Medical assisting is broken up into three primary roles. Administrative medical assistants generally cover the front end of a practice and greet patients, take care of billing, and perform other administrative, front office, tasks. Medical assistants cover a little of the front desk, administrative work, and a little of the back end, clinical work. Clinical medical assistants focus primarily on working directly with patients and physicians to provide a smooth visit and ensure that the medical side of the practice is constantly moving along. This is the role that those more interested in patient interaction and medical practice will likely pursue. There is no real difference in career prospects, regardless of the role you choose, but if you want to work more with patients during a visit, as opposed to handling billing, scheduling and checking-in, clinical medical assisting is the career for you.
Can I Handle It?
Many students enter the medical education programs without thinking about the toll it can take emotionally. Understand that you will work with plenty of individuals that are young, getting into shape, and ready to make better health choices. On the other hand, you will get to know, and work closely, with those that are going through very difficult times in their lives. Some of your patients may be fighting terminal diseases, and you both know that each visit is simply to prolong the quality of life. Some will simply be tired, sick, and in a pretty rotten mood. Your ability to handle all of this, with grace, poise and as much cheerfulness as possible will make the difference in a good visit that eases the stresses of a patient, and a bad visit that rattles you both.
If you are the type of person that has patience, the ability to cheer others up, and a warm demeanor, you are likely going to succeed as a clinical medical assistant. You also need to be hardworking and willing to work with your physician. While most physicians will appreciate everything you do, you should go into this position like any other, and understand that you will occasionally work with a doctor that is short on patience, and not the easiest to work with. Remember, nothing they say or do is personal when they are negative, the medical field is just a stressful area, and sometimes, the frustrations can carry over to co-workers. If you have the thick skin to handle this type of work environment (and it really isn’t that different from any type of work environment with managers) then you should be a huge success.
What Can I Expect?
You will perform a number of tasks in your career outside of working with patients. You will need to prep rooms between visits and make sure that everything is completely sterilized. You need to understand the software and other programs used to track patients information, and you need to be able to communicate issues that come up in conversation to other health professionals. BLS.gov lumps all medical assistants into one category which was last updated in 2010. You can find the full information here, which puts the average income at just under $29,000 a year and the job outlook (or job growth) at 31%, which is much faster than average.
If you want more accurate and up to date information, check indeed.com. They break down individual specializations of medical assistants and average the income (at the time of this writing) for clinical medical assistants at a very comfortable $42,000 a year. This information is kept up to date, so you may see a different number when you visit the site, but remember, with the growth in the field as high as it is, you should have little trouble finding a position, and the income, you expect and need.
Entering the Career
Medical assisting is a unique career path. You don’t need to go to college or a trade school to enter the field. In most cases, a high school diploma is all that is needed. What is rarely discussed, though, is the fact that those without a degree have a harder time finding a position and generally earn less over the course of their career. The good news is that most programs that prepare you to become a clinical medical assistant last less than a year and often help you find an entry-level position upon graduation. You may also want to consider certification through the AAMA and look for programs that focus on preparation for this examination.
Going to school is a piece of cake these days. Online programs allow you to learn on your own schedule and require very little change to your personal responsibilities. You will find plenty of studies that give you hard numbers as to the amount of income the average graduate will earn over those that did not pursue an education, but focus more on the here and now and what the future may bring. Consider courses that allow you to continue your education in the future, through the same school or through transfer of credits, and you will be set to forge a path that will put you, and your family financially ready for whatever the future holds.