What Is a Medical Assistant? Definition and Career Advice

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 7 November 2022

Published 26 June 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A medical assistant plays a key role in the success of a physician's practice. They perform various medical and administrative duties to improve the quality of care patients receive. Understanding the role of a medical assistant can help you decide if you want to pursue this career path. In this article, we will discuss what is a medical assistant, how to become one and some important distinctions between medical assistants and certified nursing assistants.

What Is A Medical Assistant?

A medical assistant is a medical professional who helps physicians at outpatient facilities and clinics. They perform tasks depending on the needs of the physician to ensure that their workflow is streamlined to focus on the care of the patient. There may be more than one medical assistant involved in a physician's practice. These assistants can also work at labs or government agencies.

Key Responsibilities Of Medical Assistants

Medical assistants can be classified as generalists within their workplace due to the variety of tasks they perform. They may take on a range of administrative and medical duties in the workplace.

Medical tasks include:

  • Operating medical equipment

  • Taking blood/stool/urine samples from patients

  • Explaining test results and discussing medical records with patients

  • Removing stitches

  • Refilling prescriptions

  • Outlining procedures for examinations

Administrative tasks include:

  • Scheduling appointments

  • Stocking equipment and pharmaceuticals

  • Answering general inquiries over the phone

  • Completing insurance and billing forms

  • Inserting patient details into databases

Important Skills For Medical Assistants

If you intend to become a medical assistant, these are some important skills you should develop:

Organisational skills

Being a medical assistant requires you to maintain and update patient records and keep track of medical tasks that involve patient interaction. Organising patient information can make it more accessible for the physician, saving them a lot of time and effort in their daily practice. Additional to this, medical assistants also have to maintain inventories and stock equipment and medicines.

Communication skills

Medical assistants often act as a channel of communication between patients and physicians. They handle confidential information such as medical histories, treatment procedures, test results and prescription details. Prompt and clear communication can avoid mishaps in a hospital/clinical setting, where risks are generally high.

Related: How To Improve Communication Skills

Active listening skills

Active listening is an extension or aid to communication skills. As a medical assistant, you may be present during multiple interactions between patients and physicians throughout the day. You must train yourself to absorb the necessary information to schedule and carry out tasks and respond thoughtfully to queries that come up from both physicians and patients.

Read more: Active Listening Skills: Definition and Examples

Technical skills

Activities and processes related to hospital management are often computerised. That is why you should be familiar with important tools, software and equipment used in medical settings. You may often need to perform vital data management tasks to keep track of patient details, confidential information, appointments and prescriptions. For instance, you should know how to insert patient data into a computer system to schedule appointments.

Read more: Technical Skills: Definitions and Examples

Time management skills

As a medical assistant, you may have to perform a wide variety of tasks on a regular basis. Some of these tasks are more time-sensitive than others. You should know what tasks to prioritise. For instance, your patient tasks should take precedence over your administrative tasks. Good time management skills will also help you maintain a healthy work-life balance in this line of work.

Read more: Time Management Skills: Definition and Examples

Requirements For Medical Assistants

Most employers require medical assistants to hold professional certifications or diplomas from post-secondary training. It's also important to have a clinical background, either through educational training, internship or entry-level employment. Many students enrol in online courses, however, there are offline certificate programs that you can consider for earning your credentials in medical assistance. In some cases, colleges may enrol students on a merit basis, which means your scores in Classes X or XII—if applicable—are a key requirement for enrolment in some institutions.

Further, some colleges may also conduct entrance exams for enrolment into a medical assisting programme and you may need to interview with board members or faculty to meet the requirements for enrolment into a certification program. No matter the program you enrol in, you can expect to meet additional educational and clinical requirements to earn your credentials and enter your career.

How To Become A Medical Assistant

Here are some steps you should take to become a medical assistant:

1. Complete higher secondary education

To work as a medical assistant, you must first complete your higher secondary education. This makes you eligible for vocational training programs that can lead to your certification. It also indicates to your potential employers that you are trainable to work in a medical or clinical setting and can transfer your school level educational knowledge to field practice.

2. Pursue formal training or enrol for vocational training courses

Vocational training institutes have courses that allow you to complete your training within 1-2 years. After completing 10 or 10+2 schooling from a recognised board, you are eligible to pursue a diploma in medical assistance or a diploma in physician assistance. Diploma courses may take you anywhere between a few months and 3 years to complete.

Related: Vocational Training: Definition, Types and Examples

Some specific coursework for these programmes include:

  • Anatomy

  • First aid

  • Patient relations

  • Transcriptions

3. Get certified to increase your chances of employment

Apart from improving your employability, a certification from a competent authority can also help you earn a higher salary. Certification courses typically take anywhere between 6 months to 2 years to complete. Here are some commonly pursued certification courses:

  • X-Ray Technician Certification Course

  • Dental Assistant Certification Course

  • Medical Laboratory Assistant Certification Course

  • Dialysis Technician Certification Course

  • MRI Technician Certification Course

4. Pursue a bachelor's degree

To further improve your career prospects, you can pursue a bachelor's degree in nursing (B.Sc Nursing) or physician assistance (B.Sc Physician Assistance) from a recognised institute/college. Undergraduate courses take 4 years to complete and make you eligible for pursuing higher education in this academic domain. While a bachelor's degree is not essential for this profession, it can help you transition to nursing roles.

5. Build your CV and apply for jobs

You need to build a CV that showcases your experience and educational background to land an interview. Take a look at multiple samples of medical assistant CVs and tailor yours specifically for the job roles you prefer. Make sure to include relevant skills and work experience. It is good practice to use a template in order to ensure a clean format for your resume.

Read more: What is a CV?

Medical Assistants Vs CNAs

Certified nursing assistants or CNAs work less with doctors and more directly with nurses. Unlike medical assistants, CNAs do not perform administrative duties. They are supervised by registered nurses and report directly to them. They are also referred to as nursing aides for this reason. Becoming a medical assistant is more demanding than training as a CNA. Medical assistant training programs last from 10 months to a year, while nursing assistant programs take a shorter period of 6 to 12 weeks.

CNA duties relate directly to care and patient support. A typical shift for a CNA may involve responding to patient calls, providing direct care (for example, toileting, bathing and feeding), changing linens, helping patients with physical activities, reviewing food consumption and tracking vital signifiers of critical patients.

Is Medical Assistance A Good Job?

Here are some other reasons to choose a career in medical assistance:

  • Minimal job requirements: as a medical assistant, you can enter the healthcare industry without the extensive education required for other professions like physicians and surgeons.

  • Affordable education: you do not require a formal degree to enter this profession. Certificate programs and diplomas are typically cheaper to pursue in comparison to formal degrees like M.B.B.S.

  • Variety of work settings: a well-qualified and certified medical assistant can easily find a job in public and private sector hospitals, emergency centres, laboratories and blood donation centres.

  • Consistent schedules: many healthcare professionals inevitably have to work long and irregular hours. Medical assistants usually work in shifts and have fairly consistent schedules, with a possibility of overtime pay.

  • Career stability: every consulting doctor needs a group of 4 to 5 staff members, in which medical assistants are unavoidable. The rise of the private healthcare industry has improved opportunities for medical assistants.

  • Opportunities for advancement: you will find numerous opportunities to advance your career and pursue other professions and specialisations within the same industry. For instance, you could specialise in working entirely with kids, elderly patients, medical equipment or registry software.

  • Fulfilment and job satisfaction: you will be helping people in need, on a daily basis. If you have a sense of social commitment, this career provides ample opportunities for you to give back to society.

  • Ability to work anywhere: this career will also give you the opportunity to work anywhere in the world, provided you have the right certifications and qualifications.

Do Medical Assistants Make More Money Than CNAs?

Although the average starting salary of a CNA is more than that of a medical assistant, a career in medical assistance provides more potential for salary increment. The average starting salary of a medical assistant is ₹2,17,840 per year. Depending on your expertise and experience in the field, this figure can go up to ₹6,14,214 per year. The average starting salary of a nursing assistant is ₹2,52,012 per year.


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