities
  • Labs
  • Healthcare supply manufacturers
  • Emergency medical transport services
  • Senior and disability transport services
  • Healthcare technology companies
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Medicare and Medicaid offices

Can I Do this Job from Home?

Most medical administrative assistants work in an office or other healthcare facility. Until recently, opportunities for medical administrative assistants to work at home were rare. However, the COVID-19 pandemic led to massive growth in telehealth platforms and services.

Telehealth allows patients to see doctors via their computer or smartphone without needing to leave their homes. It has also created new opportunities for medical administrative assistants to work from home. When you work for a telehealth platform or office, you might take on tasks like:

  • Monitoring electronic communication
  • Managing appointment requests
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Sending out texts or other appointment alerts
  • Sending out billing statements and other communications

What’s the Difference Between a Medical Records Specialist and a Medical Biller and Coder?

It’s easy to confuse medical assistants and medical administrative assistants. Both play important roles in healthcare facilities, but they aren’t the same. Medical assistants are clinical professionals while medical administrative assistants are clerical professionals.

Some key differences between the two jobs include:

Medical Administrative Assistants:

  • Handles billing, insurance, and recordkeeping
  • Credentials are optional
  • Don’t perform any patient care
  • Interact with patients in a reception area

Medical Assistants:

  • Takes vitals, administers vaccines and other medications
  • Credentials might be required for some tasks/roles
  • Perform clinical patient care
  • Interact with patients in exam rooms

How to Become a Medical Administrative Assistant

You don’t need an advanced degree to tackle a medical administrative assistant role. You won’t have management responsibilities or other duties that require additional education. There are many entry-level positions available to people who don’t have any education beyond a high school diploma.

Minimum Education Requirements

You can enter this field with a high school diploma or GED. However, if you know you want to build a career as a medical administrative assistant, it’s a good idea to earn some formal education. Medical administrative assistants can generally choose from certificate programs, diploma programs, or associate degree programs.

You can enter the medical administrative assistant field with a high school diploma or GED.

While completing a medical administrative assistant program isn’t required, it can help you learn and master the skills and terminology you’ll need to succeed. Plus, many employers prefer candidates with some sort of formal training.

“Having or obtaining a certification in medical terminology is recommended and preferred,” DeNeal says, and a mastery of medical terminology can help you communicate with other healthcare team members. “A medical administrative assistant will often have to interact with the public, either in person or by phone. Making sure you fully understand the needs of the person you are communicating with is key. Understanding medical terminology is critical in this position.”

What Will I Learn?

The exact topics you’ll cover will depend on your program. However, most medical administrative assistant programs cover topics such as:

  • Medical terminology
  • Medical billing
  • Medical transcription
  • Healthcare communication
  • Medical coding
  • Medical records management

How Long Does It Take?

The program you choose will determine how long it will take to get your education. Many diploma or certificate programs can be completed in less than a year. Associate degree programs generally take two years. Other factors that can influence how long a medical administrative assistant program takes include any previous coursework you transfer in and whether you attend school full or part time.

Can I Take Classes Online?

Yes. Medical administrative programs can be completed entirely online. Some programs might require an internship or field placement, but many are 100% remote.

Certifications and Licensure

Medical administrative assistants don’t need to be licensed or certified in any state. However, there are some optional credentials available. Earning a credential can boost your career and make you stand out to employers. In fact, the National Healthcareer Association reports that 75 percent of employers either require or prefer that medical administrative assistants they hire have a credential. Options for medical administrative assistants include:

  • The Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) from the NHA: You’ll need your high school diploma or GED to earn this certification. You’ll also need to have a year of supervised medical administrative assistant work within the last three years or have completed a formal medical administrative assistant program within the past five years.
  • The Medical Administrative Assistant Certification from the American Medical Certification Association: You’ll also need a high school diploma or GED for this certification. Additionally, you’ll need to have one year of supervised medical administrative assistant experience within the past year or to have completed a formal medical administrative assistant training program within the past year.

Stackable Credentials: Make Yourself Stand Out

Medical administrative assistants can also earn credentials that aren’t specific to medical administrative assisting, but that are relevant to the job they perform. For example, you could earn additional credentials in electronic health record (EHR) management or medical billing and coding.

Your medical administrative assistant training or education will likely make you eligible to take these exams. For example, medical billing and coding is covered in almost all medical administrative assistant programs.

If you don’t have the training or experience you need earn the credentials, you can take a few additional classes to learn what you need to know. Having multiple credentials isn’t a must, but it can help your career. It can allow you to apply for a wider variety of roles and make you stand out to employers.

Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical administrative assistants earned a median salary of $37,350 in 2020. That’s slightly less than the $40,990 median for secretaries and administrative assistants in non-specified fields.

However, medical administrative assistants have a major advantage over other types of administrative assistants. The job security and job outlook for medical administrative assistants is much brighter. While secretary and administrative jobs are projected to see an overall 9% loss by 2029, medical administrative assistant roles are expected to grow by 10%.

Professional Resources

It’s a good idea to look for professional organizations that can help boost your medical administrative assistant career. When you join a professional organization, you’ll have access to resources such as conferences, newsletters, job postings, continuing education credits, and networking opportunities. Some organizations for medical administrative assistants to check out include:

You can also join in the conversation with fellow medical administrative assistants on social media. You can build a professional presence and search for jobs on LinkedIn. You can use hashtags such as #healthcare, or #administrative assistant on Instagram or Twitter for more social connections.

stephanie behring

Written and reported by:
Stephanie Behring
Contributing Writer

elisha deneal

With professional insight from:
Elisha B. DeNeal
President, Association for Healthcare Administrative Professionals (AHCAP)

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