Medical assistants play key roles in the health care industry, performing a wide range of duties that allow doctors to provide patient care in an effective and timely fashion. A medical assistant may perform both clinical and administrative tasks or focus on one specific area. In either case, the job requires special qualifications to ensure patients receive proper care.
Medical assistants only need a general education, but most employers prefer a formal education in the field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical assistant programs include vocational school and community college programs and typically last one to two years, resulting in a certificate or associate's degree. Other medical assistants get jobs with only high school diplomas, but this forces employers to provide more extensive on-the-job training.
The BLS says medical assistants need to emphasize math and science in high school. For those who proceed to formal instruction in the field, a medical assistant's education consists of classes in anatomy, medical terminology, medical record-keeping, insurance practices, patient diagnosis and general first aid.
Medical assistants deal with the public, taking appointments and providing information about office policies, billing and insurance matters over the phone and in person. They also deal with doctors, providing updates on patient status and administrative issues. Finally, a medical assistant may deal directly with patients both prior to and during exams and procedures. Medical assistants must be able to deal with each of these groups politely and professionally, which often means employing a different mode of communication for busy, technically minded doctors and concerned or impatient clients. Communication skills, patience and a professional demeanor are all essential qualifications for a successful medical assistant.
As with so many occupations, medical assistants need to be able to operate computers to perform some of their daily duties. A medical assistant's administrative work may include managing patient databases on a computer, scanning and printing insurance paperwork and managing a digital calendar to place appointments. As medical offices upgrade to newer technology, medical assistants must be able to adapt and learn how to operate new hardware and software systems quickly.