National Medical Assistants Recognition Week: Expert Interview & Advocacy Guide

“I foresee medical assistants continuing to move into new and diverse roles within the American healthcare delivery system, such as primary telemedicine communicator, patient care coordinator, and patient advocate.”

Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA, CEO and Legal Counsel of the American Association of Medical Assistants

Of all the allied health professions, perhaps none is as versatile as the medical assistant. Cross-trained to perform both administrative and clinical duties, medical assistants work alongside physicians and other health professionals, most often in outpatient or ambulatory settings. Their responsibilities can include performing basic laboratory tests, taking medical histories, performing phlebotomy, administering certain injections, conducting EKGs, filing patient records, and coding insurance forms. Medical assistants are already an integral part of the healthcare team, but their importance is set to grow further in the near future.

As the Baby Boomer generation enters retirement, America’s healthcare system will receive a surge of demand for a wide range of healthcare services. Combined with expected growth in the number of physician offices and an increasingly complex medical technology suite, more medical assistants will be needed to perform a blend of clinical and administrative duties. Between 2020 and 2030, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the employment of medical assistants will grow 18 percent, a rate more than double the national average. That growth translates to an estimated 132,600 job openings.

This year’s National Medical Assistants Recognition Week takes place from October 18-22, 2021. It’s a time to honor the vital contributions that medical assistants have made to healthcare. It’s also an opportunity to boost awareness around one of the most versatile allied health professions in the country, one that’s growing at a rapid pace.

To learn more about the role of medical assistants and how it’s progressing, read on.

Meet the Expert: Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA

Donald A. Balasa

Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA, serves as the CEO and legal counsel of the American Association of Medical Assistants. His areas of legal specialization include not-for-profit governance, professional credentialing and regulation, and antitrust principles applicable to certifying and accrediting bodies.

Balasa served as chair of the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) and as vice-chair of the committee to update the Institute for Credential Excellence (ICE) publication ICE 1100:2019—Standard for Assessment-Based Certificate Programs, which is an American National Standard. He was elected to the board of directors of the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) in 2018 and as president of CAAHEP in 2021.

Balasa received both his baccalaureate and law degrees from Northwestern University and his MBA in economics from the University of Chicago. He was awarded the Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential from the American Society of Association Executives. Balasa has taught a course on association management at the DePaul University Kellstadt Graduate School of Business and teaches constitutional law evening courses at Trinity International University.

The Evolving Role of Medical Assistants

In one form or another, medical assistants have existed for centuries. But it wasn’t until relatively recently that the role coalesced under a singular title.

Maxine Williams, CMA-A (AAMA), co-founded the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) in 1956, based on her conviction that the organization of medical office employees would greatly benefit the field of healthcare. Williams and her colleagues went on to establish many of the educational standards and principles that guided the profession through the 20th century and into the 21st. But the profession has also changed significantly since Williams’ early days.

“Medical assistants have transitioned seamlessly from their roles in medical practices to a greater variety of positions in clinics and health systems—such as patient navigator, prevention outreach specialist, and health coach,” Balasa says. “One of the main reasons why medical assistants have been able to excel in these new positions is that they have been ahead of the curve in adapting to the technology-driven aspects of health care, such as telemedicine and remote patient monitoring.”

The Importance of Certification for Medical Assistants

One of the foundations of the modern medical assistant profession is the AAMA’s Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential. It ensures that medical assistants have been educated and tested in a wide scope of general, clinical, and administrative responsibilities. A recertification period every 60 months also standardizes the CMA’s (AAMA) commitment to continuing education.

“The CMA (AAMA) credential represents a medical assistant who has been credentialed through the Certifying Board (CB) of the AAMA,” Balasa says. “The CMA (AAMA) is the only medical assisting credential that requires completion of a college-level medical assisting program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES), or by an equivalent academic program. The critical-thinking skills acquired during their education have given CMAs (AAMA) a leg up when applying for advanced positions.”

AAMA conducted its first CMA (AAMA) exams in 1963, with 112 medical assistants registering. By 2016, more than 190,000 medical assistants had been awarded the CMA (AAMA) credential. And there’s more growth to come: AAMA’s vision is a CMA (AAMA) for every patient.

The Future for Medical Assistants

In addition to their clinical and administrative duties, medical assistants are patient advocates. At times, patient advocacy overlaps with professional advocacy: groups like the AAMA act as a spearhead to push through important policy changes that both advance the medical assistant profession and benefit patients.

“AAMA has been at the forefront of state and federal advocacy efforts to ensure that competent medical assistants (under appropriate supervision) are permitted to perform nasopharyngeal swabbing for Covid-19 testing and administer Covid-19 vaccinations,” Balasa says.

“These efforts have been overwhelmingly successful. On the federal level, the AAMA has defended the classification of medical assistants as clinical staff whose services are billed incident to the services of licensed providers under programs such as the Medicare Chronic Care Management (CCM) and Transitional Care Management (TCM) programs and the appropriate use criteria (AUC) program that will go into effect January 1, 2022.”

Through policy advocacy, patient advocacy, certification, and continuing education, medical assistants are continuing to expand the profession. And, with the growing need for more allied health professionals, medical assistants will be increasingly called upon as some of healthcare’s most versatile workers. The role of the medical assistant has changed significantly in the 65 years since the founding of the AAMA, and Balasa sees it continuing to change in the future.

“I foresee medical assistants continuing to move into new and diverse roles within the American healthcare delivery system, such as primary telemedicine communicator, patient care coordinator, and patient advocate,” Balasa says. “Medical assistants will also be called upon to work in both inpatient and outpatient settings.”

Resources for National Medical Assistants Recognition Week

The medical assistant profession is collaborative, versatile, and dynamic. To learn more about the role of the medical assistant, and to connect with the broader community, check out some of the resources below.

  • American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA): AAMA provides medical assistant professionals with education, certification, credential acknowledgment, networking opportunities, scope-of-practice protection, and advocacy for quality patient-centered health care.
  • CMA Today: As AAMA’s flagship magazine, CMA Today is designed to meet all the informational needs of medical assistants. It covers continuing education, clinical topics, legislative activities, and health industry news.
  • Legal Eye on Medical Assisting: Run by Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA, CEO and legal counsel for AAMA, this blog covers scope-of-practice issues, key legislation, and national healthcare initiatives relevant to the medical assistant.
Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog Writer

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about emerging topics in medical technology, particularly the modernization of the medical laboratory and the network effects of both health data management and health IT. In consultation with professors, practitioners, and professional associations, his writing and research are focused on learning from those who know the subject best. For, he’s interviewed leaders and subject matter experts at the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).