As a nurse, I always thought I wanted to work in a physician’s office. Unfortunately, I’ve been passed over for those jobs more than once because doctors want CMAs (Certified Medical Assistants). More often than not, those scrub-clad men and women you think are nurses are in fact very well trained CMAs and you usually can’t tell the difference. Specially trained through their education, medical assistants are shaped to be able to handle whatever their clinical setting may throw at them—within reason. Whether that’s juggle paperwork, answer phones, or assist with procedures, their flexibility makes them a fantastic option for many busy medical practices.
Medical assistants juggle a ton of roles. If you have made any kind of visit to a doctor lately, I guarantee you have run into at least one assistant somewhere. I think a lot of people consider medical assistants to be the people who take your blood pressure and weigh you. At least for me, that’s what I have always thought. But the reality is that medical assistants are so much more. Often hired with the understanding that they will be wearing multiple hats, certified medical assistants (also called CMA’s) often step into a job and play receptionist, file clerk, medical records person, and assistant to the physician.
For the most part, medical assistants will never work where a physician is not readily available. Legally, there must be a doctor on site for a CMA to perform direct patient care. For that reason, you won’t find CMA’s working in hospitals, nursing homes, or any other medical facilities where a doctor can’t be present at the drop of a hat.
Don’t confuse these multi-taskers with other medical professionals– like physician’s assistants (PA), nurses (LPN or RN), or even medication aides (MA). So many letters, so little time—it really does turn into a confusing alphabet soup. Each role is very different and holds very different responsibilities.
While there are lots of things that medical assistants are not, there’s still so much that they are. Medical assistants are essential to keeping a doctor’s or other medical staff’s day smooth and without snags (as much as possible). I know a few doctors, and until you work with them, you have no idea what a challenging task it can be to make a day “snag free”.
Medical assistants may be asked to perform the following services:
- Blood draws (also known as venipuncture)
- Specimen collection and processing
- Sterile technique
- Immunizations (like TB skin tests)
- EKG and respiratory testing
- Obtain vital signs
I don’t know if anyone feels that they are ever paid fairly for the job they do. In the case of a CMA, this is especially true. While the work can be both stressful and rewarding, for the many tasks managed by the CMA, the pay could be better. Keep in mind that pay will vary widely based on where you are, but you can expect a salary of between $10 and $14 an hour depending on whether or not you are certified (CMA), and your experience level.
Rachel Ballard, RNC, BSN is a registered nurse with almost a decade of clinical experience in both acute care and public health settings.