Types of Medical Assistants - Clinical, Administrative, and More
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Medical assistants are important figures in healthcare. Splitting their time between clinical and administrative responsibilities, medical assistants tend to patients and prep spaces in clinics and hospitals. In general, medical assistants help physicians, nurses, specialists, and administrative personnel manage the flow of patients and ensure a facility runs smoothly to deliver quality healthcare.
Along with all healthcare occupations, medical assistants are in high demand, and the number of jobs in this field is expected to grow significantly over the next 10 years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021), from 2020 to 2030, the medical assistant occupation will grow by 18 percent, creating an estimated total of 132,600 new positions in the same decade. Why the increase in healthcare jobs? Due to an aging Baby Boomer generation and expanded health insurance coverage through the Affordable Healthcare Act, many Americans are eligible for preventative and life-saving medical care.
While there are many similarities, no two medical assistant positions are alike. The work environment is one significant difference, meaning medical assistants can work in a general hospital or a specialized clinic. In addition, medical assistants are trained in clinical or administrative work or both, and the majority (57 percent) are employed in physician offices.
The BLS shows that most medical assistants work full time. However, working hours vary, and the size of the facility and the scope of the employment will also help determine work hours. For example, medical assistants in a hospital setting may be required to work 12-hour shifts alongside physicians and nurses, yet only three days per week.
Despite the differences in job descriptions, the BLS (May 2021) shows the annual median salary for medical assistants was $37,190, with the lowest 10th percentile earning less than $29,070 per year and the top 10th percentile earning $48,170 per year.
However, salaries vary depending on experience, length of employment, and certification. In addition, some states have specific educational and licensing requirements for medical assistants to work legally, which can also affect pay.
Read on to learn more about pursuing a specialized medical assistant career, including day-to-day responsibilities, salary, and entry-level certifications.
Clinical Medical Assistant
Clinical medical assistants comprise one of the two main types of this profession. Generally speaking, clinical medical assistants work in clinical environments and provide direct help to physicians and healthcare professionals to treat and care for patients in the facility. Ultimately, the responsibilities of a clinical medical assistant will depend on their place of employment, qualifications, and abilities, and what types of patients the clinic serves.
- Sterilize equipment used in the clinical setting;
- Administer medication to patients;
- Prepare patients for examinations, treatments, and any other procedures;
- Perform blood tests and prepare them to be sent to a laboratory; and
- Prepare examination rooms for the patients to be treated.
Furthermore, a clinical medical assistant may receive training on additional equipment, allowing them to undertake several other tasks at work. For example, a medical assistant in a sleep clinic may have specialized training on electroencephalogram (EEG) machines or other lab equipment, allowing them to operate these devices if necessary.
It is also important to note that because clinical medical assistants are in direct contact with patients experiencing pain or discomfort, they are expected to maintain a degree of empathy and interpersonal skills.
- Salary: $32,308 per year (Payscale.com, June 2022)
- Certification: Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)
- Certifying organization: American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)
Podiatric Medical Assistant
A podiatric clinical medical assistant is employed in a podiatrist’s office, a doctor who specializes in treating disorders and injuries of the foot. A podiatric clinical medical assistant should have a comprehensive understanding of podiatric medicine and will be required to perform many specialized tasks relating to podiatry, including:
- Making personalized casts of feet;
- Exposing and developing x-rays; and
- Assisting the podiatrist in other required ways, possibly in a surgical setting.
The American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants (ASPMA) offers three certifications: administrative, clinical, and radiology. To be eligible, candidates must apply for the exam, take the exam within 30 days of acceptance online, and pass all sections with a 70 percent or higher.
- Salary: $37,537 per year (Glassdoor, June 2022)
- Certification: Administrative, Clinical, Radiology
- Certifying organization: American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants (ASPMA)
Ophthalmologic Medical Assistant
Ophthalmologic medical assistants work in the office of ophthalmologists or doctors who specialize in treating disorders and injuries related to the eyes. These types of medical assistants must be well-versed in medicine of this type and should expect to perform any number of the following tasks related to ophthalmology:
- Demonstrate to patients how to insert, remove, and care for contact lenses that the treating doctor has prescribed;
- Assist ophthalmologists in surgery; and
- Manage any other duties as requested by the ophthalmologist on staff.
It is also important to note that this type of medical assistant may work in an optometrist’s office. Because optometrists are not licensed to perform surgery on patients’ eyes, a medical assistant in this office may assist with pre- or post-operative care, but will not help during the actual surgery procedures.
- Salary: $41,120 per year (BLS May 2021)
- Certification: Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA)
- Certifying organization: International Joint Commission on Allied Health Professionals in Ophthalmology (IJCAHPO)
Obstetric Medical Assistant
Those who want to specialize in women’s healthcare may wish to pursue an obstetric medical assistant career. This specialized field requires a broad knowledge regarding care for women of all ages and stages of life. An obstetric medical assistant should be prepared to assist an obstetrician or gynecologist in a variety of different roles, including:
- Help with routine procedures, such as Pap smears, pelvic and breast exams, and STI screening;
- Assist in minor gynecological procedures; and
- Help care for women throughout their pregnancy.
Bear in mind that an obstetric medical assistant works with women of all ages, not just those who are pregnant. Ultimately, being an obstetric medical assistant can be an enriching career for those who want to help women.
- Salary: $35,883 per year (Salary.com, June 2022)
- Certification: Specialty Certified Medical Assistant in OBG (SCMA-OBG™)
- Certifying organization: Specialty Certified Medical Assistant (SCMA)
Chiropractic Medical Assistant
Chiropractors utilize a holistic approach to treating various medical conditions that focus on possible mechanical disorders of the spine and the rest of the musculoskeletal system with the belief that any such ailments affect the rest of the body through the nervous system. In general, a chiropractic medical assistant may be expected to perform any of the following tasks:
- Assist the chiropractor with any treatments necessary;
- Teach patients rehabilitative exercises; and
- Perform any other array of tasks as requested by the treating doctor.
Because chiropractic medicine focuses on hands-on treatment, the medical assistant should be comfortable with direct physical contact between themselves and the visiting patients. Most states don’t require chiropractic medical assistants to be certified, but some do. For example, chiropractic assistants in Oregon have to complete a board-approved training course before applying for and passing an exam to work legally.
- Salary: $32,486 per year (Payscale.com, June 2022)
- Certification: Certified Chiropractic Clinical Assistant (CCCA)
- Certifying organization: National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NBCE)
Administrative Medical Assistant
Whereas clinical medical assistants work primarily with patients in clinical settings, administrative medical assistants essentially perform administrative duties behind desks. While they still assist patients, physicians, and other staff members, they do so through an administrative route. Some of the day-to-day tasks that such a medical professional can expect to complete include:
- Fill out insurance forms with information provided by the visiting patients;
- Schedule patient appointments and follow up with patients when necessary;
- Record patient personal information and medical records to keep in a file;
- Answer telephones and manage other related communications services;
- Ensure that the clinic is fully stocked with necessary equipment and supplies; and
- Perform any other administrative tasks per their job description or as requested by a clinic administrator or other healthcare personnel on staff.
In some cases, an administrative medical assistant may also offer assistance to doctors in the treatment room; this may be the case in smaller facilities where only one additional employee is necessary. However, in many cases, an administrative medical assistant will not be required to perform hands-on treatment for patients, and their duties remain at the front of the office.
- Salary: $37,170 per year (Indeed.com, June 2022)
- Certification: Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)
- Certifying organization: American Medical Technologies (AMT)
Finally, while certain specialties are assigned to clinical medical assistants, administrative medical assistants perform similar tasks regardless of the type of facility. Indeed, though the clinical work involving the treatment of patients varies widely from a podiatrist’s and a chiropractor’s office, medical assistants have similar job requirements in administrative and clinical roles.