Pros and Cons of a Career as a Medical Office Assistant
If you enjoy managing administrative responsibilities and are interested in working with medical practitioners, you might consider becoming a medical office assistant. Read below to weigh the pros and cons of this career:
|Pros of a Career as a Medical Office Assistant|
|Low barrier to entry (typically a high school diploma or equivalent is sufficient)*|
|High demand (national job outlook projects an increase of 29 percent from 2012-2022)*|
|Inexpensive training (on the job/certification classes/2-year programs)*|
|Comfortable office environment*|
|Cons of a Career as a Medical Office Assistant|
|Limited advancement opportunities (become office manager or go on to teach medical assisting)*|
|Potentially demanding work schedule (possible evenings and weekends)*|
|Low-wage ceiling (a veteran medical office assistant may not make much more than $36,000)**|
|Transition to more advanced office technology may be disrupting to office assistants with low computer literacy*|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)*, Payscale.com**, American Medical Technologists***
Job Description and Duties
Medical office assistants typically work in the private practices of an array of medical practitioners, such as podiatrists, physicians and chiropractors. Typically, assistants are responsible for handling the administrative loads of the practices. Their duties may include manning telephones, welcoming patients, completing billing operations, scheduling patient visits, organizing physician correspondence and maintaining the financial books.
Job Prospects and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the national employment of medical assistants is projected to grow by 29 percent from 2012-2022, which is more than double the average rate of growth for all other occupations. As their practices expand, it is becoming more common for physicians to hire medical assistants to perform additional administrative and clinical duties. This practice allows the doctors to see more patients.
Medical office assistants, in particular, will need to adapt as physicians transition to computer-based administrative equipment, such as electronic health records (EHR) software. In September of 2015, according to Payscale.com, the annual median salary of medical office assistants was $29,936 with the majority making between $20,000 and $36,000, depending on a range of factors, such as location, level of formal education and years of experience.
Career Paths and Specializations
Medical office assistant, or administrative assistant, is one of two major specializations within the larger field of medical assistance; the other one is clinical medical assistant. Typically, a high school diploma is sufficient for entry into the field, with the majority of professional training gained on the job.
However, there are certificate and associate's degree programs that offer courses in areas such as administrative office procedures, medical coding, medical terminology and medical records. This more formal training may prepare you to perform administrative medical duties not only in physician offices, but also in hospital admissions departments, nursing facilities, billing agencies and insurance companies.
Career Skills and Requirements
Although there are no formal requirements to becoming a medical office assistant, you will need a specific set of skills in order to navigate the array of medical software, computer equipment, office protocols and patient records that are staples of most physician offices.
You'll need to rely on a number of hard and soft skills to successfully complete your professional tasks. These may include:
- The ability to memorize and apply medical codes to billing procedures
- The ability to effectively and efficiently organize tasks and the time spent on them
- The ability to evaluate patient charts and physician diagnoses in order to create accurate billing information
- The ability to interact with patients, office staff and physicians
- The ability to pay attention to detail and follow directions when filling out records
Job Postings from Real Employers
A search conducted on the job site Indeed.com as of November 2012 returned a variety of listings for medical office assistant, most of which required candidates to hold at least 2 years of professional experience in the field. In addition, nearly all postings required candidates to hold at least a high school diploma or its equivalent. Here some actual listings from that search:
- A Boston hospital looked for a senior medical administrative assistant to work in its ophthalmology department. The successful applicant would have an understanding of medical terminology and proficiency in computerized scheduling software.
- A medical office in Downers Grove, IL, advertised for an administrative assistant to work a full-time day shift under the supervision of the executive director. Some duties included scheduling appointments, locating reports and working with confidential procedural matters.
- A nonprofit healthcare organization in New York City looked for a medical office assistant to work under the direction of a clinical nurse manager and a practice manager to register patients, man telephones and schedule appointments, among other duties. The successful candidate would need to be bilingual in Spanish and English, a graduate from an administrative assistant program that is nationally accredited and to have the ability to work with a variety of people.
How to Stand Out
Certification from a professional organization such as American Medical Technologists (AMT) or American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), can be a pathway to higher pay, quicker promotion and respect from potential employers. In order to qualify for certification, organizations may require that you have graduated from an accredited medical assistant program, accumulated requisite work experience, successfully completed an exam and/or have some military experience.
Once you've passed the certifying examination, you'll be required to recertify after so many years. Recertification typically entails successfully completing a certain number of continuing education hours. Once you obtain certification, some organizations grant you membership status automatically. As a member, you may take advantage of resources such as annual conventions, professional literature and continuing education courses.
Other Careers to Consider
Perhaps you desire a career with greater earning potential than a medical office assistant. In 2011, according to the BLS, the mean annual wage of dental hygienists nationwide was about $70,000. Dental hygienists assist dentists in a range of clinical and administrative duties, such as conducting routine cleanings, administering x-rays and organizing patient treatment plans.
Unlike medical office assistants, these professionals are required to hold at least a certificate in dental hygiene. However, an associate's degree is typical. In addition, every state requires dental hygienists to obtain a license, which requires aspirants to graduate from accredited hygienist programs and pass a series of exams.
If you're interested in a career that allows you to be hands-on with the physiological aspects of healthcare, you may consider becoming a medical lab technician. These professionals analyze blood samples, collect tissue samples and log patient data. Lab technologists or managers typically supervise technicians.
Technicians are typically required to hold at least an associate's degree from a program that includes courses in physical science and clinical lab science. Some states may require technicians to be licensed, which usually also entails certification. In 2011, according to the BLS, the mean annual salary of medical lab technicians was about $39,000.