What to Expect as a Medical Assistant

Angie Best-Boss is an award-winning freelance medical writer, editor and author of seven books on women's health.


Jamie Krieger, a medical assistant in Indianapolis, Indiana, loves her position. "It's a very rewarding field," says Krieger. "I know that I am helping maintain and improve the health of others. But it is also demanding at times. I think the number one trait that a medical assistant needs is patience."

If you are considering a career as a medical assistant in a physician's office or in another health care setting, it's a good idea to learn the specifics of what the job entails.



Typical Responsibilities

Medical assistants complete a variety of tasks on the job, and the specific duties will vary depending on the setting. For example, if you are a medical assistant for a podiatrist, you will do some things that are very different from those of a nursing home medical assistant. Even so, there are some universal responsibilities.

Many assistants are charged with maintaining an organized and efficient medical office. The associated tasks are mostly clerical in nature and include:

  • Answering phones and scheduling appointments
  • Updating, recording, and filing medical information and forms
  • Greeting patients and answering questions
  • Serving as a liaison between the physician and patient
  • Managing billing and bookkeeping
  • Completing and filing insurance forms
  • Arranging hospital admission or lab procedures for patients

On the flip side, medical assistants are also trained to perform clinical duties and interact directly with the patient in the exam room. These duties can include:

  • Taking oral medical histories from patients
  • Taking and recording vital signs in patients' medical charts
  • Collecting and preparing specimens like blood and urine for lab analysis
  • Sterilizing medical equipment
  • Drawing blood
  • Prepping patients for medical exams
  • Assisting physicians during medical examinations
  • Authorizing refills on prescriptions and contacting pharmacies


Duties and Licensing by State

Licensing requirements and specific job duties may also vary slightly from state to state. For example, in some states medical assistants are permitted to perform more complex clinical procedures like administering injections and taking patient x-rays. In these instances, medical assistants are required to pass a certification exam. More state-specific information can be found by visiting the medical board website for the state of interest.



Other Job Requirements

Being a medical assistant is about more than just training. The best assistants are very professional. They maintain a neat appearance and are polite when dealing with patients. Employers look for medical assistants who can clearly explain the doctor's instructions and make patients feel comfortable and relaxed during their visit.

It is also extremely important for medical assistants to exercise discretion when dealing with a patient's confidential and sensitive medical records. A thorough understanding of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a must in order to ensure all patients' rights are safeguarded.

Being a medical assistant can be a rewarding but demanding job. Certain duties, especially those of a clinical nature, require a level of manual dexterity, the ability to lift heavy objects, and visual acuity.


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