Types of Medical Assistants - Clinical, Administrative, and More

Medical assistants are important figures in healthcare. These professionals offer vital assistance to others within the facility, ranging from physicians, nurses, and clinical specialists to other administrative personnel. Medical assistants work in conjunction with all of these members of the facility to support the treatment and care of patients, to ensure the facility is run correctly, and to help in any other way necessary.

Generally, medical assistants are in high demand, and the number of jobs in this field is expected to grow significantly over the course of the next ten years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS Oct. 2017), there is a projected 29 percent increase in openings nationally for medical assistants between 2016 and 2026—an addition of 184,600 jobs overall. Furthermore, as the population continues to both increase and age, growth in this profession will likely increase well into the future.

Medical assistants, who work within various fields of medicine, are responsible for numerous tasks. Because of this, the medical assistant profession has been separated into distinct specializations: clinical medical assistants and administrative medical assistants. Additionally, these two positions can be further divided based on the type of facility in which they practice.

It is important for anyone considering a career in this profession to understand what to expect, including the day-to-day tasks, potential salary, and other factors.

This guide outlines the most common medical assistant specializations, including their responsibilities and work expectations.

Clinical Medical Assistant

Clinical medical assistants comprise one of the two main divisions within this profession. In general, clinical medical assistants are those who work in a clinical environment and provide direct help to physicians and other healthcare professionals in order to treat and care for patients in the facility. Ultimately, the specific responsibilities of a clinical medical assistant will depend on the place of employment, an individual’s qualifications and abilities, and a number of other factors. An individual in this type of position may be expected to perform any of the following duties:

  • 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
  • Prepare examination rooms for the patients to be treated

Furthermore, a clinical medical assistant may receive training on additional types of equipment to undertake a number of ancillary tasks at work. For example, a medical assistant may have specialized training on EEG machines and/or other lab equipment to operate these devices when necessary.

Because clinical medical assistants help deliver patient care, they are often expected to retain a certain degree of compassion and interpersonal skills. While this is not necessarily a requirement of all employers, it is generally expected in order to succeed in this career.

Podiatric Medical Assistant

A podiatric clinical medical assistant is one who is employed in the office of a podiatrist, or a doctor who specializes in treating foot disorders. A podiatric medical assistant should have a basic understanding of podiatric medicine, and will be required to perform a number of specialized tasks relating to podiatry, including:

  • Making personalized casts of feet
  • Exposing and developing x-rays
  • Assisting the podiatrist in any other required ways, possibly in a surgical setting

Ophthalmologic Medical Assistant

Ophthalmologic medical assistants work in the office of ophthalmologists, or doctors who specialize in treating eye ailments. Ophthalmologic medical assistants must be well-versed in ophthalmology, and should expect to perform any number of the following tasks:

  • Demonstrate to patients how to insert, remove, and care for contact lenses that have been prescribed by the treating doctor
  • Assist ophthalmologists in surgery
  • Manage any other duties as requested by the ophthalmologist on staff

It is also important to note that an ophthalmologic medical assistant may work in the office of an optometrist, as well. In general, 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 don’t provide clinical support during actual surgical procedures.

Obstetric Medical Assistant

Those who possess the interest to work in a gynecologist’s office may wish to pursue a career as an obstetric medical assistant. This is a specialized field that requires a broad knowledge regarding care for women of all ages. An obstetric medical assistant should be prepared to assist an obstetrician/gynecologist in a variety of capacities, including the following:

  • Help with women’s testing procedures, such as annual and breast exams
  • Assist in minor gynecological procedures
  • Help care for women throughout the duration of their pregnancy

It is also important to bear in mind that an obstetric medical assistant will be working with women of all ages, not just those who are pregnant.

Chiropractic Medical Assistant

Chiropractors utilize a holistic approach to treat a variety of medical conditions, while focusing 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
  • 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 with visiting patients.

Administrative Medical Assistant

Whereas clinical medical assistants work largely in a clinical setting, and may spend a significant portion of their career assisting physicians in the treatment of patients, administrative medical assistants perform largely administrative duties. These healthcare professionals spend the majority of their time in the front end of a clinic or other healthcare facility. While administrative medical assistants may assist patients, physicians, and other members of the staff, they do so through a more administrative route. For example, some of the day-to-day tasks include the following:

  • Fill out insurance forms with information provided by the visiting patients
  • Schedule patient appointments and follow up with patients when necessary
  • Record patient information and manage medical records
  • Answer telephones and manage other related communications services
  • Ensure that the clinic is fully stocked with necessary equipment and supplies
  • Perform any other administrative tasks, or as requested by a clinic administrator or other healthcare personnel

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 the administrative medical assistant will not be required to perform hands-on treatment for patients, and instead will remain at the front of the office.

While there are certain specialties assigned to clinical medical assistants, most administrative medical assistants will likely perform similar tasks and retain the same job requirements, regardless of the type of facility.

Workplace Settings & Hours for Medical Assistants

Not all medical assistants—clinical or administrative—will have the same workplace setting throughout their careers. Some medical assistants may work in a public or private hospital, wherein they are only one of a number of assistants throughout the facility. However, other medical assistants may find employment in a small clinic where they are the only one in their profession. Of course, the size of the facility and the scope of the employment will also help determine the hours they may expect to work. For example, those in a hospital setting may be required to work 12-hour shifts alongside physicians and nurses, yet only three days per week.