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Career Profile: Medical Assistant

Why Is a Medical Assistant a Job of Tomorrow?
The number of doctor visits in the U.S. is climbing, and medical assistants will become more sought after to help physicians cope with that increasing workload. Employment opportunities for medical assistants are predicted to rise 35 percent, a much faster growth rate than the average for all U.S. occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average annual salary for medical assistants is $26,290.

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?
Unlike physician assistants who can act as stand-in doctors, medical assistants perform clerical and routine duties. They do not treat patients, but essentially act as general assistants, helping administrators as well as physicians keep health care facilities running smoothly. Medical assistants have varying responsibilities, depending on the specific setting in which they work. In smaller facilities with fewer staffers, medical assistants may be responsible for helping physicians explain procedures to patients, preparing patients for medical examinations, updating and filing patient records, and dealing with health insurance paperwork. In a bigger facility with more personnel, medical assistants may be trained to specialize in one niche, such as administration. A medical assistant specializing in administrative duties would work under the supervision of a health care administrator to take care of paperwork and other business-related duties. Some medical assistants have different responsibilities depending on the type of physician for whom they work. For example, an ophthalmic medical assistant would help the ophthalmologist supply care for the patient's eyes. No matter the specialization, medical assistants are immensely valuable as another set of trained hands to help in the facility.

What Kind of Training Do I Need to Become a Medical Assistant?
Medical assistants need to complete a medical assisting program, which can be taken at most community or junior colleges. The program typically takes one year for a certificate or diploma, or two years for an associate degree. The courses cover anatomy, medical terminology, insurance processing, and skills such as typing and recordkeeping. To become a certified medical assistant, students need to graduate from the medical assisting program and pass the national certification examination. Working medical assistants then are required to become recertified every five years to ensure currency and competency in the field, according to the American Association of Medical Assistants.