Patient Relations in Medical Offices: Medical Assistant

Consider the fast growing career path of a medical assistant. Not to be confused with a medical hygienist, medical assistants are also called medical technicians. A medical assistant's duties include:

  • Organizing patient records
  • Assisting the doctor with patient examinations
  • Preparing x-rays
  • Instructing patients on medical care
  • Sterilize and otherwise prepare medical tools for use

Online medical assistant programs can lead to a diploma, certificate or an associate's degree. Many of these programs are specialized and can be taken on line and through community or junior colleges. Students can become certified by passing a state exam.

All medical assistant (also called medical assisting) programs require a high school or equivalency diploma. Medical assistant curriculum includes classes in:

  • Office practices
  • Patient relations
  • Medical equipment
  • Record-keeping
  • Medical procedures

Most medical assistants are paid at an hourly rate. Medical and retirement benefits vary widely by office. Free information is available online for training as a medical assistant.

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Medical Assistant Certificate Information

While certification as a medical assistant (MA) is not required for the job, most doctor’s offices and hospitals prefer to hire trained, certified medical assistants to ensure the MA has the required skills and knowledge. Medical assistant training takes about nine months to a year, and is usually provided by community colleges and universities. Since medical assistants perform both clerical and clinical tasks, they learn a variety of skills in both areas. Courses include medical terminology, insurance processing, accounting, record keeping and transcription as well as anatomy and physiology, clinical treatment procedures and lab techniques. Some medical assistants specialize in medical areas such as ophthalmology or obstetrics and learn specific duties relating to those specialties. While training for certification as a medical assistant, many students also earn their Associate of Science degree, although this takes another year of study.

Online Medical Assistant Curriculum

Many medical assistant online programs are available around the country. Curriculum will vary according to the program, but all offer both clerical and clinical courses. Clerical courses will include administrative procedures, electronic health records, basic math and science courses and occupational safety law. Clinical courses provide training in basic medical procedures, and may require an externship in a medical setting for hands-on medical and lab skills.

Earning a Degree Online

While many students opt for the traditional campus classes, many other students prefer the growing availability of online education and its flexibility. Both options are available for students wanting to get certified as a medical assistant. People already employed in a doctor’s office or hospital work towards their MA certification via online programs.


Students will take a variety of courses in both clerical and clinical areas. Expect to take classes such as the following:

  • Basic math
  • Computer basics
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Medical terminology
  • First aid and CPR
  • Insurance and coding
  • Office management
  • Accounting
  • Medical examination
  • Surgical procedures
  • Clinical aspects of coding and billing
  • Medical office lab procedures
  • Communication
  • Pharmacology
  • Medical specialty procedures
  • Medical law and ethics

Career Opportunities

Careers for medical assistants, as with most other healthcare professional careers, are growing much faster than most other occupations. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that medical assistant jobs will expand by 31 percent over the next decade. Medical offices of all types hire medical assistants, including doctor’s offices, chiropractors, ophthalmologists, podiatrists and other healthcare practitioners. Health clinics, hospitals, medical supply houses, pharmaceutical companies, labs and insurance companies all hire medical assistants. Because of the growth of the medical field, medical assistants may expect diverse career opportunities. They can also expand their career through further education and training into either the clerical or clinical aspect of the job. With more job experience, a medical assistant can grow into an office manager’s position. Or a MA might wish to become more involved in the clinical area and take further courses, becoming a registered nurse or lab technologist.

Earning Potential

The BLS reports that the median average salary for medical assistants is $28,860 in medical offices. Medical assistants working in hospitals can earn more at $29,720 per year. Rate of pay increases with years of experience and skill levels. At the top of the range, medical assistants earned $39,570 in 2008, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,600. Hospitals pay the most and doctor’s offices and offices of other health practitioners pay the least.

Medical Assistant FAQ

What types of jobs can I expect with a MA certification?

The majority of medical assistants work in health professional’s offices, working a full 40 hour week. MAs divide their time between clerical duties such as patient scheduling, filling out insurance forms, updating records and setting up lab appointments. Clinical duties include preparing patients for the doctor’s exam, taking medical history, checking vital signs, drawing blood, changing dressings and administering medication. MAs in office settings will have different duties from those employed in hospitals or outpatient clinics. However, extensive contact with patients and other medical personnel is a major part of any MA’s job.

How long does it take to earn an MA certificate?

A typical medical assistant training program takes from nine months. Students also wishing to obtain an associate’s degree may study for another year, for a total of two year’s training. After completing the MA program, the student then takes the certification exam. MA certification training doesn’t take long and medical assistants can find many different career opportunities.

What are the highest paying medical assistant jobs?

Medical assistants who’ve been on the job the longest will make the most money. Some states pay more wages for medical assistants than others. California, Idaho and Washington D.C. paid the most while Rhode Island, Delaware and Washington paid the least. Medical assistants who were not certified earned less than certified MAs in both hospitals and doctor’s offices. Certification not only ensures higher salaries, but better job opportunities as well.

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