Doctors get a lot of deserved credit for saving lives, easing pain, and helping people to improve their health. However, they can’t do it alone. Supporting those doctors are a plethora of medical assistants whose under-recognized contributions are honored on Medical Assistants Recognition Day.

Medical Assistants Recognition Week takes place from Oct. 20 through 24, 2014 while Medical Assistants Recognition Day falls on Oct. 22, 2014. Medical Assistants Recognition Day highlights the field’s important contributions to patient experience and well-being.

What do medical assistants do?

Medical assistants work in doctors’ offices, clinics, and other outpatient health facilities. They offer doctors a range of support that includes both administrative and clerical duties.

While some of these duties overlap with those of nurses, a medical assistant’s education is generally less specialized. Medical assistants work under a doctor’s license while nurses pass tests to earn independent certification.

Medical assistants are also separate from physician assistants, who are trained to diagnose and treat patients, although physician assistants are not full-fledged doctors.

Medical assistants are responsible for a wide range of duties that vary by doctor’s office and assignment. The sheer variety of tasks completed in any given day makes these jobs both demanding and rewarding.

Administrative tasks may include answering phones and greeting patients, scheduling appointments, submitting claims to insurance companies, and making arrangements for hospital admissions or laboratory tests.

In addition to routine office work, medical assistants may perform basic laboratory tests, speak with patients about their medications and diet, draw blood, and change dressings or remove sutures.

Medical assistants are important because they bridge the gap between the administrative and medical sides of a doctor’s office, helping patients feel comfortable while ensuring all the logistical information related to health care is handled accurately and seamlessly.

Health care is a rapidly growing field, and job growth for medical assistants is projected to grow 29% from 2012 to 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is substantially faster than most occupations. Part of the growing demand for this field is the aging baby boomer population.

Additionally, an ongoing doctor shortage has many health care providers searching for new ways to meet patient needs.

What kind of training do medical assistants undergo?

Becoming a medical assistant typically requires earning certification from a post-secondary program. These programs are offered at vocational schools, community colleges, technical schools, or universities. Training usually takes one year to complete, and students earn a certificate after successful completion, although longer programs sometimes culminate in an associate’s degree.

To meet the administrative and clinical demands of their job, medical assistants learn a variety of topics including first aid, office practices, pharmacology, medical law and ethics, anatomy and pathology, and laboratory techniques.

In order to earn the designation of certified medical assistant from the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), students must successfully participate in a practicum, which is essentially an unpaid work experience to prove their on-the-job skills.

After finishing an eligible education program, hopeful medical assistants must pass the AAMA’s certification exam. After successfully passing the exam, newly minted medical assistants are free to apply for jobs.

What does Medical Assistant Recognition Day entail?

All across the country, doctors’ offices are celebrating in their own way. Efforts at honoring the efforts of medical assistants include presenting these integral members of the team with formal thank you letters, organizing special recognition lunches, or offering a gift. Tokens of appreciation may include a day off with pay, tuition reimbursement for a continuing education class, or business cards.

How do medical assistants impact patients’ lives?

Doctors are experts in treating illness, disease, and chronic pain, but many doctors say medical assistants are indispensible for maintaining smooth office operations and making patients feel welcome, according to AAMA.

Testimonials include Dr. Debra Graetz, a family practice physician in Michigan, who says:

“They see the human side of patients and can help them become comfortable in the medical system, but they aren’t afraid to get involved in administrative work or even call the snow plow when patients are stuck!”

Similarly, Florida internist Dr. Arturo Rodriguez-Martin says:

“Ninety percent of my patients are older adults, and my medical assistant knows the ins and outs of what their needs are—she has worked hard to build strong relationships with them.”

Medical assistants help provide the human touch and ensure important matters don’t get lost in the shuffle. Medical Assistants Recognition Day honors the contributions of these important team players, and supports the continued growth of this pivotal profession.

What is the history of the medical assistant profession?

The AAMA, which is one of the official licensing organizations for medical assistants and also the organizer of Medical Assistants Recognition Day, began in the 1950s and offered the first certification exams in the 60s.

However, the actual profession of medical assistants began long ago. Doctors have always had assistants to support their important work. In 1924, a New York City biology teacher named M.M. Mandl formed a special school for doctors’ assistants to provide cross training in both medical and administrative needs, according to Florida Career College.

Nursing schools did not provide this cross training, and increasingly busy doctors needed to have people on staff who could perform these duties.

In 1955, a Kansas-based organization of medical assistants contacted similar organizations from other states, and the groups voted to start the AAMA. Over the next few decades, the new organization worked to establish standards and increase the professionalism of the occupation through curriculum standards and other, similar measures.

Because of the critical roles medical assistants play in doctors’ offices, they’ve been called the “linchpins of the healthcare system,” and “the glue of the healthcare system,” according to the City University of New York (CUNY).

As time moves on and the health care system becomes more complex, the occupation will continue to grow and change. The flexibility these trained staffers offer makes them increasingly important in today’s changing health care landscape, according to CUNY.

Do you have any positive experiences to share about a caring medical assistant?

Image by UK Ministry of Defence via Flickr


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