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What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

Liz Heintz

Written By: Liz Heintz

Published: 8/18/2022

Medical assistants are often the first people you see when you enter doctors' offices. They provide patient care and assist senior clinical staff while they perform examinations and medical procedures. Medical assistants are integral to providing quality care, ensuring a health care facility runs smoothly and meets ethical and other industry standards. Becoming a medical assistant may also segue into a more advanced clinical role such as that of a registered nurse (RN).

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What Is a Medical Assistant?

A medical assistant is a health care professional who works in various settings, including physician's offices, medical clinics, hospitals, and long-term care facilities that deliver patient care. They earn a certificate or an associate degree from a medical assistant program at a nursing school or community college that helps prepare them to perform clinical tasks. Medical assistants primarily support physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and other registered nurses (RNs) by performing numerous duties such as preparing patients for their visit, assisting clinicians throughout an exam, and ensuring patients leave with after-care instructions.

Check out our Guide to Online Medical Assistant Programs to learn more about program requirements and curriculum, funding, and how to choose a school.

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

The work of a medical assistant may vary depending on the size of the medical office or facility in which they work. However, in general, their education prepares them to perform the following clinical duties competently:

  • Administer medication under supervision
  • Serve as a liaison between physicians and their patients
  • Measure and record vital signs
  • Draw blood and collect other specimens and samples
  • Perform basic lab tests
  • Record patient information and medical histories via data entry
  • Understand medical terminology
  • Inject immunizations
  • Sterilize medical equipment
  • Remove and replace wound dressings
  • Remove sutures
  • Explain treatment and after-care procedures to patients
  • Conduct electrocardiograms and other medical tests
  • Prepare exam rooms for visits
  • Handle prescription refill requests
  • Maintains patient confidentiality

Medical assistants may also perform administrative tasks such as:

  • Answer phones
  • Schedule appointments
  • Greet patients and other visitors
  • Coordinate hospital visits and diagnostic testing for patients
  • Perform medical billing and coding and complete insurance forms
  • Order supplies

Important Qualities & Skills

Medical assistants generally possess similar values, interests, and competencies that help them achieve success and thrive in what they do. For example, they typically value relationships and being able to provide services to others, supportive management that stands behind their employees, and a sense of achievement and accomplishment because they can use their strongest skills in their day-to-day work.

O*NET has identified medical assistant qualities and skills that may draw them to the health care industry:

  • Ability to reason
  • Ability to see patterns and order
  • Adaptability and flexibility
  • Compassion
  • Computer literacy
  • Conventionality
  • Customer service
  • Dependability
  • Detail-orientation
  • Honesty
  • Intuition
  • Oral and written comprehension
  • Realism
  • Social engagement

Lightcast, a data analytics company, has identified the top 10 skills employers look for when hiring medical assistants:


Patient care


Vital signs measurement




Communication skills


Medical assistance


Appointment setting


Electronic medical records maintenance




Patient preparation


Computer literacy

Medical Assistant Specializations and Job Opportunities

Medical assistants have the advantage of choosing from many environments and specialties in which to work where their skills are in-demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates an 18% job outlook for medical assistants through 2030, with a $37,190 median annual salary. However, the top 10% of medical assistants can earn over $48,000 depending on location and specialty. Medical assistants working in outpatient care centers tend to make the highest salaries. Specializing may also increase job opportunities and salary potential. You may be able to learn specialized skills on-the-job while working with specific populations, or you may be able to take additional classes targeted to your interests and career goals.

Medical assistants have the advantage of choosing from many environments and specialties in which to work where their skills are in-demand.

Becoming a medical assistant may also provide scheduling flexibility. For example, while medical assistants working in physician offices and outpatient clinics may work daytime hours Monday through Friday, those working in an environment that's open around the clock may be required to work various shifts, including evenings, weekends, and holidays.

Specialization Duties Work Environments
Cardiology Perform cardiac imaging including electrocardiograms, cardiac stress tests, and related blood draws. Physician offices, hospitals, and inpatient and outpatient medical clinics
Dermatology Prepare patients for procedures such as skin tag removal and biopsies, administer injections under direct supervision, and assist dermatologists with cosmetic procedures such as Botox or laser treatments Physician offices and outpatient medical clinics
Geriatrics Educating elderly patients and caregivers, checking blood pressure and heart rate, reviewing medications, collecting lab work, and coordinating diagnostic testing Physician offices, inpatient and outpatient medical clinics, and nursing homes or other long-term care facilities
Medical Administrative Assistant Scheduling and appointment tracking, answering phones, greeting patients and other visitors, performing billing and coding, ordering supplies, processing insurance filings and claims, and bookkeeping Physician offices and medical clinics
Neurology Assist neurologists and RNs who treat nerve conditions like Parkinson's disease and cerebral palsy with administering radiological testing, lumbar punctures, and electrical testing (EEG) Physician offices and outpatient medical clinics
Obstetrics and Gynecology Prepare patients for sexual health and reproductive exams, document fetal and patient progress, and educate patients on care Physician offices and outpatient medical clinics
Oncology Assist oncologists and RNs who administer chemotherapy and other treatments, educate the families and caregivers of patients, and serve as a point of contact when working with pharmaceutical and insurance companies Hospitals and inpatient and outpatient care facilities
Ophthalmic Help ophthalmologists and optometrists during eye surgery, conduct preliminary eye tests, and teach patients about eyeglass and contact lens wear and care Physician offices and inpatient and outpatient medical clinics
Phlebotomy Ease patient anxiety before and during blood draws, label and record specimens, sterilize equipment and prevent sample contamination, and ship specimens to laboratories Surgical and cardiac clinics, hospitals, physician offices, inpatient and outpatient medical facilities, and long-term care facilities
Surgical Ensure operating fields and surgical equipment is sterile, and assist in surgery by applying clips, sutures, and staples to control bleeding Hospitals and inpatient and outpatient medical facilities where surgical procedures are performed

Education and Training

You can become a medical assistant by earning a postsecondary certificate or an associate degree from an accredited program after you earn a high school diploma or equivalent. Accreditation is important because it ensures education programs meet industry standards that employers desire.

You can become a medical assistant by earning a postsecondary certificate or an associate degree from an accredited program after you earn a high school diploma or equivalent.

Full-time students can complete a certificate program in a year or less, while it may take two years to earn an associate degree. While credentialing is not a legal requirement, employers of medical assistants often require passing a certification exam. Therefore, the program curriculum should prepare you for the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) exam administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), where you can apply the skills you've learned to prove your competency to prospective employers.

The CMA is a national certification recognized across the U.S. regardless of the state in which you work and requires recertification every 60 months.

FAQs About Medical Assistants Roles

What Is the Role of a Medical Assistant?

The role of a medical assistant is to assist physicians, RNs, and other senior clinical staff when providing direct patient care in various health care facilities. They prepare patients for their appointment, assist during the examination if necessary, and ensure patients leave with after-care instructions. They may also perform administrative duties such as scheduling appointments, coding claims for insurance, and coordinating hospital care.

What Is a Typical Day Like for a Medical Assistant?

Medical assistants perform a variety of tasks throughout their day. They clean and prepare examination rooms, sterilize instruments, take vital signs, record health histories, and dress and undress wounds. Medical assistants may also perform basic laboratory tests such as blood counts and urinalysis under the direction of senior clinicians. If a patient needs transportation to a hospital, they may help facilitate the process.

What Is the Hourly Wage for a Medical Assistant?

According to the BLS, medical assistants earn a $17.88 median hourly wage or about $37,190 annually. However, this may vary depending on geographic location and the type of facility in which a medical assistant is employed. For example, those working in outpatient care facilities typically earn the most as well as those working in Washington.

What Are Things a Medical Assistant Can and Cannot Do?

A medical assistant can draw blood and collect specimens, remove sutures, administer immunizations, assist with prescription refill requests, and provide medication and diet instructions as directed by a physician. However, they cannot diagnose and treat a patient, take or read X-rays, prescribe medication, interpret test results, administer IV or anesthesia, or advise patients about their medical care.

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