For fast-growing careers, health care is where it's at. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical assistant will be the fastest-growing occupation through 2012. Here's a look at this hot job from the BLS's Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Medical assistants keep the offices of physicians, podiatrists and other health practitioners running smoothly by performing routine clinical and administrative tasks. In small practices, assistants rotate between administrative and clinical work, but assistants in larger clinics have more specialized duties.
Assistants' general administrative duties include greeting patients, answering phones, updating and filing patients' medical records, filling out insurance forms and handling billing. Clinical duties vary according to state law, but generally include recording vital signs, preparing patients for examinations and assisting the physician during examinations.
Applicants for medical assistant positions usually need a high school diploma or equivalent, though most employers prefer graduates of formal programs in medical assisting. These programs are offered through community and junior colleges, postsecondary vocational schools and vocational-technical high schools.
Medical assistants are not licensed, but some states require them to take a test or course before they can perform certain clinical tasks like taking X-rays. Employers prefer applicants who have passed a national examination.
Because they deal with the public, medical assistants should look neat and have a pleasant disposition.
Nearly 60 percent of medical assistants worked in physicians' offices. Around 14 percent served in hospitals and almost 10 percent worked in other health practitioners' offices.
Assistants can also specialize and perform additional duties. For example, podiatric medical assistants make castings of feet, expose and develop X-rays and assist with foot surgery. Ophthalmic medical assistants help provide eye care.
Pros and Cons of Medical Assistant Jobs
Full- and part-time medical assistant positions are available, and most offices are clean and well-lit. This job is good for those who enjoy interacting with other people. However, applicants must be able to handle multiple responsibilities at once, especially in smaller offices.
Median annual earnings of medical assistants were $23,940 in 2002. Those who worked in general medical and surgical hospitals brought home the highest wages.
-- See detailed medical assistant salary overview
According to the BLS, job prospects are excellent for medical assistants through 2012. Technological advances in medicine and a growing and aging population will bring more patients in to clinics and hospitals, spurring the need for additional support personnel.
Source: BLS September 2004