What is a Clinical Medical Assistant?A clinical medical assistant is someone who works directly with patients in a variety of facilities to assist doctors, nurses, and other staff in providing quality care. If you are considering a career in the healthcare industry, the following information will help you decide whether a job as a clinical medical assistant, or CMA, is right for you.
Educational RequirementsThere are three educational routes you can take to start your career as a clinical medical assistant.
• High School Diploma or Equivalent – Some clinical medical assistants enter the workforce immediately after high school or after earning an equivalency diploma. However, because of the competitive nature of the workforce, it is often difficult to find employment without postsecondary education. Most employers only hire candidates who have certificates, diplomas, or degrees in medical assisting.
• Diploma or Certificate – You can earn a diploma or certificate to work as a clinical medical assistant. These programs take between nine and 18 months to complete, and you’ll find them at many community and technical colleges. Many even offer hybrid programs, which allow you to take your classroom coursework online. You’ll need to complete lab work on-campus and schedule an externship on your own, though.
• Associate’s Degree – Earning an associate’s degree as a clinical medical assistant will provide you with a competitive edge in the workforce. It takes two years on average, but you may be able to complete it in 18 months with certain fast-track programs. Much like earning a certificate or diploma, you can finish part of your education online. You’ll still need to finish your lab work on-campus, and depending on the school, your externship may take place in a facility that is run by the school itself.
CertificationCertification is optional as a clinical medical assistant, but in today’s competitive world, it gives you an edge over other candidates who may apply for the same position. The National Healthcareer Association offers the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant, or CCMA, designation to MAs who meet a certain set of criteria. You qualify to sit for the exam if you have finished a training program in clinical medical assisting within the last five years, or if you have at least one year of experience within the field in the last three years.
Although there are no laws requiring certification to work as a clinical medical assistant, keep in mind that most states have what are known as Scope of Practice laws that may prevent you from being able to perform certain tasks, such as giving injections or assisting during certain medical procedures. The AAMA provides a list of Scope of Practice laws in each state so you can determine the limitations that would be placed upon you without credentials.
Exam Details and CostIf you choose to take the examination for the CCMA credential from the National Health Career Association (NHA), you should prepare yourself for quite the rigorous test. You will take your exam at one of hundreds of PSI testing facilities nationwide. You will have Three hours to complete the exam, which consists of 150 scored multiple-choice questions. You can find a rundown of the types of questions and their categories on the test plan provided by the NHA. The group also offers online study guides that you can purchase to help you better prepare. The exam costs $155 for everyone who meets the criteria.
Necessary SkillsIf you want to succeed in your career as a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA), you’ll need more than a certificate, diploma, or degree along with a credential. You’ll also need certain skills and qualities that will make you a valuable asset to not only your employer, but also to the patients to whom you provide care. The skills you need to be successful as a clinical medical assistant include:
• People skills for helping patients who may be angry, distraught, or confused about their healthcare.
• An understanding of a variety of instruments you will need to use during your career, including everything from blood pressure cuffs to stethoscopes and pulse-oxygen meters.
• A solid understanding of medical coding and terminology.
• Up-to-date knowledge of current HIPAA laws to help protect patients’ privacy.
• Knowledge of many medical conditions and their symptoms.
• An understanding of many common medical procedures in order to assist doctors.
• Knowledge of any special equipment related to their jobs. For example, a certified medical assistant working in a cardiologist’s office should understand how to use EEG and EKG machines.
Personal QualitiesAside from skills that you can learn in the classroom, there are certain personal qualities and characteristics that can help you be the best possible clinical medical assistant. They include:
• A professional demeanor, which is necessary for empathizing with patients while keeping enough personal distance to ward off extreme stress or grief as these may have an impact on their ability to provide unbiased quality healthcare.
• The ability to communicate well and maintain a level head, even during times of stress. This is especially important for clinical medical assistants who work in fast-paced environments, such as in emergency departments or trauma centers since excellent communication could save a patient’s life.
• Organization for keeping track of numerous patients and their records.
• An innate ability to multitask while remaining focused. The job often requires doing two or more things at the same time, so you’ll need to be able to focus on each task fully. You’ll also need to be able to monitor and track several patients at once.
• The drive to succeed. Once you’re certified as a clinical medical assistant, you’ll have to earn continuing education credits in order to maintain that certification. Failing to do so could result in the loss of your credentials and even your job.
DutiesA clinical medical assistant’s primary role is to assist in providing healthcare, either by working with patients directly or by assisting physicians, nurses, and other members of the healthcare team. As such, you may perform many different tasks throughout your day, which include but are not limited to:
• Taking patient histories.
• Drawing blood and/or administering injections as allowed by state law.
• Taking electrocardiograms.
• Cleaning wounds, changing dressings, and removing sutures as needed.
• Authorizing prescription refills.
• Collecting, preparing, and delivering specimens for the laboratory.
• Performing basic lab tests such as cultures and drug screens.
• Assisting physicians during exams.
• Taking patient vital signs.
• Recording information in patient charts; transferring information to computer databases.
• Preparing patients for their examinations.
• Talking to patients about procedures and medications.
• Answering questions asked by the patient or the patient’s family members.
Because a clinical medical assistant spends most of his or her time working in the back office, he or she will usually perform only very basic administrative tasks. These may include answering phones, contacting insurance companies, and greeting patients as they enter the facility.
Work Environment and ScheduleClinical medical assistants spend the vast majority of their shifts working directly with patients, so the type of facility in which you work will ultimately determine not only the types of duties you perform, but also the hours you work.
• Primary Care Physician’s Offices – Because many insurance plans require individuals to see a primary care physician, or PMP, on a regular basis, the vast majority of medical assistants (59%) work in this type of environment. Physicians’ offices offer up a very predictable work day, and most clinical medical assistants who work in this type of setting work only daytime hours. Because most doctors’ offices are not open on weekends and holidays, you will also enjoy a very predictable work schedule. What’s more, the number of employees in this environment is limited, so you should expect to perform some basic administrative tasks throughout your shift, as well.
• Clinics and Outpatient Care Facilities – Only a very small percentage of medical assistants (about 7%) work in outpatient care facilities such as clinics and urgent care centers. If you are employed in a clinic, you can expect to work mostly day shifts, but keep in mind that many clinics are also open on weekends and holidays, as well. The work environment in a clinic is often predictable and low-stress. On the other hand, if you work in an outpatient care facility such as an urgent care center, you can expect to work a variety of hours, including holidays and weekends, since these facilities never close. You may also be asked to perform some administrative duties, but this depends on the size of the facility and the number of employees. Because you will work with patients who are critically injured or ill several times per day, the job can be quite stressful.
• Hospitals – About 15% of all medical assistants work in hospitals, and if you choose this type of employment, your roles may vary greatly depending on your department. A certified medical assistant may work in surgical wards, labor and delivery, radiology, or any other special department within a hospital. You may work days or nights, including weekends and holidays, and your job may range from predictable to stressful, especially if you work in an emergency or trauma department.
• Nursing Homes – Nursing and rehabilitation centers are hiring more clinical medical assistants now than ever before. As the baby boomers continue to age, there is increased demand for medical expertise in these facilities. If you work in a nursing home, you may be asked to work any time of the day, even on weekends and holidays. The workday itself ranges from fairly predictable to quite intense and stressful, which means you will never feel bored as no two days are ever the same. You will spend most of your time taking vital signs, checking on patient health, assisting with the administration of medications, and helping nurses with their duties.
Job OutlookThe Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the employment of medical assistants as a whole will climb by 29.00% between now and 2026, and this is due to many influential factors. The baby boom generation is aging, and with their advanced age comes the need for more healthcare professionals as well as more facilities. What’s more, changes in health insurance laws in the United States have made health insurance available to more people than ever before. Although a clinical medical assistant does not earn the highest salary in the healthcare industry, the position does come with a great deal of job security. These individuals are invaluable to the provision of outstanding healthcare, which makes them highly employable and a solid asset to not only their employers, but also to their communities as a whole.
Future Career OptionsMany clinical medical assistants work their entire careers for a single doctor or in a particular clinic and feel incredibly fulfilled. However, there are others who start their journeys in the healthcare industry as clinical medical assistants, but later move on to higher-paying careers that require more developed skillsets and higher education. A job as an MA is a great way to get your foot in the proverbial door and start gaining the experience you need to take your career to the next level.
In larger facilities, you may be able to earn a promotion to a lead medical assistant or clinical office manager. These individuals continue to perform many of the same duties, but they are also responsible for managing a team of medical assistants by scheduling, delegating tasks, and overseeing the quality of care.
Some clinical medical assistants also choose to take their careers to the next level by becoming physician’s assistants. This job requires practicing medicine alongside a physician or surgeon. However, you will take on far more responsibility in this role since you will diagnose patients, interpret diagnostic tests, and even prescribe medications to patients. You will need a four-year master’s degree in order to work as a physician’s assistant, and the median annual salary according to the BLS is $104,760 per year. Because you can complete much of the classroom coursework online, it offers some flexibility, allowing you to work as a clinical medical assistant and get your education at the same time.
ConclusionA clinical medical assistant plays a valuable role in any healthcare setting, whether he or she works in a small private practice or one of the largest hospitals in the nation. It’s a rewarding and fulfilling career choice, and it requires very little formal education. If you enjoy working directly with patients on a day-to-day basis, then a job as a clinical medical assistant may be the right choice for you.