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What’s a Medical Assistant & How Did the Career Develop?

During a typical day, medical assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks in the offices of physicians, chiropractors and other health practitioners. The career is a relatively new one to the health care industry and has developed out of a need for individuals capable of performing both patient-related, clinical tasks in addition to clerical and office administration duties. In the past, the patient care tasks might have been performed by Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) or even Registered Nurses (RNs). The office administration duties were the responsibility of staff educated or trained in office administration and data entry. Nurses are too expensive and difficult to hire just to utilize for clerical tasks and uncomplicated clinical work. Many CNAs lacked the necessary office administration skills to work in this area. Thus, a combination of the two careers—a medical assistant—was created.

How Are Medical Assistants Trained?

Because the position is relatively new to the health care field, there are few formal regulations or laws governing the occupation or specifying any necessary training or education. Most medial assistant positions require only a high school diploma and the majority of those working in the field are trained by mentorship and on-the-job (OJT) training. There are relatively few formal medical assistant educational programs actively training students within an established curriculum and offering an Associate Degree in Applied Science upon successful program completion.

What Types of Science Do Medical Assistants Learn?

Because medical assistants are trained for both clinical duties and office administration tasks, their training and education is varied. For those who are trained outside of a formal program, the specifics of their preparation depend upon the type of medical practice in which they are employed. For formal programs, however, medical assistants are trained in the following sciences:

  • Basic Infection Control & Blood Borne Pathogens

While medical assistants are not required to take microbiology classes, they must be proficient in preventing the spread of disease and germs through proper infection control techniques such as hand washing, applying a sterile bandage, drawing blood, sterilizing instruments and properly cleaning up bodily fluid spills.

  • Laboratory Chemistry

Medical assistants are also trained in performing basic laboratory tests that can be completed in a doctor’s office or clinic without exportation to an outside laboratory. These tests might include measuring the amount of glucose in a patient’s urine or blood, properly collecting urine samples for further testing or preparing blood specimens for exportation.

  • Medical Terminology

Whether their primary duties are in the front office or back in the patient examining rooms, all medical assistants are required to demonstrate proficiency in the use and understanding of medical terms and vocabulary.

  • Basic Nursing

Medical assistants are also trained in basic nursing skills such as measuring vital signs (heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate and blood oxygen levels), changing dressings, drawing blood or removing stitches, sutures or surgical staples.

  • Anatomy & Physiology

The body parts and the ways in which the body systems operate and interact is a necessary aspect of training, usually consisting of two full classes.

  • Pathophysiology

Pathophysiology, or the study of diseases and their effects upon the body, is also a required science.

While this list is not complete, it does cover the major science areas required of the position. Other classes commonly include pharmacology (the study of drugs), computer sciences such as medical office software and insurance software and drug calculations. Until law establishes the requirements of the position, the specific classes offered by such programs will vary.

This guest post is contributed by Lindsey Harper Mac.  She can be reached at Harpermac11 (a) gmail.com or @harpermac11.

Categories: General

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