What is a medical assistant?
Medical assistants can be found in almost every type of medical facility. In essence, there are three main types of medical assistants: administrative medical assistants, clinical medical assistants, and general medial assistants. Administrative and clinical medical assistants perform mostly or only administrative or clinical tasks, respectively. General medical assistants (referred to as medial assistants) perform both clinical and administrative tasks. The specific responsibility of medical assistants depends on the laws of the state where they work, the needs of the medical facility, and the medical assistant’s training and qualifications.
Some of the tasks medical assistants may perform:
- Provide customer service on the telephone and in the office
- Schedule, coordinate and monitor appointments
- Coordinate appointments other medical facilities for referred patients
- Manage medical records and bookkeeping
- Obtain patient history
- Check vital signs
- Prepare patient for examinations, procedures and treatment
- Conduct and process lab tests
- Process insurance claims
Training to Become a Medical Assistant:
Formal training is not required for medical assistants. However, many employers prefer or require medical assistants to have completed a training program.
There are a number of college-level medial assistant training programs. These programs include diploma programs, certificate programs, and associate degree programs. Associate degree programs generally require two years of study. Certificate and diploma programs usually require less time, usually one year of study.
Specific coursework varies among colleges. Medical assistant programs often require study in areas such as anatomy, physiology, medical terminology, office management, phlebotomy and insurance coding.
What does it mean to be certified?
Certification is not required for a career as a medical assistant. However, some employers prefer or require medical assistants to hold a certification credential. Medical assistants possessing a certification often have more opportunities for jobs and career advancement.
A certified employee has obtained a certification that is specific to their occupation. Certification demonstrates the achievement of a specific standard of knowledge. To become certified, professionals generally must pass an examination and meet other requirements.
Some of the medical assistant certifications available in the United States:
- Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) – offered through the American Association of Medical Assistants
- Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) – offered through the American Medical Technologist
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) – offered through the National Health Career Association
- National Certified Medial Assistant (NCMA) – offered through the National Center for Competency Testing
- National Certified Medical Office Assistant (NCMOA) – offered through the National Center for Competency Testing
Eligibility requirements vary among certifications. Some certifications require that students to graduate from an accredited program or have a certain amount of work experience before candidates are allowed to sit for the certification examination. Those considering certification should check the specific requirements for the certification of interest.
There are many other related certifications for those who specialize in other areas such as insurance coding or phlebotomy.
Be careful not to confuse the words certificate and certification. In education, a certificate program is a short program of study. Receiving a certificate is not the same as becoming certified.
The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) are the main accrediting agencies for medical assistant programs. A program must meet the required standards of the accrediting agency to become accredited. Competition of an accredited program may be required for those who want to obtain certain certifications.
Be careful not to confuse college accreditation and program accreditation. An academic program is not necessarily accredited because offered at a college that is accredited by a national or regional accreditation agency. Academic program accreditations are offered by agencies that only accredit programs in similar academic fields. Not all types of academic programs have agencies that accredit them. The importance of a program accreditation varies widely among fields.