If you’re a compassionate nurturer who’s into the health sciences, but you’re not ready to commit to going the full med-school route, becoming a medical assistant could prove the perfect compromise. Medical assistants help doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals care for patients and carry out other around-the-office tasks, ranging from administrative duties such as scheduling appointments, updating patient records, and taking care of billing to working in a more clinical capacity, including drawing blood, talking with patients about medications and nutrition, and performing lab tests.
Although you don’t have to go to school to become a medical assistant—sometimes you can find a doctor to train with right out of high school—most medical professionals prefer an assistant with formal education, either via a yearlong certificate program or through an associate’s degree program, which typically takes between 18 months and two years. You don’t have to be certified, but it certainly helps up your job prospects and pay potential. Certification can be achieved through the American Association of Medical Assistants, which would then offer you a CMA designation upon completion.
What do medical assistant students study?
You’re going to be immersed in a wide range of subjects. You’ll learn how the human body works through anatomy and physiology classes, receive phlebotomy instruction on drawing blood and handling other bodily fluids, become well versed in medical terminology, and learn the basics of patient care. You’ll also likely take courses in office administration, helping you learn to navigate the software, systems, and other day-to-day tasks unique to working in this type of medical environment.
So where can you expect a medical assistant major to lead you?
Of course, into a medical assistant job—but there are other options.
You can become a straight-out medical assistant, but, with additional certification and education, you can also branch out into related roles, such as a medical records or health info technician (entering info and records into electronic databases), pharmacy tech (assisting pharmacists with their daily duties), and nursing assistants or orderlies, which take care of tasks such as moving a patient around a health-care facility and taking patients’ vitals.
There are a variety of job locations to choose from, and a promising job growth rate.
Whether you like the hustle and bustle of working in a busy hospital or interacting with patients in the more intimate setting of a private doctor’s office, there’s a location that can suit your needs. Outpatient clinics are also a recently booming business where you may find employment as a medical assistant. And wherever you’re looking, chances are good you won’t have to look too hard for a “wanted” ad: The job outlook for medical assistants from 2016 to 2026 is expected to grow by 29%—much faster than the average for all occupations.
This uptick may continue as the baby boomer population ages and requires more medical services, and as the number of outpatient clinics around the country grows. Plus, because of the plethora of emergency clinics open for weekend and holiday hours, as well as the need for fully staffed hospitals, you may be able to find flexible hours outside of the traditional 9-to-5 if that’s what your schedule calls for.
If you’re a nurturing “people person,” this could be the job for you.
Every day you’ll be interacting with the public, usually one-on-one, and helping them on their way to good health. If you work in a private doctor’s office with repeat patients, you may even build relationships with some of the office’s “regulars,” helping them to feel more comfortable with the care they’re receiving and the procedures they need to undergo.
You’ll work in a clean, comfortable environment.
By the very nature of the facilities you’ll work in, it’s required that they be sanitary, well lit, and clean. And although the dress code will vary depending on where you work, you’ll likely be sporting loose scrubs and comfy athletic shoes.
Your days will likely fly by.
Because medical assistants are often required to be jacks-of-all-trades, responsible for everything from the smallest administrative task to helping out with patients, you’re likely to have a full day with a busy to-do list. On the plus side, that means you won’t be sitting around staring into space all day, just waiting to punch out.
You may become inspired to pursue other health-care degrees.
Work in an office or hospital setting long enough, and you may master your job so well that you’ll be ready for the next challenge. You’re basically getting a chance to shadow a nurse, doctor, or office manager for free during your daily routine—and it may be just the fire you need to set you on the path to an even higher-level career.