If you have considered pursuing a career in medical assisting, you may have wondered about other healthcare jobs too, such as nursing or allied health professions. To be more specific, you may have pondered why you might want to be a medical assistant, especially in a world where healthcare is big business but medical assistants don’t necessarily earn a hefty salary.

Well, in this article, we’re going to explain why many individuals are choosing medical assisting over other careers—and even offer a few (hopefully) convincing arguments as to why you should strongly consider this career field too.

The Medical Assistant Personality

Medical assistants in today’s modern healthcare facilities are valuable jacks of all trades, frequently performing both clinical and administrative duties. As such, this profession appeals to people who both feel a call to healing and enjoy keeping things orderly and efficient.

If you fancy yourself a bit of a Renaissance person, working as a medical assistant could be a perfect way to combine the various aspects of your personality and interests.

How so?  Well, most medical assistants have a knack for teaching, which comes in handy when it comes to explaining tests and procedures to anxious or confused patients. They usually have good communication skills and are adept at taking complex medical information and relaying it to everyday people in a way that helps them understand it better.

Other words that are frequently used to describe successful medical assistants include:

  • reliable
  • dedicated
  • intuitive
  • multitasker
  • unflappable
  • calm
  • organized
  • resourceful
  • compassionate
  • empathetic
  • focused
  • energetic

There are certainly other health professionals whose personal characteristics overlap with those of a typical medical assistant, but there are few jobs that get to bring so many disparate traits into one career. Because medical assistants wear so many hats in the clinic or hospital department, their jobs are actually more similar to those of a physician than to most nurses.

While nurses provide much of same hands-on care that medical assistants do, unless they are in management or advanced practice (like a nurse practitioner), they don’t typically fill out paperwork, deal with insurance carriers, or manage office accounts the way medical assistants do.

Educational Requirements

One of the things that makes medical assisting so attractive to many people is the low barrier to entry in the field. The only legal requirement for most medical assistants is that they have a high school diploma (or an equivalent, like the GED), have immunization records, don’t have tuberculosis, and can pass a criminal background check.

There are no state regulations regarding training or certification, so the field is open to many types of educational programs and credentials. While it is easier to find a medical assistant position after completing a formal college training program, it is still possible in some situations to obtain all your medical assisting training on the job.

And if you do pursue a third-party program, you have your choice of several pathways. You can even complete your medical assistant training online. The latter is a great advantage if you need to stay in a daytime job until you’re finished with school, for example, or if you have kids and need to be home with them until they can enter preschool or kindergarten.

While many other healthcare careers require long years of schooling, for which there are often long waiting lists (nursing especially), the maximum period to complete a program in medical assisting is two years for an Associate’s degree. While these programs cost a bit more than the alternative, they may give you a slight edge on the job market, and you’re basically halfway to a Bachelor’s degree when you’re done, should you decide to continue your education.

You can find Associate’s programs at both universities and community colleges, as well as at technical schools and online.

If time and/or money are a concern for you, you can also obtain a one-year diploma in medical assisting from a technical or community college or from an online program. While the curriculum is somewhat abbreviated, you’ll still get all the basic courses like:

  • human anatomy and physiology
  • first aid
  • medical terminology
  • pharmaceutical principles
  • phlebotomy (drawing blood)
  • clinical and diagnostic procedures
  • sterilization procedures

Unless you decide to enroll in a clinical-only program (an option if you choose), you’ll also get coursework in the administrative side of medical assisting, like insurance documentation, accounting, information technology, medical records, scheduling, and basic legal issues relating to patient care and confidentiality.

Unlike medical school graduates, who have a year-long intern period at the start of a minimum three-year residency to become practicing doctors, medical assistants only do an internship of several months, usually at the end of their coursework. This gives them a chance to shadow practicing medical assistants and even perform tests and procedures on real patients. It also exposes them to different areas of medicine they might be interested in. Sometimes this is also called an “externship,” although some schools reserve this term for mid-training observation of real-life medicine.

Once you have completed a program in medical assisting, some employers will want to see that you have certified or registered with a national agency. This shows that your knowledge meets national standards for practicing as a medical assistant. For a small fee, you can take an exam with one of these four entities to obtain national credentials:

  • American Medical Technologists (AMT)
  • National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
  • National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)
  • American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)

This process is much simpler and less time consuming than those for many other healthcare professions.

Work Environment

Another factor that makes medical assistant work so appealing is the broad range of work environments and related job tasks available. For starters, as mentioned above, you can choose to work solely as a clinical medical assistant, solely as an administrative medical assistant, or as a combination of both.

For people who have their hearts set on only the patient care aspects of the job, clinical work is ideal. Conversely, there are many people who are interested in healthcare but would prefer to stay behind the scenes in an administrative capacity; medical assisting also allows them to do this.

While some medical assistants might have to work occasional weekend or evening hours, usually in certain specialties (see below), most medical assistants find they work some of the best hours in the healthcare industry, the equivalent of “bankers hours” for the medical field.

If you want to have your nights and weekends free for family, hobbies, or just relaxing, you can definitely find medical assisting positions that accommodate this. It’s harder to find work as a nurse, EKG technician, radiation technologist, or EMT that doesn’t involve working second, third, and weekend shifts.

Flexibility

There are numerous medical assistant job opportunities beyond general practice clinics, which expand the work environment even further.  Many medical assistants finis school to work in medical specialties such as:

  • geriatrics
  • pediatrics
  • obstetrics and gynecology
  • oncology
  • cardiology
  • pulmonology
  • orthopedics
  • dermatology

You’ll find employers who offer to provide additional specialized training to medical assisting graduates for tasks that weren’t covered in their programs. This includes things like applying home heart monitors, taking x-rays, and teaching patients how to use breathing apparatus like a CPAP machine.

Many other health professions lock employees into performing the same tasks all day long (taking EKGs, obtaining x-rays, etc.). The beauty of working as a medical assistant is that you have the option of finding a position with lots of daily variety. And if you want to spend a day or two a week doing something more repetitive, you can often find medical assisting positions where staff members rotate shifts through the phlebotomy department or laboratory.

You’ll also find your level of responsibility and autonomy varies from workplace to workplace. Are you a self-starter with a lot of initiative who likes to work on your own? There are sure to be clinics that value this and will give you more room, within the confines of your training, to work independently. Do you prefer to check in with a manager frequently and have a more limited scope of practice? You can find that too within the medical assisting profession.

Career Advancement

Because the opportunity exists to learn so many different skills within the full range of the medical world, working as a medical assistant gives you the possibility of advancing careers without necessarily going back to school. You can move from a position of relatively limited responsibility and diversity to managing an entire office or training other medical assistants.

If you do desire to move into a higher level of medical care, such as nursing or physical therapy, your medical assisting background can help you get into further educational programs and get jobs in your new field. If you think working as a medical assistant may be your first step on the road to a long career in medicine, your best strategy may be to obtain an Associate’s degree, so you can transfer many of your credits towards a Bachelor’s degree.

The road is wide open for medical assistants in the near future. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts there will be greater than average growth in this field over the next decade (yet another reason to consider medical assisting over other jobs, including those in the healthcare industry). If you think this profession is right for you, the next step is to contact a training program and look at jobs near you, to plot a course of action that meets your needs and gets you excited about the future.

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