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Medical Assistants: Career, Salary and Education Information

Career Profile: What do Medical Assistants do?
Trusted to keep medical documents safe, medical assistants are an indispensable force in physicians' offices. In smaller offices, medical assistants do it all, taking on both administrative and clinical responsibilities. Medical assistants can specialize in ophthalmic, optometric, or podiatric capabilities, to name a few, or they can stick to general practice in general medical and surgical hospitals.

Strong organizational skills are essential for the job. Medical assistants must often work in a customer service capacity, handling correspondence and scheduling appointments. Because they often serve as a link between patients and medical personnel, assistants must have strong communication skills.

A Day in the Life of a Medical Assistant
The daily tasks of a medical assistant depend highly on their job description and location. Administrative tasks might include filing patient records, arranging for hospital admissions or laboratory services, or filling out insurance forms. Clinical duties could include recording vital signs, explaining treatment procedures, changing dressings, and preparing patients for x-rays and other procedures.

Regardless of their individual duties, most medical assistants work 40 hour work weeks in well-lighted, clean environments. Depending on the office hours and clinical scope, some may work part-time, evenings, or weekends.

Training and Education for Medical Assistants
Many medical assistants complete one to two-year programs, culminating in a certificate or associate's degree. Formal training is generally preferred but not always required, and all medical assistants must have a high school diploma or equivalent. Volunteer experience in the health care field provides informal training that may prove valuable in the hiring process.

Typical coursework for medical assistants includes training in lab techniques, clinical procedures, medical terminology, and medical office procedures. Students must have a facility with medical terminology along with interpersonal skills in dealing with patients.

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Medical Assistant Employment & Outlook
About 417,000 medical assistants were employed nationwide in 2006, with most working in physicians' offices. Career opportunities for medical assistants are projected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2016. About 148,000 additional jobs are expected to be added to the field, thanks to an expanding health care industry, technological advances in medicine, and an aging population. Medical assistants who can handle both administrative and clinical duties are expected to have the best job prospects.

Advancement in the field typically requires more training and certification. Many medical assistants choose to become nurses or other health care workers through further study. Administrative positions provide another popular career path because an administrative medical assistant can rise to the position of office manager without additional education.

Typical Salary for Medical Assistants
Medical assistants earned mean annual wages of $28,270 in 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. State government facilities were the highest paying employer, with medical assistants earning annual mean wages of $36,430.

Sources
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical Assistants
Edison Community College Medical Assistant Program

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