What is a Certified Medical Assistant?
This professional provides the physician with support services to ensure that the medical facility runs smoothly. In the physician’s office, there may be one or more certified medical assistants with each one having their own specific duties.
Job Description of a Certified Medical Assistant
Working as a certified medical assistant, they are the healthcare professionals who are responsible for carrying out specific medical and administrative obligations. What these would be would depend on the setting. If you worked in a hospital or large clinic, you might work as part of a team with each one responsible for a specific aspect of the office work. For example, you might be in charge of setting appointments in the office or by phone, answering the phones, along with creating the schedules for the nurses and physicians. Another certified medical assistant in the office might be responsible for collecting payments, sending out statements, filing patient records, and preparing the insurance forms.
When you work in a smaller physician’s office where they are the sole physician the certified medical assistant will have all the administrative jobs to do themselves. In this type of office setting they will be the first and last one that a patient will see, they will explain office policies to the new patients, help them determine if their insurance will cover the services rendered or any tests or procedures the physician wants to do. In addition, they will also do some backroom work such as making sure that the office, including the exam rooms, are stocked with sterile bandages, needles, cotton swabs, etc. Some certified medical assistants make sure that the exam room is ready for each new patient.
If the certified medical assistant has completed the appropriate training, they may also be able to perform clinical work also. This clinical work can include measuring the patient’s heights and weights, taking their vital signs, sterilizing medical equipment and more. Some, under the supervision of the physician or nurse, may be allowed to collect lab samples, dress wounds, draw blood, or administer diagnostic imaging tests. To help take the workload off the physician and nurses, they may also be allowed to answer a patient’s basic medical questions over the telephone or through e-mail.
When working as a certified medical assistant you will need:
- Attention to details – detail-orientation is the main skill as a certified medical assistant.
- Good math skills, especially if you are working in scheduling, insurance, or billing. Yes, there are plenty of numbers involved and you know that you can’t be wrong on any of these.
- Up-to-date knowledge of all insurance including Medicare and Medicaid. In other words, you need to train yourself constantly, continuing your education even after you already know you’ve established your career. So, if you don’t want continuous education then becoming a certified medical assistant might be harder than you think.
- Patience, especially if you are working in the emergency room because there will be patients who yell at you because they are not seen as soon as they deem necessary. Your position as an assistant also means that you take care of patients, but in a gentle way, not irritating people and not speaking mean words. You know that they can either complain to others, or even sue you in extreme cases. Those kinds of things are not worth taking the risk.
- Interpersonal skills. It is the best if you can communicate, and even more to speak to people in their way of understanding things. That means that you will speak with teenagers in a certain way, but with the elderly in a totally different way. This is really a skill, and if you don’t have it, then it’s pretty hard to learn.
- Be able to adhere to the confidentiality policy of all medical facilities whether it is a hospital, physician’s office, or clinic. Violating policies causes danger, and court trials also. You don’t want that to happen, so you would rather respect every point of these policies, whether you consider them fair or not.
- Making sure that all your figures are accurate, especially if you work with billing and insurance
- Have the ability to multitask efficiently and effectively. Sometimes being able to multitask efficiently is not something made for any man. I’m not saying that this is a job only women could handle, but it’s certain that only a few men will succeed.
Some certified medical assistants choose to work as an instructor teaching the various courses that a certified medical assistant needs to complete. Some do this on a full-time basis while others do it part time at night after their shift has ended.
How to Become a Certified Medical Assistant?
To become a certified medical assistant, you will need your high school diploma or its equivalent. If you know this is the career path you want to follow in high school, then you should take science courses like biology, general science, and chemistry. You should also take some business courses in accounting, business management, etc. since many of the duties of a certified medical assistant involve administrative duties. To become a certified medical assistant, you will need to have some post-secondary education such as an associated degree. You can take these classes at allied health schools or community colleges. The programs are 6 months to 2 years. To earn the title of certified, you would need to pass an exam that is administered by a respected national governing board. The American Association of Medical Assistants is such a board. As a certified medical assistant, you can take more continuing education courses to advance in your career to become a registered nurse, senior office manager, or physician assistant.
If you decide later in your career, you want to become a teacher or instructor at a career or local community college teaching new medical assistants you will need further your education and complete a certificate program in adult education. You must also have a significant working experience to qualify to teach, even if you are a graduate from the certificate program.
To become a certified medical assistant, you will need to complete the accredited medical assistant training program, which also includes an externship. The 6-month programs will give you a certificate or diploma but if you opt for the 2-year program, you will have an associate degree. Having this degree may help you secure an entry-level position quicker than having a diploma or certificate. With the associate degree, you will also have some lab experience. With any of these you will need to take the CMA Certification/Recertification Examination. This exam, as of 2014, consisted of 200 questions covering 4 sections. Some of the topics that were covered included office administration, medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, legal requirements, nutrition, infection control, anatomy and physiology, communication and more.
Several different professional organizations administer the examination. One of these organizations is the Association of Medical Technologists (AMT). Another example is the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). On the website of the AAMA, they offer a comprehensive exam outline that you can use to help you study the various subjects that will be on the examination that you will be taking. They also offer an exam review course through their local chapters. It is advised that you go through the outlines offered and take the practice tests so you will be well trained to pass the examination as they are only given 3 times a year. Those times are January, June, and October. In order to be qualified to take the examination, you will need to apply several months in advance. The reason that you have to apply several months in advance is that once you have submitted the application to take the examination it will normally take 2 months before you receive permission to take it. Once you have taken the examination, it could take as long as 3 months before you get your results.
Your certificate must be renewed every 5 years. If you take the certification exam from the AMT, they do not require the passage of the examination if you have been working as a non-certified medical assistant for 3 of the past 5 years or if they have previously passed the certification examination. In order to be eligible to take the examination, you will need to apply several months in advance.
Some employers also required that any certified medical assistant they hire have to be certified in CPR and basic life support, which will train you to respond to situations that are life threatening such as drowning, heart attacks, or choking.
Work Environment and Schedule
When entering the field of certified medical assistants, you will do more administrative duties but as you gain more experience, you will usually be rewarded with more clinical responsibilities. When working in a physician’s office, whether it is a private or group practice you will normally work a set schedule of Monday thru Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. but the times when the office opens and closes will depend on where you work. In a hospital, the hours that you work will depend on the area where you are assigned. If you work in patient’s scheduling, patient’s registration, or in one of the many clinics that are associated with the hospital you would normally work the same schedule as a physician’s office. Some certified medical assistants might work earlier if they are in the registering department for diagnostic testing because many patients have their tests scheduled very early or they have to be registered for surgery.
A certified medical assistant may also work in the sleep study department of the hospital, their hours would mainly be evening, and late night because the patients usually do not check in until late evening and then they have to be monitored all night. In the emergency room if they are the registering medical professional their hours could be days, evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays. They may work 8, 10, or even 12-hour shifts. If you work in a clinic, such as a walk-in clinic or emergency clinic you may work evenings or weekends. You may also work in nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, outpatient care facilities, and more. The hours you would work would depend on your working environment, but most will be a Monday thru Friday day shift schedule.
Depending on your duties if you work in a group practice or hospital you may have a back office of your own where you work. For example, if you are responsible for filing insurance claims, marking payments, sending out statements, etc. you would not most like not have any face-to-face contact with the patients unless they came into the office and wanted to speak to you about their bill. In this case, you would most likely have your own office or sharing it with another certified medical assistant who shares your job so that the work area is quiet and you are able to work without distractions. If you are a scheduler you would have a place at the front desk so you could greet the patients as they check in, fill out new paperwork, check out, etc. In a hospital, you might work in patients accounting, scheduling, working in the emergency room as the one who registers patients, etc.
Pros and Cons of Being a Certified Medical Assistant
Being a certified medical assistant has its shares of pros and cons but it can be a very rewarding career. It is one in which you can work in the medical field but generally do not have to do clinical duties or if you do it generally consists of taking vital signs, weight, height, and making sure the exam room is ready. Grab a pencil and paper and let us start making a list of why you do and why you do not want a career as a certified medical assistant.
- It is a career where you can start at an entry-level position in as early as 6 months, or even after 2 years. This means that you’ll dig into the actual working conditions pretty early. There’s always time and possibility to advance later.
- You do not need a bachelors or master’s degree to become a certified medical assistant so you will not be stuck with huge student loan bills after graduating. This is a huge advantage, especially for the people who didn’t have a perfect or strong-enough financial background. It’s also encouraging to know that instead of having loans, you will end up earning money fast.
- You can get a job with a regular Monday thru Friday day shift hours and no weekends unless you work at a clinic that has weekend hours. So, in some of the cases, you will just have the regular job that doesn’t involve night shifts and weekends, allowing you to meet with friends and family on a regular basis. However, clinics don’t assure the same schedule, so make sure that you are flexible enough if that is where you want to work.
- It is a career where you can further your education and move up the career ladder. This is exciting, because it’s not only that you will continue to learn within this field, but also your salary will easily grow in time.
- You could also become an instructor at a career or local community college teaching courses to students who aspire to become certified medical assistants. That’s doing something more than just a routine, but it also means more money. If you love teaching others, then this side will also turn into your advantage.
- In larger practices or a hospital setting, you get to be a member of a team. So, the ability to work with others and integrate is very important.
- Working in a hospital you may be assigned to the emergency room department where you will have to work weekends and maybe evenings and nights
- You may have to put up with irate patients if they do not see fast enough or if they feel their bill is wrong, etc
- When working in small private practice you may be the only certified medical assistant so you will be constantly busy, feel overwhelmed, and never seem to be caught up in the administrative duties
Certified Medical Assistant Salary
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) a certified medical assistant has an average hourly wage of $14.24 in an entry-level position but the actual amount depended on your work environment. The highest earning potential was working at an insurance carrier with an average hourly wage of $17.88. The top employer was working at a physician’s office with an average hourly wage of $14.85 followed by working in a hospital that offered an average hourly wage of $15.50. Between years 2012 and 2022, the BLS predicts that the career field of certified medical assistants will grow by 29%. As the healthcare industry grows so will the need for certified medical assistants because they can perform both clerical and clinical duties. Being certified they were expected to have a better hiring potential than those medical assistants who were not certified.
Working as a certified medical assistant you would have a great benefit package that can include paid vacation and sick days, either holidays off or paid double time if you work them. You will also get maternity leave, health and life insurance, maybe even for your family, pension, 401k, profit sharing, uniform reimbursement, continuing education reimbursement, shift differential pay, bonuses that are quarterly or yearly, and more. The exact benefits would depend on your place of employment.
The highest paying state is California with an average hourly wage of $22.00 followed by Idaho with an average hourly wage of $21.60. The top 5 highest paying states are rounded out by Connecticut, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, all paying an average hourly wage of $20.00.
Salary of a Certified Medical Assistant in 2016
The career of a certified medical assistant is a very rewarding career that offers you the opportunity to advance to other higher paying careers. Compared to other medical careers the average starting yearly salary is on the low end of the wage scale, In 2016, the average annual certified medical assistant salary is only $39,000 but it could be more and all depends on where you are employed, the state and city, and the benefits package. As you gain more experience, the salary will increase.
Certified Medical Assistant Salary in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom
In Canada, the medium yearly salary for a certified medical assistant is C$35,000, but it depends on where they work. They can also make an average annual bonus of C$5,354 plus benefits. In the UK the average yearly salary is only £30,000 and Australia is AU$50,000.
Conclusion on Certified Medical Assistant Salary
Yes, you could move up the ladder in a factory but you would still be in that factory. As a certified medical assistant, you could move to a different facility, work in a different department, and even become an instructor when you have more experience. In most jobs, you will be working a regular Monday thru Friday day shift schedule in a clean, sterile environment unlike working in a factory. The potential for being laid off is almost non-existent as the field of certified medical assistants is supposed to grow by almost 30% over the next 7 years, which is significantly faster than average for any career, medical or otherwise. If you are a people person, have a great eye for detail, love to do administrative jobs then this would be the career for you. With the salary, you need also to figure in the great benefits packages that most employers offer their certified medical assistants.