What Does a Medical Assistant Do? (With Salary and Duties)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 8, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

In medical practices and clinics, a variety of staff work together to ensure that operations run smoothly and patients get the necessary treatment and care. A medical assistant plays an important role in the team. If you are researching jobs in healthcare or in office administration, you may have come across this title. In this article, we discuss the day-to-day duties of a medical assistant in Canada, learn what the average salary is and find out what skills and education you need to become a medical assistant.

What does a medical assistant do?

Whether you are considering becoming a medical assistant, or are just researching different career options in the healthcare industry, you may be wondering, "What does a medical assistant do?". A medical assistant works in a medical setting like a physician's office and performs mainly administrative tasks that require some knowledge of medical terminology and processes. Their duties could include setting and confirming appointments, inputting data into health records, formatting medical reports and helping patients fill out medical history forms. Depending on the size of the practice, the scope of a medical assistant's role can vary.

In a small practice, they may be responsible for a wide range of office duties, such as answering phones, greeting patients, ordering supplies and records management. Larger practices typically employ office staff such as receptionists and administrative assistants who take on the bulk of general office duties, meaning that the medical assistant may focus primarily on more specialized tasks, like updating health records, interacting with patients and performing some simple clinical procedures.

What clinical duties can a medical assistant perform?

A medical assistant can do some basic clinical duties like taking weight and height measurements for patients, recording basic vital signs like temperature and blood pressure, and disinfecting instruments and exam rooms. They may coordinate specialist consultations and lab tests. Medical assistants do not draw blood from patients, perform lab tests or operate medical diagnostic equipment like ultrasounds or EKG machines.

It is important to note that in Canada, the title "medical assistant" generally refers to a role that primarily focuses on clerical and office duties. In other localities, the term "medical assistant" can refer to a role that involves more clinical responsibilities. A medical assistant differs from a physician's assistant, who is a regulated professional who works alongside a physician or medical team and plays a more active role in patient care efforts.

Related: How to Become a Physician's Assistant

What is the average salary for a medical assistant?

The average base salary for a medical assistant is $48,115 per year. Typically, a medical assistant works a full-time workweek of around 35-40 hours, but part-time positions are also available. Depending on the organization, the compensation package for a medical assistant position may include extended health or dental benefits.

Where does a medical assistant work?

A medical assistant may work in a physician's office, a speciality clinic, a hospital or other medical setting. The medical assistant may work in both the office or reception area and the clinical area. Because a medical assistant's role can involve patient interactions and room preparation duties, their job is typically more active than that of a general office or administrative assistant. Some medical assistants may specialize in records management or transcription and therefore spend most of their time at a desk.

Education requirements for medical assistants

Education requirements for a medical assistant vary, as the profession is varying and knowledge requirements can differ widely from job to job. Many Canadian private career colleges offer training programs for medical assistants. There are also several courses and certificate programs offered by public colleges that are relevant for medical assistants, such as medical transcription, medical terminology and health record management.

Important skills for a medical assistant

The most important skills for a medical assistant tend to be people-centric since medical assistants spend a significant amount of time interacting with patients. Administrative skills are important as well. Here are some of the skills that can help you succeed as a medical assistant:

Interpersonal skills

A medical assistant typically works directly with patients in a medical practice or clinical setting. It is important for a medical assistant to possess interpersonal skills like empathy, friendliness and the ability to build a rapport. Having strong interpersonal skills can help you avoid and manage potential conflicts. Patients can sometimes feel anxious or nervous about attending a medical appointment, and it is often part of a medical assistant's role to help them feel more at ease. Effective interpersonal skills can make a big difference in a medical assistant's ability to make a patient feel comfortable, improving their overall experience.

Medical assistants also work closely with medical professionals and office support employees. Interpersonal skills can help with the building of positive working relationships, which can contribute to productivity and ensure a pleasant working environment. Teamwork, adaptability, and a positive attitude are the essential interpersonal skills that play a role in positive workplace interactions.

Related: Interpersonal Skills: Definitions and Examples

Communication skills

Communication skills are important when interacting with patients and colleagues, and also for record-keeping and correspondence. Strong verbal communication and active listening skills, like interpersonal skills, are helpful for building relationships. This also helps reduce the potential for conflict and also is key to accurately transferring information.

Medical assistants may take information from patients either in-person or over the phone and relay it to the physician or other attending medical professional, either verbally or in writing. They also may also arrange outside consultations, appointments or clinical tests. Strong listening skills are essential to ensure proper understanding of instructions, and effective verbal and written communication skills can be key to correct and effective information transfer.

Related: How to Improve Communication Skills

Knowledge of medical terminology

Because medical assistants are often responsible for updating patient files, inputting diagnosis data into patient records and proofreading charts and reports, a knowledge of medical terminology is useful. Having a basic understanding of the terms in use prevents mistakes in transcription. For some medical assistant jobs, employers require proof of completion of a course in medical terminology.

Time management skills

Medical practices tend to be busy environments, and medical assistants carry out multiple duties throughout the day. Time management skills are important for managing patients and workflow. The ability to multi-task can be helpful, as medical assistants may have to balance reception duties like answering the phone and greeting patients with their general office or clinical responsibilities.

Related: Why Is Time Management Important? And How to Manage Your Time

Computer skills

Basic computer skills are generally a requirement for a medical assistant. Knowledge of word processing programs and electronic filing systems, along with typing skills, tends to be essential. In some roles, a medical assistant may also need to learn to use specific programs like scheduling software. If you are keen on becoming a medical assistant but don't possess adequate experience with computers, you could consider taking an introductory computer course or otherwise familiarizing yourself with common software.

Problem-solving ability

In a fast-paced medical practice, the ability to assess and resolve problems that arise over the course of the day is essential. Unexpected challenges may arise at any time, can be practical, and common, like rearranging an exam room to accommodate a patient with a mobility issue, or more complex, like shuffling appointment times to accommodate a sudden delay. A medical assistant may need to think quickly and look for creative solutions to help keep their office running smoothly.

Related: 25 Top Healthcare Jobs in Canada

Organizational skills

Organizational skills are very important when working as a medical assistant. Because they are responsible for a range of different job duties, medical assistants often find themselves multitasking. An effective medical assistant has the ability to prioritize effectively and keep track of deadlines efficiently. Many aspects of a medical assistant's job involve organizational skills. For example, scheduling appointments, maintaining records, and keeping track of patient files all require strong organizational skills.

Career path for medical assistants

The career path to becoming a medical assistant could begin in several phases of your career. If you are just starting out or changing careers, you might begin by enrolling in a medical assistant program. Alternatively, if you work in a somewhat similar role, like office administration, you may be able to transfer your existing skill set to a role as a medical assistant through on-the-job training or by taking one or more courses. If you already have some knowledge or experience in healthcare, you may be able to gain the required administrative and computer skills through professional development courses.

A role as a medical assistant is also helpful in advancing a career in the healthcare field. After becoming familiar with working in a medical environment, you may decide to return to school or obtain certification to work in a more clinically focused role, such as a technician or healthcare professional. Alternatively, with experience, you can transition into an office management role eventually.

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