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Medical Assistant
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  Who is a Medical Assistant?

A Medical Assistant is a trained member of the health care team who assists physicians and other health care professionals in numerous capacities. A Medical Assistant should not be confused with a physician assistant, who examines, diagnoses, and treats patients under the direct supervision of a physician.

  What does a Medical Assistant do?

Medical Assistants perform routine administrative and clinical tasks to keep the offices of numerous health professionals running smoothly.

  What education, training, and experience must one have to function as a Medical Assistant?

Some Medical Assistants are trained on the job, but many complete one- or two-year academic programs. Courses in the program cover anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology as well as typing, transcription, record keeping, accounting, and insurance processing. Students learn laboratory techniques, clinical and diagnostic procedures, pharmaceutical principles, the administration of medications, and first aid. They study office practices, patient relations, medical law, and ethics. Accredited programs often include an internship that provides practical experience in physician offices, hospitals, or other health care facilities.

  How and by whom is a Medical Assistant supervised?

In small practices, Medical Assistants usually handle both administrative and clinical duties and report to an office manager, physician, or other health practitioner. Those in larger practices tend to specialize in a particular area, and are typically under the supervision of department administrators.

  What are the typical day-to-day activities of a Medical Assistant?

The duties of Medical Assistants vary from office to office, depending on the location and size of the practice and practitioner’s specialty. For administrative duties, Medical Assistants may update and file patients’ medical records, fill out insurance forms, and arrange for hospital admission and laboratory services. They may also answer phones, greet patients, handle correspondence, schedule appointments, and handle billing and bookkeeping. For clinical duties (depending on what is allowed by state law), Medical Assistants may take medical histories and record vital signs, explain treatment procedures to patients, prepare patients for examination, and assist physicians during examinations. They may also collect and prepare laboratory specimens, perform basic laboratory tests on the premises, prepare and administer medications as directed by a physician, authorize drug refills as directed, telephone prescriptions to a pharmacy, draw blood, prepare patients for x-rays, take electrocardiograms, remove sutures, and change dressings.

  Must a Medical Assistant be licensed or certified to function in his or her role as part of the health care team?

There are various associations that award certification credentials to Medical Assistants. Although not required, certification indicates that a Medical Assistant meets certain standards of competence. Employers prefer to hire experienced workers or those who are certified. No states currently require licensure.

  What types of patients would benefit from the care of a Medical Assistant?

Medical Assistants work and interact with patients in a variety of different settings. The most common setting, however, is the physician’s office.

  How and when does a Medical Assistant become involved in the care of a particular patient?

A Medical Assistant is often the first member of the health care team that interacts with a patient. The Medical Assistant may greet the patient and take the patient’s history or vital signs.

  Professional organizations for Medical Assistants:

Contributed by:
Kathy Cilia, American Medical Technologists

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