Medical Assistants


Exploring this Job

Students in postsecondary medical assistant programs will have the chance to explore the field through the supervised clinical experience required by the various programs. Others may wish to gain additional experience by volunteering at hospitals, nursing homes, or clinics to get a feel for the work involved in a medical environment. You may want to talk with the medical assistants in your own or other local physicians' offices to find out more about the work they do.

The Job

Depending on the size of the office, medical assistants may perform clerical or clinical duties, or both. The larger the office, the greater the chance that the assistant will specialize in one type of work.

In their clinical duties, medical assistants help physicians by preparing patients for examination or treatment. They may check and record patients' blood pressure, pulse, temperature, height, and weight. Medical assistants often ask patients questions about their medical histories and record the answers in the patient's file or by using electronic health records software. In the examining room, the medical assistant may be responsible for arranging medical instruments and handing them to the physician as requested during the examination. Medical assistants may prepare patients for X-rays and laboratory examinations, as well as administer electrocardiograms. They may apply dressings, draw blood, and give injections. Medical assistants also may give patients instructions about taking medications, watching their diet, or restricting their activities before laboratory tests or surgery. In addition, medical assistants may collect specimens such as throat cultures for laboratory tests and may be responsible for sterilizing examining room instruments and equipment.

Medical assistants prepare examining rooms for patients and keep examining and waiting rooms clean and orderly. After each examination, they straighten the examining room and dispose of used linens and medical supplies. Sometimes medical assistants keep track of office and medical supply inventories and order necessary supplies. They may deal with pharmaceutical and medical supply company representatives when ordering supplies.

At other times, medical assistants may perform a wide range of administrative tasks. The administrative and clerical tasks that medical assistants may complete include typing case histories and operation reports; completing insurance forms; keeping office files, X-rays, and other medical records up to date; keeping the office's financial records; preparing and sending bills and receiving payments; and transcribing dictation from the physician. Assistants may also answer the telephone, greet patients, fill out insurance forms, schedule appointments, take care of correspondence, and arrange for patients to be admitted to the hospital. Most medical assistants use computers for most record-keeping tasks. Medical secretaries and medical receptionists also perform administrative activities in medical offices, but these workers are distinguished from medical assistants by the fact that they rarely perform clinical functions.

Some medical assistants work in ophthalmologists' offices, where their clinical duties involve helping with eye examinations and treatments. They use special equipment to test and measure patients' eyes and check for disease. They administer eye drops and dressings and teach patients how to insert and care for contact lenses. They may maintain surgical instruments and help physicians during eye surgery. Other medical assistants work as optometric assistants, who may be required to prepare patients for examination and assist them in eyewear selection; chiropractor assistants, whose duties may include treatment and examination of patients' muscular and skeletal problems; and podiatric assistants, who assist podiatrists during examinations and surgery, take and develop X-rays, and make castings of patients' feet.