As a medical assistant, you will be acting in a helping role alongside physicians, nurses and similar medical specialists. You will be performing a variety of tasks to keep a clinic or hospital running efficiently and to help doctors arrive at accurate diagnoses. One of the first steps towards better understanding your role as a medical assistant is to do some background research about the job’s common responsibilities.
Processing Patient Data
You will often be one of the first people to greet patients as they arrive at a physician’s office or clinic. You will normally be responsible for giving them preliminary forms to fill out with their contact information, basic medical history, insurance data and reason for their doctor visit. After collecting this information, you will often enter it into the medical records computer system for new patients or update it for returning ones. Depending on your employer, you may also be responsible for submitting needed insurance claim forms. Your role in patient processing is an important one for ensuring all information is accurate and up to date.
Taking Patient Vitals
Depending on local regulations where you are employed, you may perform basic patient vital sign recordings. Examples include temperature, pulse, blood pressure, and height and weight measurements. Documenting these vital signs is essential for helping a physician determine any underlying medical problems requiring further attention in each patient. Learning how to take accurate vitals on patients of all ages and health conditions is another important step in understanding your role as a medical assistant. You may also help to arrange patient lab work by submitting the needed medical data to a laboratory technician.
Your job role can also depend on the type of medical facility that employs you as a medical assistant. If you work for a specialist physician such as an orthopedist, you may have further responsibilities in helping prepare each patient for diagnostic exams. In each kind of medical practice, another one of your job roles is to let patients know what to expect during their medical exams and to address any questions or concerns they may have. Developing and practicing excellent communication skills is an essential part of understanding your role as a medical assistant, since you will be interacting with patients of various backgrounds on a daily basis.
Medical lab technicians may work behind the scenes, but they are key players on a patient’s medical team. Their job is to run tests that will confirm a doctor’s suspected diagnosis or tell him he needs to consider other diagnoses.
Lab techs run tests ordered by doctors in order to diagnose a patient’s illness. Medical lab technicians must be extremely detail-oriented. If they misinterpret test results even slightly, it could make a difference in the diagnosis and the patient may receive the incorrect treatment. This is a good reason why technicians must work well under pressure. They also need to be able to work under pressure when the lab is busy.
While technicians spend a lot of time peering into microscopes, they also need to have good computer skills because laboratory equipment is becoming more automated.
These technicians, also known as clinical laboratory technicians, examine a person’s body fluids, such as blood or urine, and cells. They are seeking harmful bacteria and microorganisms, which may be making a person ill. Other duties include determining a person’s blood type and then finding a match when transfusions are needed. Technicians also run the same tests after a patient’s treatment has started to determine how well the treatment is working.
A technician in a small laboratory will perform all sorts of tests, while a tech in a large laboratory may specialize in a specific area, such as bacteriology, hematology or immunology. While some medical lab technicians learn while on the job, most employers prefer their technicians to have at least an associate’s degree from a community college or a certificate from a hospital or vocational school.
More than half of medical lab techs in the United States work for hospitals. Others work for laboratory companies or in doctor’s offices. Those who work for hospitals earn slightly more money than those who work at other facilities, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics.
The median wage for lab technicians, regardless of where they worked, was $17.44 per hour in May 2010, while those who worked for hospitals earned an average of $18.71 per hour. The hourly wage for medical lab technicians ranged from $11.64 per hour or $24,210 annually to $24.94 per hour or $56,040 annually. Factors which influence a technician’s salary include experience, place of employment and geographic location.
The federal government says the outlook for employment is good for lab techs, as rapid job growth is expected. Most of these jobs will be in hospital settings.
A medical technician is an individual who is trained in technical and scientific functions necessary to a laboratory or medical facility. The aging population found in many countries has created a heavier demand upon medical practitioners and the medical technicians’ education has made them increasingly important in the office setting as well. In fact, a medical technician may very well specialize in a particular field such as dialysis, in radiology or emergency medicine. Education is key to working in this interesting field.
Training to become a Medical Technician
To enter a program for medical technicians you will want to have, at a minimum, an associates degree and some medical experience. A four year bachelors degree is preferred, especially if you want to be a technologist as opposed to a technician. The training requires an extensive number of classes in biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology and so forth. Further, specialized classes are encouraged for students who wish to pursue a particular field of practice.
In addition to classroom hours students are expected to participate in internships and work training programs. These opportunities provide budding technicians with invaluable hands on experience. Certification in multiple areas is encouraged in order to increase the likelihood of finding a desirable position upon graduation.
Medical Technician Job Options:
Radiology or Ultrasound Techs – Technicians in this field operate a variety of imaging machines; CAT scans, MRIs, x-ray machines and ultrasound equipment. Good people skills are essential since you will be in constant close contact with people, some of whom are frightened or anxious. Additional specialization may allow the technician to work in an obstetric setting, and emergency room and so forth.
EMT – Working closely with fire departments or ambulance companies, emergency medical techs providing emergency care to the injured. The most common part of this job involves stabilizing injured individuals and transporting them to the hospital for additional care. EMT levels vary depending upon training and continuing education.
Lab Based Medical Technicians – A technician who works primarily in the lab will perform blood tests, evaluate body fluids and skin samples and carry out all other lab related services. Phlebotomy may be part of the job. Technicians in this field work with gas chromatographs, microscopes and other equipment so as to provide results in a timely and accurate fashion.
Salary and Outlook
A certified medical technician can expect a salary range of $25,000-$40,000 annually. Urban centers often provide higher salaries. The field is expected to grow at a higher than average rate through 2018.
Programs training medical technicians are common around the country and are often found at professional schools as well as medical universities.
Obtaining a medical technician certificate of completion involves science aptitude, the desire to support patient care and knowledge of general health care. Depending on the area of specialization, proficiency in technical procedures and certain types of testing are required.
Jobs performed might be in the surgical, medication, radiology, ophthalmic or ultrasound departments. Typical coursework includes:
• Taking histories
• Pressure testing
• Muscle testing
• Surgical assistance
• Becoming proficient with modern imaging equipment
• Diagnostic training
• Fitting contact lenses
• Studying diseases of the eye
• Cardiopulmonary resuscitation
• General medicine
If students possess a high school diploma, medical technician training lasts only two semesters, but certificate candidates may learn a surprising variety of complicated tasks in that short amount of time. Students also routinely undergo a practicum in a clinical setting. Certain skills, such as anatomy, medical language and lifesaving are taught across disciplines.
To work in a laboratory, med techs must learn precise protocols for all of the following:
• Machinery testing, diagnosis and repair
• Results tracking
• Operation of complex instruments
• Specimen preparation and recordkeeping
• Administering of patient tests, including drug testing
• Determine blood compatibility of donors
Laboratory techs can discover clues to solving significant medical mysteries.
Medical technicians who work in a hospital might do the following:
• General medical support tasks
• X-ray patients
• Extract and analyze patient blood and additional tissue and fluid samples
• Identify pathogens at the cellular level
• Stocking of operating rooms
• Aid in results evaluation and interpretation
With additional coursework, medical technicians can go on and become EMTs or paramedics.
The med tech’s work is quite repetitive, and they must be extremely accurate with the tiniest details. Persons entering this occupation must be able to retain focus while stand for hours on end.
According to U.S. News and World Report, three of the best schools for a medical technology degree are Washburn University in the Midwest, Dana College and Madonna University.
When it is time to do your internship, you may find either a paid or volunteer position. The good news is that a practicum serves as the express lane to full-time employment. And there is no substitute for real, on-the-job experience.
Some school and medical programs are conducted in tandem, so that you can study and gain job experience at the same time. Be sure that the practicum that you choose earns you accreditation with the American Society for Clinical Pathology, or other appropriate agency.
Certain internships facilitate a rotation through contrasting medical disciplines, so that students gain full exposure to possible career paths. Typical departments served are hematology, transfusion medicine, chemistry, microbiology and immunology.
Medical assistants are an important part of most medical offices. Other than the front office personnel, they are frequently the first point of contact for patients who are visiting the doctor. Medical assistants are not nurses and do not hold a nursing degree, but in some states they may need to successfully pass an accredited medical assisting program. For people who are considering medical assisting as a form of employment, it is important to review the job description to understand all of what it entails.
Back Office, or Clinical Medical Assistants
Most often medical assistants work closely with the doctor and are also in close contact with patients. They typically work in the clinical area of the office and have numerous responsibilities. The job description for people in this position includes obtaining a medical history from the patient and checking patient’s temperature, heart rate, and other vital signs. Depending on their training and the state where they are working, they may also have the skills to draw blood and give injections. Clinical medical assistants are often required to perform certain tests, such as pregnancy tests, and to prepare both the patient and the examination room for in-office procedures.
Administrative Medical Assistants
Unlike the clinical medical assistant, the administrative medical assistant typically does not have one-on-one contact with the patients. It is his or her job to assist with the administrative tasks of the office, such as scheduling tests, making updates to patient records, and coding or submitting medical claims. In addition, the administrative assistant may assist with clerical duties or even billing.
Specialty Medical Assistants
In specialty practices, such as ophthalmology or podiatry, the duties of a medical assistant may vary from that of a general practice medical assistant. In addition to job description for a basic clinical assistant, the specialty medical assistant must also be able to perform tasks specific to that specialty. For example, an ophthalmology medical assistant will need to check eye pressure and perform vision testing. On the other hand, a podiatry medical assistant must know how to develop x-ray images and make casting of the feet.
The job description for medical assisting is as varied as the employment opportunities within the field. Before becoming a medical assistant a person should first take into consideration the type of assisting job he is interested in. In many practices, a medical assistant may act as either a clinical or an administrative assistant. Depending on the size of the practice, the assistant may be required to fulfill the job description of both. Understanding the type of medical assistant career can help a person to better understand what the job entails.
Medical assistants are on the front lines of the health care field, and they keep health practitioners’ offices running smoothly. They have often both administrative and clinical responsibilities. Medical assistants are typically the first staff members patients see when they arrive for an appointment, and they may take them back to examination rooms.
The salaries of medical assistants can vary. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of May 2010, the median annual salary for medical assistants in the United States was $28,860. The median hourly wage was $13.87. The lowest tenth percentile earned at or below $20,810 per year, and the top tenth earned at least $40,190 annually. The BLS found that other health care support occupations had a median yearly salary of $29,790 as of May 2010. Therefore, medical assistants fall just below similar occupations in terms of salary.
All that is typically needed to become a medical assistant is to graduate from high school or to earn a GED. However, many employers prefer to hire and train medical assistants who have completed a formal, post-secondary certificate or diploma program. These programs typically take about a year to complete, and they are offered by technical and vocational schools. Community colleges and universities also offer such programs. Some community colleges offer two-year associate degree programs. To perform more advanced tasks like taking x-rays or giving injections, some states require medical assistants to have completed an accredited training program, pass an exam, or perhaps both.
Certification is another way to stand out from the job-search crowd as a medical assistant. New medical assistants should seek one of four certifications available from the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, which is part of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence. The certifications are the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA), National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA), Registered Medical Assistant (RMA), and Certified Medical Assistant (CMA). The American Association of Medical Assistants offers the CMA, and the American Medical Technologists offers the RMA. The NCMA is offered by the National Center for Competency Testing, and the National Health Career Association offers the CCMA credential.
Skills and Qualities
Medical assistants should have good analytical skills as their jobs involve working directly with patients and their medical records. They should be detail oriented and have excellent interpersonal skills. Their technical skills in using clinical and office equipment should also be very good as they may take patients’ vital signs and will use a computer daily.