Obesity, poor nutrition, a larger percentage of elderly men and women, increasing numbers of cancer diagnoses, and other troublesome ailments are bringing more and more people to doctor’s offices, hospitals, chiropractors, ophthalmologists, and other medical specialists. As a result of the continuing growth in demand for medical assistance, doctors all require help to keep their practices running efficiently. This is where medical assistants come in.

A medical assistant can prove to be invaluable to a doctor as he or she takes care of the day-to-day duties of being a doctor. By taking care of some of the more menial tasks, the doctor can focus on helping the patients with their specific ailment. Medical assistants help a doctor by:

  • Handling patient check-in
  • Answering phones
  • Making appointments
  • Filling out insurance paperwork
  • Managing incoming business related mail and email
  • Filing out patient charts
  • Setting up hospital admissions
  • Arranging additional lab testing
  • Keeping the waiting room organized and neat
  • Taking care of billing and invoices
  • Entering patient data into the computer
  • Mailing test results

In some states, medical assistants may take on additional duties. These include:

  • Arranging examination rooms by placing necessary sterilized equipment on trays before the patient arrives
  • Collecting urine samples. In rare occasions, medical assistants are able to draw blood samples. In California, samples are limited to nasal smears, throat cultures, or urine samples.
  • Going over prescription information, including dosages and interactions
  • Taking down brief medical histories
  • Going over dietary restrictions
  • Preparing prescriptions (especially if samples are prescribed) for patients to take home. All prescriptions must be double-checked by the doctor first
  • Taking blood pressure, pulse, height, and weight measurements
  • Authorizing prescription refills or calling in prescriptions to a pharmacy
  • Safely disposing of needles and other medical supplies
  • Preparing a patient for x-rays
  • In a vision care center, medical assistants might also be responsible for handling some basic vision tests
  • Performing finger prick blood tests
  • In California, medical assistants may give injections only if they are intramuscular, intradermal, or subcutaneous (below the skin). Medical assistants are not allowed to give Botox injections per California law.

It is important to realize that medical assistants spend their workdays with sick people. Therefore, medical assistants are exposed to viruses on a regular basis. For this reason, they need flu shots, hepatitis vaccinations, and other vaccinations against communicable diseases.

Medical assistants are not required in any state to be licensed in order to perform basic duties. In addition, California does not require a medical assistant to pass any formal testing. Instead, they leave it up to the hiring doctor to decide if certification is required. All medical assistants must hold an associate’s degree in medical assisting, however. Typical programs require successful completion of the following courses:

  • Accounting
  • Adult Medicine
  • Anatomy
  • Clinical Skills
  • Coding Practices
  • Computer Skills
  • Diagnostic Studies
  • Eldercare
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Ethics
  • First Aid
  • History of Medicine
  • Insurance Regulations
  • Keyboarding
  • Medical Law
  • Medical Terminology
  • Obstetrics/Gynecology
  • Office Management
  • Patient Assessment
  • Patient Relations
  • Pathophysiology
  • Pediatrics
  • Pharmacology
  • Physiology
  • Primary Care
  • Surgery

California requires all medical assistants to have completed two years of college leading to an associate’s degree, but there is more. Before you can accept your degree, the state requires ten hours of lab experience drawing blood, ten hours of lab experience in giving shots, and ten hours of experience in administering medications, including nasal medications. You must than demonstrate your abilities in all to prove you have mastered these vital skills.

The median salary of medical assistants is $28,860 with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $20,810, and the top 10 percent earning more than $40,190 (May 2010, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor).

Working in a hospital setting tends to bring in the highest income while medical assistants working in small medical offices earn the least. There are pros and cons to each. Hospital work will be far busier, but this is perfect for someone who wants to be constantly moving. In a small medical practice, duties may lapse between patients, so you will have more time to catch up on paperwork. You will, however, have less interaction with patients.

View a list of medical assisting programs in California >>