Home » How to Become a Medical Assistant » What is a Medical Assistant?


With the rapid expansion in the healthcare industry comes expanded interest in the various professions one can pursue there. Many positions may be familiar to you, such as nurse, doctor, and even hospital administrator. A medical assistant, however, is not quite as clearly defined. This page attempts to clarify what a medical assistant is.

In a nutshell, a medical assistant is a jack-of-all-trades who works in a doctor’s office or some other healthcare organization, including clinics and hospitals. The multi-faceted nature of the position leaves a lot of room for interpretation and variance. An MA in one office might have completely different duties from his cohort in the hospital down the street, yet both have the same title. This page hopes to clarify the career a bit, and also show how a career as an MA can suit a diverse group of people.

Types of Medical Assistants

The job of an MA entails two broad areas, the clinical and the administrative. Many will spend their days balancing their time between the two parts of an office. Their mornings may be spent answering phones, but later in the day they might need to assist with a surgery or take over patient intake for the other MAs.

There are also MAs that specialize in one area or the other. For instance, some might choose to pursue a license in ultrasound technology or another diagnostic tool. Others may be more drawn to the administrative side and work exclusively in billing, having mastered the insurance codes.

Clinical Medical Assistants

If you love working with patients, this is likely the path for you. Clinical MAs spend their time with patients an function in a very similar way to nurse’s assistants. They draw blood, measure blood pressure and administer EKG tests. To succeed on the clinical side, you must first overcome any misgivings you may have regarding blood or other fluids. You may also need to handle other bodily fluids and work with them in the laboratory.

Clinical MAs may also need to administer some simple treatments and be a doctor’s right-hand man during an examination.

Administrative Medical Assistants

Though they may not work in the clinic with the fluids and bodies, the MAs in the office are just as vital to patient care, as well as the overall health of the medical practice. These vital professionals see to the billing, communicate with patients on a regular basis and keep supplies stocked throughout the practice – even in the clinical areas.

Unless your skills are best utilized in the back room, perhaps doing the bookkeeping, you will likely still have lots of contact with patients. You may need to answer questions related to medications, bandages or any variety of healthcare related questions. Everyone who has contact with patients needs to have some knowledge of medicine and at least basic treatments.

Specialized Medical Assistants

If you have already completed your training to become an MA, and even passed the examination to become fully certified, you may wish to continue your education and become certified in specialty areas. Some specialty areas include:

  • Registered Medical Assistant
  • Phlebotomy Technician
  • Medical Administrative Specialist
  • Dental Assistant
  • Medical Technologist
  • Medical Laboratory Technician
  • Medical Laboratory Assistant
  • Certified Laboratory Consultant
  • Allied Health Instructor

Each of these specialties require education that is fully accredited and accepted by the American Medical Technologists (AMT) whose certified professionals are recognized nationally and internationally for excellence.

Note that there are many other specialties available to you. You might want to first pursue your general certification as a Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) and then discover what specific area of medicine you would like to specialize in later. Some choose family medicine, OB/GYN, oncology, pulmonary medicine or transplantation surgery.


Keep in mind that in order to have the best career possible, you may first need the best education available. This starts with finding an accredited MA program. When you matriculate with a degree or a certificate from a program accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) you will then qualify to sit for a certifying exam.

Note that the goal of education isn’t merely to qualify for credentials, but to attain the knowledge you need to best serve your patients and your doctor. The credentials may open a door and even help you land a job, but you will keep that job and thrive when you have the knowledge and skills to back up the letters at the end of your name. When you are able to do the best job possible, the real rewards of working in the healthcare industry will be evident.

If you are intrigued by careers in healthcare, this might be the path for you. Find the best, accredited, program for you. There are many available both at traditional campuses and online, too.