Medical Assistant Roles and Responsibilities

Medical assistants, by the very nature of their job, are important to the success of a medical institution. This applies to small clinics as well as the larger hospitals and specialized health care centers.

A medical assistant performs important duties in two broad areas related to patient care and management.

The first broad area is – Administrative & Managerial duties.

The medical assistant usually is the first person whom a patient meets, and also the last person whom a patient meets. In other words, the medical assistant is involved in the administrative work related to the organization as well as patient care.

Hence, traditional office tasks performed by medical assistants include:

  • Managing the reception area
  • Welcoming visitors and patients
  • Replying to the phonecalls
  • Keying in relevant data into the computer
  • Receiving and sending mail.

In addition to this, the medical assistant would also handle the tedious statutory paperwork such as

  • Filing insurance forms
  • Helping the other staff in managing patient data and files
  • Ensure integrity of patient information and medical history

The second broad area is – Medical duties.

The medical assistant works alongside the doctor/s in creating the patient’s medical profile by performing tasks such as

  • Drawing blood
  • Sterilization of medical surgical equipment
  • Checking blood pressure and sugar levels
  • Checking and noting other vital signs
  • Other relevant duties

Sometimes, medical assistants may be working in more well-defined roles in specific areas such as eye-care and ophthalmology, cardiac care, pediatric care etc. In such cases, the medical assistant may have additional training relevant to the specific line of medicine or medical treatment. For eg., a medical assistant may be assisting an ophthalmologist or optometrist in doing first-level eyesight & vision tests, using specialized equipment for checking eye pressure, or helping patients learn how to wear, remove, and take care of contact lenses.

With a broad based profile that is important for the smooth functioning of a healthcare setup of almost any size, the career of a medical assistant remains crucial to the industry. This has ensured that medical assistant remains as a career that’s always in demand and showcases a continuous demand-supply gap in favor of employees for the entire current decade.

Medical Assistant Jobs – A Career with Happy Times Ahead

There is a big buzz in America right now about taking up a career as a Medical Assistant. There are many medical assistant training schools that have come up in various states and are providing training programs.

The reason for this popularity is the high rate of employment: 31% as per Bureau of Labor Statistics, for medical assistants in the ongoing decade.

The demand keeps on going higher; making this profession one of the topmost opportunities in the country when it comes to a positive demand-supply gap in favor of the employees.

The specialized knowledge and positive demand-supply gap also lead to good remuneration.

Currently, the average salaries of medical assistants are:

  • $28,280 per annum ($13.87 per hour)
  • Top 10% earn well up to $40,000 per annum & above
  • Lowest 10% make around $20,000 per annum

[Salary figures data source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Govt.]

The growth in demand for medical assistants is not a fad. It is supported by important changes in demography, legislature and technology.

Following are the 3 primary drivers of this growth in the demand for medical assistants:

1. The growth of the aging baby-boom population:

As the baby boomers live longer, have money in their pockets well into their greying years, and crave for better health; the demand for preventive medical services is on the rise. Preventive medical services are often provided by physicians, who require more medical assistants for clinical and administrative duties to cope with the growing practice.

Physicians prefer medical assistants for most assisting jobs at their clinic over the costlier alternative – nurses.

2. Growing need for support workers:

Apart from preventive medical services, the need for primary care is growing steadily within the healthcare sector. To fill in this growing need, the need for medical assistants at group practices, clinics, and other healthcare facilities is continuously increasing.

At a primary care centre, medical assistants responsibly carry out both administrative and clinical duties; hence allowing the doctor/s to attend a greater number of patients per day.

3. Technical advancement in administrative duties:

The change to EHR (Electronic Health Records) is gradual but imminent. An increasing number of physicians are shifting to EHR from the earlier paper based records. This requires knowledge of EHR computer software, data security, ability to analyze electronic data, and maintain integrity of the data and healthcare information.

Medical assistants are trained in handling EHR and related information services, hence increasing their employee-utility to a physician.

Fastest Growing Healthcare Job – Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

With an expected unprecedented growth rate of 45.5% between 2010 and 2020, the Diagnostic Medical Sonographer is the fastest growing healthcare job in the US (BLS – Bureau of Labor Statistics). The Diagnostic Medical Sonographer career has also found an honorable mention on the US News List of Best Jobs in 2013.

Attractive Remuneration

Apart from the high growth rate, the salary of a Sonographer has continued to remain high. The median salary as per the BLS is around $ 65,210 per annum ($ 31.63 per hour). The highest salary levels cross the $ 90,000 per annum mark, and the lowest salary also hovers around a decent $ 45,000 per annum.

Additionally, the US News rates the job of a diagnostic medical sonographer as average in flexibility and low on stress; which is an attractive combination in today’s times.

Continued Increase in Demand

The increase in demand for sonographers arises from increased usage of ultrasound technologies, which are highly preferred non-intervention and minimal-risk diagnostic methods in healthcare today.

Their most popular use remains in the area of pregnancy, where sonographers scan the uterus with ultrasound to get clear images of the baby’s prenatal progression, they determine the gender of the baby, and locate any pregnancy-related complications inside the womb.

Apart from pregnancy, the sonographer uses ultrasound to create images of various organs inside the body for efficient diagnosis and medical treatment. Current uses include sonograhpy for cardiac, abdominal and neurological diagnosis.

In fact, sonographers say that diagnostic medical sonography is being used for “everything that doesn’t have a bone and is not full of air”. This one statement encompasses the huge scope of diagnosis through ultrasound sonography.

Skills & Training

Sonographers require good interpersonal skills apart from technical skills. They are usually the first healthcare professionals who an anxious patient meets. From putting the patient at ease, and then positioning him/her physically for the best calibrated ultrasound imaging, requires the sonographer to be calm, patient and friendly; and yet remain authoritative. Such professionalism comes from good soft skills and an internal desire to help people – both of which are required to mature into the higher income bracket as a sonographer.

The technical and interpersonal skills that a sonographer requires can be acquired by attending a structured learning program. Accredited programs should always be preferred as they ensure a high quality learning experience and thorough knowledge, which are required to perform the job duties efficiently. Accredited Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Program is usually a 2-year associate’s degree that covers anatomy, physiology, equipment training, other related medical courses, clinical training, report making, interpersonal skills etc.

Certification Requirements

Certification requirements vary between states, and Connecticut does not require a sonographer to be certified. However, certification is recommended as most employers prefer certified sonographers; and getting certification raises both employability as well as salary.

Certification is obtained by clearing the exams conducted by American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS).