What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image shows a man wearing scrubs, standing behind a desk with files and storage behind him. At the desk is a woman making an inquiry. Text reads: "A day in the life of a medical assistant. Median Annual Salary: $33,610, Update patient charts, take prescription refills, Greet and escort patients to exam rooms, Make appointments, Order supplies"

Maddy Price/The Balance

Medical assistants perform administrative and clinical tasks in the offices of physicians and other medical practitioners. They may be responsible for clinical tasks, administrative tasks, or a combination of the two, depending on the size and scope of the practice. Medical assistants in larger practices tend to specialize, while those in smaller practices do everything.

Medical Assistant Duties & Responsibilities

This job generally requires the ability to do the following work and meet the following responsibilities:

  • Greet and escort patients to exam rooms.
  • Prepare patients for physician exams.
  • Update patient charts.
  • Order supplies as needed.
  • Make appointments.
  • Take prescription refills.
  • Document clearances.
  • Document medical records.
  • Record patient care documentation.

Specific clinic tasks depend on what medical assistants are legally permitted to do in the states in which they work, but their work as liaisons between patients and other staff can be important to patient wellbeing. Their tasks help medical offices and hospitals run smoothly.

Medical Assistant Salary

Medical assistants working for outpatient care centers were the most highly compensated in 2019, followed by those who worked in hospitals. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the incomes for medical assistants in 2019 were:

  • Median Annual Salary: $34,800
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $48,720
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $25,820.

Hospitals and physician's offices can typically be counted on to provide all equipment a medical assistant will need to perform the job. It's unlikely that a medical assistant would have to come out of pocket for these costs.

Education, Training & Certification

Those looking for careers as medical assistants should ideally have some post-secondary school training and certification.

  • Education: Formal education is not required to become a medical assistant, but many employers prefer to hire job candidates who have completed a post-secondary program, such as a one- or two-year training program at a college or vocational or trade school. Upon completion, candidates earn a certificate or diploma upon completion and may earn an associate degree if they receive their education through a two-year training program at a community college.
  • Certification: Becoming certified is voluntary, but it shows prospective employers that the candidate completed appropriate training and has work experience. This can lead to better employment opportunities and higher pay. Several professional organizations that are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) offer certification. The NCCA is part of Institute for Credentialing Excellence, and it maintains a searchable directory of agencies that offer certification.
  • Licensure: Medical assistants aren't required to receive any formal training or to be licensed, although physicians' assistants — a different occupation — can't work without both a degree and a state-issued license.

Medical Assistant Skills & Competencies

You should possess several skills and qualities to succeed as a medical assistant:

  • Interpersonal skills: You'll need the ability to interact with people with ease, making them feel comfortable in stressful situations. You should be able to react calmly and effectively in emergency situations.
  • Detail-oriented: You'll be responsible for accurately recording information about patients. Mistakes can have serious consequences for their health and safety.
  • Customer service skills: You must make patients feel welcome and valued, and you must treat them with kindness and compassion.
  • Communication skills: Excellent listening and verbal communication skills allow you to share information with patients, physicians, and coworkers.
  • Multitasking skills: You might have to address several responsibilities almost simultaneously in a fast-paced environment.
  • Computer skills: This occupation requires proficiency with Microsoft Word, email, scanners, and other computer functions.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates job growth for medical assistants of about 19% through 2029, which is significantly above average for all occupations. The BLS attributes this to an aging Baby Boomer population requiring more in the way of medical care.

Work Environment

Doctors employ most medical assistants, but some work in hospitals or in the offices of other healthcare professionals. The majority of medical assistants—about 57%, according to the BLS—work in physicians' offices. Others work in hospitals and care centers.

This occupation can require a great deal of patient contact, and many of those patients will be ill or in pain and not on their best behavior. Medical assistants are likely to be on their feet a lot. This isn't a desk job, although they spend some time at a desk as well.

Work Schedule

Jobs are usually full time and schedules can sometimes include weekends and evenings if facilities are open during these hours.

Comparing Similar Jobs

Some similar jobs and their median annual pay include: