Expectations of Employers Who Hire Medical Assistants

To give you a clearer idea of what your employer will expect from you in a medical assistant position, we’ve surveyed 100 medical assistant job listings from actual employers on large online job boards. Like many job postings for medical assistants, these postings specify education and training required, common tasks involved in the job, and skills that are either required or considered a plus. Here’s a breakdown of those specifications.

Where and how will I be working?

The majority of medical assistants work primarily in the back areas of the office, maintaining patient records and examination rooms; but they also spend some time in the front office area, answering phones and greeting patients. Some assistants also help gather specimens of blood and other fluids from patients, assist technicians with x-ray machines and other medical equipment, and even help doctors conduct patient examinations and perform minor surgeries.

Back office tasks

  • Updating patient charts and medical records

  • Keeping patients’ financial and insurance information current

  • Cleaning and tidying medical work areas

  • Keeping examination rooms stocked with supplies

  • Maintaining physicians’ schedules

  • Guiding patients to exam rooms

  • Measuring patients’ height and weight

  • Checking if patients have allergies or other known issues

  • Finding out the main reason for each patient’s visit (“chief complaint”)

  • Preparing patients them for examinations by doctors

  • Answering patient questions about medication

  • Providing instructions on how to take medications

Front office tasks

  • Answering phones, taking messages and checking voicemail

  • Checking and answering emails

  • Greeting patients as they enter the office

  • Following up on missed appointments by phone/email

  • Handling billing issues

  • Scheduling future appointments with patients on the way out

  • Verifying prescriptions when a pharmacy calls

  • Submitting prescription refill requests to pharmacies

Specialized tasks

  • Providing an extra set of hands during patient examinations

  • Taking heartbeat measurements with an electrocardiograph (EKG) machine

  • Collecting samples of blood or 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 and how much will I be working?

Almost all medical assistant jobs are full-time, requiring at least 40 hours per week. Overtime requests are common, but most medical assistant jobs are hourly, so they pay extra for overtime hours. On many days, you can expect your shift to cover eight hours (plus an hour for lunch), often from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. You’ll probably be expected to arrive at least a half hour before the office opens, and allowed to leave about a half hour after it closes.

  • 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 qualifications and skills do employers expect?

All employers specify certain skills and certifications they require from anyone they’ll consider for a medical assistant position – but not all requirements are the same, or even similar. Depending on the exact type of medical assistant each employer is seeking, a job may require a certain type of certificate, a certain type of work experience, a certain level of education, some certain job skills – or, most commonly, all the above.

Every employer who hires medical assistants requires at least a high school diploma or GED – and some specify an actual high school diploma (i.e., not a GED) in particular. Most employers also some kind of accredited medical assistant certification to be a big plus. The majority don’t specify which type of certification they require – but some do specify:

  • 61 percent of employers require the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certification offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). Some call this “CMA certification,” while others call it “AAMA certification,” but the meaning is the same.

  • 16 percent of employers require the Registered Medical Transcriptionist (RMT) certification offered by the The Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI), which was formerly called the American Association for Medical Transcription (AAMT). Although the AHDI offers a variety of certifications, the terms “RMT certification,” “AHDI certification” and “AAMT certification” usually all refer to the RMT certification in job postings for medical assistants.

  • Higher-level assistant jobs often require the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) certification offered by the the American Medical Technologists (AMT), which can only be earned after five years of on-the-job experience. But only 11 percent of overall medical assistant jobs require this certification.

  • Requirements for other certifications, such as the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) and Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) certifications offered by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA), are only specified by about 10 percent of employers.

In addition to these certifications, all employers specify certain skills they desire or expect from anyone they’ll hire as a medical assistant. Some of these skills are highly specific – for example, experience with a certain software program or coding system; while others are more general, and often include interpersonal skills and calmness under pressure. The following skills are the ones that most employers say they expect or desire:

Skills required by the majority of employers

  • Experience with Electronic Medical Record Systems (EMR); some employers require experience with specific EMR systems, such as eClinicalWorks, NEXT GEN or Epic

  • Working knowledge of Microsoft Word and Excel

Additional desirable skills

  • Knowledge of the standards and regulations and of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

  • Experience with clinical examinations and tests

  • Experience with medical devices like electrocardiograph (EKG) machines

  • Knowledge of medical terminology

  • Medical laboratory assistant certification

  • Knowledge of codes for International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-9)

  • Certification in Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) coding

  • Effective communication and people skills

  • Ability to work in fast-paced environment

  • Ability to remain focused in the face of distractions

  • Ability to make logical decisions under pressure

How much experience do employers require?

Almost all employers required previous hands-on experience with medical assistant work, as well as a working familiarity with processes like entering data into patient charts, processing insurance information and checking the accuracy of prescriptions.

  • About 25 percent require two or more years of experience.

  • Some also require familiarity with specialized types of medical work and equipment.

  • Many are willing to count school experience as relevant – so choose an education program that offers plenty of real-world training; or switch to one as soon as possible.