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Medical Office Assistant Careers

Medical office assistants, sometimes called medical administrative assistants, handle clerical tasks in a doctor's office, clinic or other medical facility. This may include scheduling appointments, greeting patients, filling out insurance paperwork, ordering supplies and updating patient records. Medical office assistants may also need to be familiar with medical coding and learn about the new electronic health record (EHR) systems that are becoming more popular. EHRs allow patient information to be entered and tracked in a computerized system.

Medical office assistants are part of a larger healthcare team and often work alongside nurses, physicians and other medical personnel. Most work full-time, but their time may be split into various shifts. While they may not have as many injury risks as clinical medical assistants, medical office assistants may still be exposed to contagious diseases. For example, those working at a walk-in clinic may be in close contact with sick patients on a regular basis, potentially increasing the chance of catching a cold or the flu.

How to Become a Medical Office Assistant

Most medical assistants have at least a high school diploma and learn on the job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, those seeking medical office assistant training can choose to attend a postsecondary program. The following steps could help guide those interested in medical office assistant careers, but do not guarantee employment:

  1. Complete a high school diploma or equivalent.
  2. Look for a medical office assistant program at a community college, vocational school or other type of postsecondary institution. These programs may take as little as a year to complete and can result in a certificate or diploma.
  3. Alternatively, look for a program in medical office assisting that can lead to an associate degree. These programs might be found at a community college and could take as little as two years to complete.
  4. Pursue professional certification. Although certification is generally not required to work as a medical office assistant, some employers may prefer staff members who have already taken and completed this step.
  5. Check with your state's department of health to determine if registration or additional certification is needed.
  6. Seek entry-level medical office assistant jobs.
  7. Keep certification up-to-date by taking continuing-education courses/training.

Post-Education Requirements: Certifications and/or State Licensing

Several professional organizations offer certifications specifically for those interested in joining the administrative side of the medical assisting, including:

  • American Medical Technologists (AMT): AMT offers the Medical Administrative Specialist credential.
  • National Healthcareer Association (NHA): Individuals can earn the Medical Administrative Assistant Certification credential from the NHA.
  • National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT): NNCT provides the Medical Office Assistant (NCMOA) certification.

Certifications typically involve taking and passing an exam. They may also require some type of postsecondary training or prior work experience as a medical office assistant to qualify for eligibility. Be sure to research these certifications in depth more before registering for an exam. Certifications often need to be periodically renewed, usually through continuing education credits. In addition, some states may have their own certification, education and training requirements for medical office assistant jobs. Check with a state's department of health for more information.

Medical Office Assistant Job Growth and Average Salary

An increased need for medical assistants is anticipated as the baby boomer generation continues to age and require more medical attention. To accommodate this demand, physicians and other medical providers are expected to expand their practices and hire more medical assisting professionals. In fact, the BLS indicates that employment of medical assistants as a group is expected to grow by 31 percent nationally between 2010 and 2020. This growth rate is considered much faster than the average for all occupations (bls.gov/ooh, 2012). The BLS reports that the median national annual wage for medical assistants was $29,370 in May 2012, with the highest 10 percent earning more than $41,570 and the lowest 10 percent earning less than $21,080 (bls.gov/oes, 2103). Earnings can vary based on education, training, location and other factors.

List of Related Careers

An interest in medical office assistant careers could lead to employment in a doctor's office or other type of healthcare setting. However, students may also want to consider similar careers, such as:

  • Dental Assistants: Help with both administrative and clinical tasks in a dental office. Responsibilities vary by office. May require postsecondary education, professional certification, and state licensure.
  • Health Information Technicians: Code and classify various types of patient information, ensuring it remains secure and accurate. Typically requires postsecondary education and professional certification.
  • Pharmacy Technicians: Perform administrative pharmacy tasks and help pharmacists dispense prescriptions. May require formal training and certification depending on the state.

Links to Sources and Associations

The follow websites provide more information about medical office assistant training and careers:

American Medical Technologists

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Medical Assistants, 2012

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, Medical Assistants, 2013

National Center for Competency Testing

National Healthcareer Association