A certified medical assistant performs a number of important duties at a doctor's office, medical clinic, or hospital. He or she handles office paperwork, schedules appointments, greets patients, and explains billing information. In some settings, medical assistants are also responsible for basic clinical duties such as preparing exam rooms and taking patients' vital signs. By keeping patient files and employee schedules organized, a certified medical assistant makes sure that office procedures are efficient and accurate.
The specific duties of a certified medical assistant depend on the setting. Assistants in large clinics and hospitals often work in teams, and each employee may be responsible for a particular aspect of administrative office work. One assistant might, for example, be in charge of answering telephones, setting appointments, and creating schedules for physicians and nurses. Another worker may file patient records, prepare insurance forms, and collect payments.
Professionals who work in small, private doctor's offices generally take on all administrative responsibilities. They are the primary points of contact for new patients, explaining office policies and helping them determine if their insurance will cover services rendered. Assistants also make sure that facilities are well-stocked with specialized medical supplies, such as sterile bandages, cotton swabs, and needles.
A certified medical assistant who completes the appropriate training may be able to perform clinical work in addition to general office duties, such as sterilizing medical equipment and measuring patients' weights, heights, and vital signs before they meet with doctors. Under supervision from nurses or physicians, a medical assistant may be allowed to draw blood, collect lab samples, administer diagnostic imaging tests, and dress wounds. He or she may also be able to answer patients' basic medical questions via telephone or e-mail to take some of the workload off of busy doctors.
The requirements to become a medical assistant can vary, but most workers have at least some postsecondary education. Many community colleges and allied health schools offer six-month to two-year programs to prepare new medical assistants for the job. In order to become certified, an individual must pass an exam administered by a respected national governing board, such as the American Association of Medical Assistants in the United States.
A newly-certified medical assistant generally enjoys many opportunities for entry-level employment. With experience, a worker is usually rewarded with more clinical responsibilities, such as collecting blood samples and helping to interpret diagnostic imaging test results. Many medical assistants decide to pursue continuing education courses in order to become senior office managers, physician assistants, or registered nurses.