What Does a Medical Assistant Do? 9 Important Responsibilities for a Profession in High Demand
Medical assistants play an integral role in healthcare. Typically working in clinics and medical offices, these healthcare professionals not only perform a wide range of duties—they’re also in high demand.
Over the next decade, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the growth rate for the medical assistant profession to be 23%—nearly five times the average growth rate for all occupations. That’s likely just one reason why it appears on three different “Best Job” lists from U.S. News & World Report.
Here are nine important responsibilities of a medical assistant:
1. Set the tone for a positive clinic encounter
A medical assistant is usually the person who calls your name in the waiting room of a clinic or medical office, greets you, and then escorts you to an exam room. Those seemingly simple tasks are more important than you may think.
A visit to a clinic can be stressful or uncomfortable for a patient. A medical assistant’s warm, friendly demeanor can help patients feel more comfortable and calm. This also helps create trust and can go a long way toward helping a patient have a positive experience.
2. Measure vital signs and conduct basic testing
If you’re looking for a hands-on role in the healthcare field, the medical assistant profession provides plenty of opportunities. A medical assistant may take vital signs and measurements, as well as perform various tests during a patient examination. Here are some common examples:
- Blood pressure
- Respiration rate
- Lung function
- Baby measurements
Though some of these are standard practice, others may be carried out based on the specific reasons for the patient’s visit.
Gathering this information carefully and accurately is critical. The doctor or other healthcare practitioner will use it to help evaluate the patient’s health.
3. Conduct pre-examination interviews and take medical histories
Talking one-on-one with patients is a key part of a medical assistant’s daily routine. As part of a patient’s examination, a medical assistant needs to ask various questions to establish or update the patient’s medical history and to find out the reasons for the visit.
The conversation can range from specific health complaints, concerns, and symptoms to related topics that cover a patient’s social life, family dynamics, and profession.
The details that are gathered are important for providing the patient the best care possible. They can also influence the direction that the examination takes. For instance, based on a patient’s symptoms, a medical assistant may opt to conduct a specific lab test before the physician or other practitioner sees the patient. (See more on lab testing below.)
4. Prepare the room and the patient for procedures
A medical assistant prepares the examination room for minor procedures by making sure the practitioner has the needed supplies and sterilized medical instruments. This also involves preparing the procedure area itself and ensuring it’s sterilized.
A medical assistant also prepares the patient by explaining the upcoming procedure, and, in some cases, obtains written consent for the procedure.
5. Assist physician during procedures
Physicians and other healthcare practitioners may need the help of a medical assistant during procedures like these:
- Laceration suturing
- Incision & drainage
- Mole, wart, or cyst removal
- IUD insertion
- Injury care
During a procedure, a medical assistant may provide the appropriate sterilized instruments, monitor the patient’s comfort level, and instruct the patient on follow-up care after the procedure.
Medical assistants may also clean wounds and apply dressings and bandages.
6. Administer injections
Administering certain types of injections (i.e., “giving shots”) is a common medical assistant duty. This can include vaccines, pain medications, antibiotics, and allergy medicine.
In the case of vaccinations, a medical assistant also needs to be prepared to address a parent’s questions and concerns about vaccines.
7. Discuss medications with patients
Medical assistants don’t prescribe medication, but they may need to explain how a medication is to be taken (e.g., when, how often, with or without food, etc.) and describe any possible side effects.
Another related medical assistant duty is transmitting prescription information to the pharmacist via the health practitioner’s instructions.
Medical assistants may also need to show patients how to properly use a medical device, such as crutches, an ankle brace, or an arm sling.
8. Perform basic lab testing
The hands-on clinical work of a medical assistant can extend to collecting and preparing specimens—e.g., blood, urine, other bodily fluids—for delivery to an in-house or outside laboratory.
Medical assistants may also conduct basic lab tests, like the following:
- Throat cultures to test for strep throat
- Urinalysis to test for certain infections or specific drugs, or to monitor a patient’s diabetes management
- Blood tests to check cell counts or glucose levels
- Pregnancy tests
- Mononucleosis tests
- Influenza tests
9. Performing administrative duties
A big reason why medical assistants play such a key role at clinics is because of their versatility. More specifically, many administrative tasks go hand-in-hand with clinical responsibilities. That means medical assistants are also responsible for duties such as:
- Medical coding/billing
- Documenting patient information in electronic healthcare records
- Recording physician or nurse accounts on a patient’s condition
- Insurance preauthorizations
- Contacting patients to provide test results
- Managing the office
- Maintaining the appropriate inventory of medical and office supplies
Seize the opportunity to join a highly valued, fast-growing profession
Primary care clinics, hospitals, specialized practices for just about any medical area you can think of—all of these employ medical assistants. And they’re going to need more of them.
Along with the responsibilities described above, being a medical assistant also gives you the opportunity to:
- Be on the frontlines of healthcare, where your empathy, expertise, and professionalism can help patients as they confront health concerns and challenges.
- Enjoy the great personal satisfaction that comes with the privilege of helping others.
- Play an integral role within a team of healthcare professionals.
- Have the flexibility to build your education path and your professional career around your family and work obligations.
- Get started in the healthcare field with a medical assisting diploma (which takes approximately a year) and continue your studies toward an Associate of Applied Science degree.
Now that you have an idea of what a medical assistant does, consider exploring the next step.