According to a recent report from the Brookings Institution, the healthcare industry has added 2.6 million jobs to the economy, making it the fastest-growing sector in the U.S. Due to an increased demand for skilled healthcare support workers, medical assistants in larger medical practices, hospitals, and ambulatory care centres are honing their skills.
Specifically, the role of a clinical medical assistant is to provide both administrative and clinical services; however, when practices and medical centres are of a certain size, it may become necessary for medical assistants to focus their skills on a specific area, such as clinical support.
When providing direct patient care, clinical medical assistants may handle tasks such as taking vital signs and recording symptoms, performing EKGs and phlebotomy procedures, preparing patients for examinations, transporting patients to x-ray or other tests, drawing blood samples in sterile conditions, administering medications, and supporting physicians during examinations.
While clinical medical assistants are not degreed health care professionals, they help support the healthcare team by being well-organized and able to perform various tasks for patients efficiently. Medical assistants may find employment in multiple settings such as doctors’ offices, clinics, emergency rooms, surgery centres, and private and public hospitals.
Who is a Clinical Medical Assistant?
A clinical medical assistant’s primary focus is to support patient care, from assisting physicians performing medical examinations to collecting specimens for the lab. Although the job duties of a clinical medical assistant are broad, the scope of a clinical medical assistant’s job is always on the medical aspects of the practice rather than administrative tasks.
Depending on the type of physician they work for and the legal boundaries of the profession in the state, clinical medical assistants’ work may differ somewhat. However, what remains constant is that these medical support professionals, who are not licensed in most states, always work under the direct supervision of a physician, a physician’s assistant or, at times, a registered nurse.
Clinical Medical Assistant Specializations
The duties of clinical medical assistants are often extensive and varied. Their responsibilities may be further specialized, particularly when employed by specific healthcare providers. For example:
- Podiatry medical assistants must possess specific knowledge of caring for the feet, which may be post-surgical care or wound care.
- Cardiology medical assistants must be knowledgeable of the cardiovascular system and conduct stress tests and EKG tests.
- Ophthalmology medical assistants must perform diagnostic testing of the eyes or assist the physician in eye treatments.
- Chiropractic medical assistants must have a solid understanding of this holistic approach to medical treatment and must know about the therapies used to treat patients in chiropractic care, such as body manipulation, massage, and hot and cold therapy.
- Obstetrics/gynaecology medical assistants may assist the physician with everything from pap testing to breast exams and minor gynaecological surgeries. They may need to prepare women for their exams and educate them on birth control, postpartum care, and breast exams.
The Job Duties of Clinical Medical Assistants
Although job duties performed by clinical medical assistants often vary according to the setting in which they work or the physician or group practice’s speciality, these healthcare support professionals often perform the following tasks:
- Administer medications as directed by the physician
- Assisting the physician during the examination
- Authorize prescription refills
- Change dressings, sutures
- Collect and prepare laboratory specimens
- Draw blood
- Educate patients on medications, special diets, and other physician-ordered instructions
- Explain treatment procedures to patients
- Perform basic laboratory tests
- Prepare patients for examination
- Record vital signs
- Sterilize medical instruments
- Take patient information and medical histories
What Will a Clinical Medical Assistant Do In Different Settings?
In many ways, the job duties of a clinical medical assistant are similar to those of an administrative assistant. However, unlike administrative assistants who work in business offices and other nonclinical environments, clinical medical assistants perform the bulk of their work in healthcare settings— practices, hospitals, clinics. The duties of a clinical medical assistant are varied and may change depending on the office’s needs.
However, some duties are typical to most clinical medical assistant career fields.
Patient service – Clinical medical assistants provide patients with information about the practice or organization and perform various tasks such as scheduling appointments, answering telephones, demonstrating how to use equipment, preparing examination rooms, and focusing on patient comfort. Clinical medical assistants also monitor patient response to treatment and report any unusual conditions to the physician.
Some clinical medical assistants specialize in a specific service area such as laboratory, radiology, or respiratory therapy and may perform many of the same duties for their patients but with a more specialized focus. For example, clinical medical assistants who work in a hospital lab are often responsible for phlebotomy (blood collection) and are trained to draw blood for routine patient tests. In radiology, clinical medical assistants may help position patients for x-ray or ultrasound procedures.
Clinical medical assistants in home health agencies support the work of physicians by performing many of the same duties as those described above but under the direction of a home healthcare provider.
Clinical medical assistants may also specialize in a specific type of patient service. Clinical medical assistants who work with anesthesiologists, for example, may act as their eyes and ears during a surgical procedure. Anesthesiology clinical medical assistants monitor patients before surgery to ensure that they remain safe during and after surgery.
Administrative tasks – In addition to their clinical duties, most clinical medical assistants have administrative responsibilities in a clinic or practice. These responsibilities may include scheduling appointments with patients, tracking insurance information, preparing treatment reports, including patient assessments and patient education materials, and following all office protocols.
In larger organizations such as hospitals, clinics, or home health agencies, a clinical medical assistant may find that she has several administrative duties. In many facilities, depending on the size of the practice, clinical medical assistants are responsible for maintaining patient records and databases.
Clinical medical assistants also collect specimens for tests and keep laboratory equipment functioning correctly. They must carry out sterilization procedures in a safe and timely manner. In addition to these duties, clinical medical assistants may be asked to collect specimens for tests, maintain laboratory equipment, prepare treatment reports, and sterilize equipment.
Qualities of Exceptional Clinical Medical Assistants
In addition to possessing the clinical skills necessary to perform their jobs, clinical medical assistants must also possess specific qualities to perform their job at the highest level. They must be good listeners, and they must communicate well with the patients they interact with daily.
These medical support professionals must also be patient with individuals who may be tired, ill, frustrated, or anxious and compassionate with those suffering from diseases and other maladies.
Multi-tasking is essential, particularly in busy clinical settings, as is the ability to remain professional and on-task. A well-organized and focused clinical medical assistant is vital to ensuring that a clinical practice runs smoothly.
How to Become a Clinical Medical Assistant: Education and Certification
A formal medical assisting program is the first step to becoming a well-qualified and competent clinical medical assistant. Although there are general medical assistant programs at the diploma, certificate, or associate degree levels, several vocational schools, community colleges, and traditional colleges and universities offer clinical medical assisting programs that focus solely on the clinical nature of the profession.
As such, coursework in these types of medical assisting programs is focused on:
- Healthcare facilities
- Medical terminology
- Anatomy and physiology of the body systems
- Care and safety of patients
- Medical and legal aspects
- Work ethics
- Effective verbal and non-verbal communication
- Interpersonal skills and human behaviour
- Confidentiality and HIPAA
- Vital signs and documentation
- Phlebotomy, including venipuncture and capillary sampling
- EKG function and EKG strip analysis
- Preparing and assisting with medical examinations
- Preparing patients for x-rays
- Performing peripheral IVs
- Administering medications
- Aseptic techniques and infection prevention
- Assisting minor surgeries
- Proper use and disposal of biohazards
Professional certification in medical assisting is commonplace, with many employers and physicians now demanding well-credentialed job candidates. Two of the most recognized certifications for medical assistants are the Certified Medical Assistant (AMA) through the American Association of Medical Assistants and the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) through the American Medical Technologists.
However, clinical medical assistants often pursue the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) credential through the National Healthcareer Association. Earning the CCMA credential may allow clinical medical assistants to enjoy more job opportunities and increased salaries.