First, we need to understand a little of what medical assistants do – they perform administrative tasks to keep the offices of physicians, podiatrists, chiropractors and other health practitioners running smoothly. The duties vary from office to office depending on the location and size of the practice, as well as the practitioner’s particular speciality.
In small practices, medical assistants usually do many kinds of different tasks, handling both administrative and clinical duties, usually reporting to an office manager, physician, or other health practitioner. Those in large practices tend to specialize in a particular area under the supervision of department managers or administrators. Medical assistants should not be confused with physician assistants, who examine, diagnose and treat patients under the direct supervision of a physician.
Administrative medical assistants update and file patients’ medical records, fill out insurance forms and arrange for hospital admissions and laboratory services. They also perform tasks less specific to medical settings, such as answering telephones, greeting patients, handling correspondence, scheduling appointments and handling of bills and bookkeeping.
Clinical medical assistants have various duties, depending on local law, some common tasks include taking medical histories and recording of vital signs, explaining treatment procedures to patients, preparing patients for examination and assisting physicians during examinations. Medical assistants collect and prepare laboratory specimens and sometimes perform basic laboratory tests, dispose of contaminated supplies and sterilise medical equipment.
Under direction of the physician they might instruct patients about medications and special diets, prepare and administer medication, authorise drug refills, telephone prescriptions to a pharmacy, draw blood, prepare patients for X rays, take electrocardiograms, remove sutures and change dressings. Medical assistants also may arrange examining room instruments and equipment, purchase and maintain supplies and equipment and keep waiting rooms neat and clean.
Medical assistants work in well-lit clean environments; they constantly interact with people and may have to handle more than one task at once. Most full time medical assistants work a forty hour week, however medical assistants can also be part time and be employed in the evening or at weekends.
Formal training in medical assisting, while generally preferred, is not mandatory. Many medical assistants are trained on the job and usually only have to have a high school diploma or an equivalent. Recommended high school courses are; mathematics, health, biology, keyboard or computer skills, bookkeeping and general office skills. Volunteer type work in healthcare could well prove useful to job seekers. Medical assistants who are trained on the job, usually spend their first months attending training sessions and working closely with experienced colleagues.
Medical assistants meet and deal with the public, it is expected therefore that a good dress code be employed, you are courteous and pleasant and that you can put a patient at ease and explain physicians’ instructions coherently, they must also respect the confidential nature of medical information. Clinical duties require a reasonable level of manual dexterity.