Medical Assistant Careers

The term “medical assistant” refers to a number of positions with a wide variety of specific responsibilities and specialties. Most medical assistants work in physician’s offices, but hospitals, clinics, dentists’ offices, and chiropractors’ offices are all likely to employ medical assistants as well. Because of the wide variety in the medical assistant roles available, the training and requirements involved in working as a medical assistant can vary considerably.

One thing that’s true pretty much across the board is that medical assistants perform the routine work that doctors don’t have time for. Regardless of the details of their jobs, the main goal is to enable physicians to spend more time providing direct patient care.

While certification isn’t a legal requirement for all medical assistants, it’s often expected by employers and a few states require that only certified medical assistants be employed across the board.

What a Medical Assistant Needs to Know

As in any profession, the hospitals and doctors’ offices hiring medical assistants have certain expectations of the knowledge and skills anyone they hire must have. We’ve surveyed 100 medical assistant job listings from actual employers to gain some insights into the skills and qualifications that will make you the most valuable to the people likely to hire you.

What Medical Assistants Do

The most common positions for medical assistants take place mostly in the back areas of the office, helping keep the examination rooms clean, patient records up to date and assisting with exams. Many medical assistants are also (or alternately) put in charge of the front office tasks, which resemble the administrative work of any office.

With more experience or specialized training, the positions available to medical assistants evolve and more complicated tasks often become a part of their jobs, such as:

  • Taking heartbeat measurements with an electrocardiograph (EKG) machine
  • Collecting samples of blood and other fluids
  • Labeling samples and taking them to the medical laboratory
  • Assisting lab technicians in conducting tests on samples
  • Helping x-ray technicians collect and process images
  • Providing support for other technical staff throughout the office

When Medical Assistants Work

Almost all medical assistant jobs are full-time, requiring at least 40 hours a week. Overtime requests are common, but as medical assistant jobs are usually hourly, you’ll get extra for overtime hours.

The typical shift for a medical assistant will cover eight hours (plus an hour for lunch), from around 8:00 am to 5:00 pm (or whatever hours the office you’re working in is open). You may be expected to arrive a half-hour before the office opens, and allowed to leave about a half hour after it closes.

That’s a typical day, but being open to working abnormal hours can have its career perks.

  • About 50 percent of employers say they prefer to hire assistants who have the ability to work at least one night or weekend shift per month.
  • About 11 percent say they prefer candidates who are willing to be flexible about their schedules.

What Medical Assistant Jobs Look Like

We’ve talked about all the variety that exists in different medical assistant positions, but let’s look at what some of those specific jobs look like.

Cardiovascular Technologists

Job Prospects: Jobs for cardiovascular technologists are expected to grow by about 30% from 2012-2022.

Median Salary: $52,070/year

Entry-Level Education: Associate’s degree

Job Description: Cardiovascular technologists help cardiologists diagnose and treat heart and vascular issues. They perform clinical and administrative duties, such as:

  • Preparing and maintaining imaging equipment
  • Performing ultrasounds
  • Conducting electrocardiograms (EKGs)
  • Examining images for quality
  • Helping physicians during procedures such as inserting catheters
  • Taking patient information and history
  • Filing insurance claims
  • Maintaining patient records.

Why Would I Want to Do This? A cardiovascular technologist position might be right for you if you enjoy biology, human anatomy and physiology. Cardiovascular technologists also work directly with patients, so you’ll need to have strong people skills. As in most medical assistant positions, you’ll need to be good with medical terminology and programs that document and organize patient records.

Find a Job: Find cardiovascular technician positions at:

Dental Assistants

Job Prospects: The employment of dental assistants is expected to rise by around 25%, between 2012 and 2022. By 2022, there are expected to be about 74,000 more dental assistant jobs.

Median Salary: $34,500/year

Entry-Level Education: Post-secondary nondegree award (e.g. you should be a certified medical assistant)

Job Description: Dental assistants give administrative and clinical assistance in dentists’ offices. Their duties vary by state and by office, but they generally include:

  • Keeping patient records
  • Record patient information and dental history
  • Prepping patients for procedures
  • Prepping equipment for procedures
  • Assisting dentists during procedures
  • Cleaning patients’ teeth and gums
  • Processing x rays
  • Performing lab tasks

Why Would I Want to Do This? Dental assistants have to juggle clinical and administrative responsibilities, so candidates should excel at multitasking. Dental assistants also interact with patients all day, so people skills are important.

Find a Job: Find dental assistant positions at:

Endoscopy Technicians

Job Prospects: Employment for endoscopy technicians is projected to grow about 29% between 2012 and 2022.

Median Salary: $32,400/year

Entry-Level Education: Post-secondary nondegree award (e.g. you should be a certified medical assistant)

Job Description: Along with the clinical responsibilities common to most medical assistant positions, endoscopy technicians assist physicians and nurses in the gastroenterology medical specialty by using an endoscope to diagnose and treat gastrointestinal problems.

Why Would I Want to Do This? Choose a career as an endoscopy technician if you can follow physicians’ instructions accurately and quickly and learn the different instruments, terms, and equipment necessary to assist physicians during delicate procedures. You should also be patient and have a good bedside manner, as you will have to calm patients before and during uncomfortable procedures.

Find a Job: Find endoscopy technician jobs at:

Licensed Practical Nurses

Job Prospects: Licensed practical nurse positions are expected to increase by 25% between 2012 and 2022.

Median Salary: $41,540/year

Entry-Level Education: Post-secondary nondegree award (e.g. you should be a certified medical assistant)

Job Description: Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) are also known as licensed vocational nurses (LVNs), depending on the state in which they practice. They provide basic nursing care, with direction from Registered Nurses (RNs). Their duties are generally clinical, such as:

  • Taking vital signs
  • Changing bandages
  • Inserting catheters
  • Bathing patients
  • Keeping patient records.

Why Would I Want to Do This? LPNs provide direct patient care, so positions are best for people that are naturally a people person. Licensed practical nurses work with patients all day long and often undertake painful procedures such as catheter placement, so patience and compassion are essential. You’ll also have to multitask, caring for several patients at a time and following the orders of multiple physicians.

Find a Job: Browse licensed practical nurse jobs at:

Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Job Prospects: Nuclear medicine technologist positions are expected to increase by about 20% between 2012 and 2022.

Median Salary: $70,180/year

Entry-Level Education: Associate’s degree

Job Description: Nuclear medicine technologists use a special type of scanner to take images of the human body. They also administer radioactive drugs to the patients they are scanning and explain procedures and results to patients.

Why Would I Want to Do This? Nuclear medicine technology may be the career for you if you enjoy learning about physics, technology, human anatomy, and physiology. As in other medical assistant positions, you’ll be expected to know medical terminology and work well with patients.

Find a Job: Find some excellent nuclear medicine technologist jobs at:

Phlebotomists

Job Prospects: The national number of new phlebotomy positions is expected to increase by 27% by 2022.

Median Salary: $29,730/year

Entry-Level Education: Post-secondary nondegree award (e.g. you should be a certified medical assistant)

Job Description: The primary responsibility of a phlebotomist is to collect and prepare blood samples for testing. They can also draw blood for donation, transfusions, and research.

Why Would I Want to Do This? Only candidates who are comfortable working around blood and needles should consider a job in phlebotomy. In addition to learning how to draw blood, you will need to have a delicate hand and good people skills.

Find a Job: Browse phlebotomy jobs at:

Radiologic Technicians

Job Prospects: Radiologic technician positions are expected to increase by 21% between 2012 and 2022.

Average Salary: $54,620 per year

Entry-Level Education: Associate’s degree

Job Description: Radiologic technicians use imaging equipment to help physicians make diagnostic decisions. They have to:

  • Adjust the equipment
  • Follow the directions from the physician on where and how to take the image
  • Prepare the patients for the imaging process.
  • Protect the patients from harmful exposure

Why Would I Want to Do This? Choose to become a radiologic technician if you enjoy working with people and learning to use technology, such as x-ray machines. You should also be able to work well in a fast-paced environment, fielding radiology orders from inpatient and outpatient service areas.

Find a Job: Search for radiologic technician jobs at:

Respiratory Therapist

Job Prospects: From 2010 to 2020, respiratory therapy jobs are expected to increase by 29% between 2012 and 2022.

Median Salary: $55,870/year

Entry-Level Education: Associate’s degree

Job Description: Respiratory therapists help physicians diagnose and treat breathing illnesses, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and emphysema. Their daily tasks usually include:

  • Taking patient information and history
  • Maintaining patient records
  • Preparing patients for treatment and diagnostic tests
  • Assisting with treatments and diagnostic tests
  • Teaching patients how to administer their own therapies

Why Would I Want to Do This? Respiratory therapy may be a good fit for those good with both infants and the elderly, two populations who are particularly vulnerable to respiratory complications. You should be comfortable working in emergency situations, as hospitals often call respiratory technicians when a patient stops breathing.

Find a Job: Browse respiratory technician jobs at:

Surgical Technologist 

Job Prospects: Surgical technologist positions are expected to grow around 30% between 2012 and 2022.

Median Salary: $41,790/year

Entry-Level Education: Post-secondary nondegree award (e.g. you should be a certified medical assistant)

Job Description: Surgical technicians assist surgeons in the operating room. They typically:

  • Prepare the operating room for surgery
  • Arrange equipment
  • Help surgeons and nurses during the operation
  • Sterilize and arrange the equipment
  • Prepare the patients for surgery

Why Would I Want to Do This? Surgical technicians must be comfortable working in a work in a fast-paced environment. You’ll work alongside surgeons and anesthesiologists, assisting during the pre-operatory scrub process, as well as during and after surgery. You will also need to be comfortable working around blood and the human anatomy.

Find a Job: Look for surgical technician jobs at: