There are two types of medical assistants that perform very different tasks and functions. Administrative medical assistants may schedule appointments, take medical histories and record various treatments and procedures for billing purposes. Clinical medical assistants will generally perform more medical-oriented tasks such as assisting physicians with examinations, removing stitches or taking blood pressure readings. In some cases, medical assistants may even perform both types of duties, such as in a smaller clinic or medical practice. Medical assistants should not be confused with physician assistants who may actually examine, diagnose or treat patients under the direct supervision of a physician.
EDUCATION AND LICENSING REQUIREMENTS
Medical assistants may complete some type of coursework or training for which they receive a certificate but they can just as easily receive on-the-job training with nothing more than a high school diploma. Since medical assistants do not actually perform any medical procedures, they are not required to be certified or licensed, although many employers prefer to hire certified medical assistants. There are several organizations that offer different types of certification. The five main types of medical assistant certification and the national associations that offer them are:
- Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) from the American Association of Medical Assistants
- Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) from American Medical Technologists
- National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) from the National Center for Competency Testing
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) from the National Healthcareer Association
- Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) from the National Healthcareer Association
In order to be certified, applicants must pass an exam and have either graduated from an accredited program or have obtained a certain amount of work experience. In some states, work experience is not enough and applicants need to have graduated from an accredited program in order to be certified.
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At one time, nurses and other medical personnel were tasked with the responsibilities now being given to medical assistants. Hospitals and other large medical facilities are, quite wisely, reserving tasks that require medical training for those that have that training and farming out administrative tasks to lesser paid and lesser trained medical assistants. As a result, the demand for medical assistants is estimated to increase by a whopping 23 percent between 2018 and 2028, which is nearly four times the national average for occupations across all professions.