PROS / One of the fastest growing vocational careers with excellent job stability.
CONS / Medical assistants do some unpleasant tasks such as bathing patients.
VERDICT / Great job choice for individuals who enjoy caring for others.
Demand for medical assistants is expected to grow by more than a third in the next 10 years because of the advancement in age of the baby boomer generation. The medical industry's vastness and diversity also provides opportunities for individuals in this vocational career to specialize in a variety of career paths. Nonetheless, all jobs involve caring for and assisting patients.
Although the average starting salary is just above $22,400 annually, medical assistant jobs are steady, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many employers in this vocational career offer insurance and other benefits. Because there is considerable training on the job, advancements in this profession can earn you up to $40,000 annually with just an associate's degree and certification.
Medical assistants may just be starting out, or they may come into it mid-career after working in a different field. The job is popular among individuals who are seeking a career path with stable income. Often these individuals are also looking for flexibility in their work schedule so they can better meet family obligations or educational pursuits. Skills and knowledge you may have gained in another profession or in interacting with your own family and friends will assist you in your ability to relate well with patients.
This job has one of the brightest futures of the vocational careers we reviewed. Presently, there are almost 500,000 medical assistants in the United States today, and job openings over the next 10 years are expected to exceed 200,000.
Although medical assistant jobs are in high demand in almost every community across the country, California, Michigan, Arizona and Florida employ the most individuals in this vocational career. California and Michigan have higher general populations than most states, and Arizona and Florida are destinations for baby boomers to live out their retirement years.
The American Association of Medical Assistants provides the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certification. Individuals must pass a test conducted by the National Board of Medical Examiners. Recertification is required every five years.
To increase their marketability as well as their salaries, individuals may choose to specialize in positions such as optometric assistant, podiatric assistant or outpatient surgery assistant by completing an additional certification.
Some individuals in this profession choose to go back to school to become registered nurses (RNs), where there are additional advancement opportunities.
Your responsibilities in this profession vary depending on the office in which you work, but they may include greeting patients, recording patients' medical history and vital statistics, preparing treatment rooms for patient examinations, cleaning and sterilizing instruments, preparing and administering medications as directed by a doctor, and collecting blood, tissue or other laboratory specimens. In a hospital or care center, you may transport patients to an examination room. You will also tend to the grooming needs of patients who are unable to take care of themselves, which requires kindness, respect and the ability to be discreet so as to maintain patients' dignity. This job often requires patience and charity for others.
Because many in this profession work in hospitals or care centers, there is the opportunity to work a variety of shifts, such as the swing shift or weekends and holidays. This will give you a more flexible schedule to work a second job, pursue additional education or attend to family obligations. Overtime is also available for many on a regular basis. Although you will likely work with patients much of the time, you may work on your own or in a team with other assistants or nurses to perform medical duties.
An electronic thermometer that more accurately measures temperature and blood pressure is one example of technology you will use in this profession. You will also likely work special monitoring equipment in a hospital setting. In addition, database software is now used in most hospitals and clinics specifically geared for maintaining medical records.
In this profession, you need to be able to lift at least 50 pounds because of the frequent need to move or transport patients. You will frequently wear protective gloves and masks that cover your nose and mouth. You will likely wear a uniform or be required to maintain a dress code, and because you will be on your feet most of the time, you will need to wear shoes that support your feet well, such as cross trainers or hiking shoes.
Basic Office Skills Required
Medical assistants frequently review patients' charts either on paper or on a computer monitor, and because they also add content to charts, they need basic spelling, grammar and punctuation skills, as well as basic math skills, typing, data entry and 10-key skills.
This vocational career requires being detail-oriented and accurate because even the slightest typo could change, for example, the type of medication or dosage that a patient is administered. Doctors and nurses will depend on you to communicate an accurate account of the patients' history and their present symptoms. The more you know about the duties of the other staff members with whom you work, the more you will understand the importance of the role you play in the office. Although you may not have as many qualifications as an RN, you will likely interact more with the patients to take care of tasks that nurses don't have time to do. Because of this, you will assist greatly in helping to maintain good morale among the patients with whom you work, and this helps everyone.
In this profession, you will likely communicate with doctors and nurses by email using a program such as MS Outlook. In addition, phone skills are needed, since you will likely communicate with patients or other medical professionals such as pharmacists by phone. English speaking skills are a must in this profession, although knowing additional languages such as Spanish or Chinese will make you more marketable.
Medical assistants have one of the brightest outlooks of any of the vocational careers we reviewed because of the projected growth of their profession over the next ten years. Individuals who enjoy caring for people do well in this profession.
A Medical Assistant's Typical Work Day
In Kristine's vocational career as a medical assistant, she works in her home town for an internist, Dr. Franklin, who focuses his practice on internal medicine. Dr. Franklin is like a regular family doctor, but he has a greater understanding of how the organs in the body function. For example, many of his patients deal with digestive disorders, problems with the kidneys or liver, or conditions of the lungs, such as emphysema.
In a typical day for Kristine, she will greet patients in the clinic's waiting room and walk them back to an examination room. She takes patients' vital signs, including weight, temperature, blood pressure, as well as blood sugar levels, if a patient is diabetic. She reviews patients' charts to learn the nature of their appointments. Then she asks them to describe symptoms they have been experiencing as well as any present medical concerns they may have. Kristine takes notes on the patients' electronic chart, which she accesses through the computer terminals located in each of the examination rooms. Because of this, she must have accurate typing skills, and she must be familiar with the medical database that is used in the office. Finally, she will see that the instruments the doctor will need for the appointment are sterilized and placed on a tray for quick access.
Dr. Franklin then reviews her notes before seeing the patient. Kristine stays on hand to provide assistance to the doctor when he performs small procedures on patients, such as mole removals or the treatment of warts. In doing so, Kristine is respectful and uses discretion. Kristine knows patients typically don't enjoy going to the doctor, so she tries to make their visits as pleasant as possible. Those that do go are in better health because of it.
After the visit, the doctor will typically ask her to call in patient prescriptions to a local pharmacy or provide patients with sample prescriptions they have on hand at the office. Additionally, she schedules future appointments for patients in Dr. Franklin's office, or she will call the office of a specialist, such as an obstetrician or podiatrist, to whom the doctor has referred a patient.
Kristine chose the vocational career path of a medical assistant because of her interest in health and being healthy. She has always been a very athletic person, so she enjoys being on her feet and staying busy. She also likes wearing scrubs and tennis shoes, which she has in a variety of bright colors and textures. On her lunch break, she usually reads magazines about being healthy and exercising outdoors. She likes to learn quick recipes for breakfast smoothies or grilled chicken, the nutritional value of super foods, or new gear she can use for hiking or camping.
As a medical assistant, Kristine enjoys working with patients, and she likes learning from Dr. Franklin when he finds solutions to patients' medical conditions. The doctor has encouraged her to continue her education, and as a result, she has enrolled in school to become a registered nurse. Kristine likes the regular hours and fast-paced environment of her vocational career, and she appreciates the stable salary and generous benefits.