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Medical Support Assistants
Significant Points
  • Employment is projected to grow much faster than average, ranking medical assistants among the fastest growing occupations over the 2008–18 decade.
  • Job prospects should be excellent.
  • About 62 percent of medical assistants work in offices of physicians.
  • Some medical assistants are trained on the job, but many complete 1-year or 2-year programs.
Nature of the Work

Medical assistants perform administrative and clinical tasks to keep the offices of physicians, podiatrists, chiropractors, and other health practitioners running smoothly. The duties of medical assistants vary from office to office, depending on the location and size of the practice and the practitioner's specialty. In small practices, medical assistants usually do many different kinds of tasks, handling both administrative and clinical duties and reporting directly to an office manager, physician, or other health practitioner. Those in large practices tend to specialize in a particular area, under the supervision of department administrators. Medical assistants should not be confused with physician assistants, who examine, diagnose, and treat patients under the direct supervision of a physician.

Administrative medical assistants update and file patients' medical records, fill out insurance forms, and arrange for hospital admissions and laboratory services. They also perform tasks less specific to medical settings, such as answering telephones, greeting patients, handling correspondence, scheduling appointments, and handling billing and bookkeeping.

Clinical medical assistants have various duties, depending on State law. Some common tasks include taking medical histories and recording vital signs, explaining treatment procedures to patients, preparing patients for examinations, and assisting physicians during examinations. Medical assistants collect and prepare laboratory specimens and sometimes perform basic laboratory tests, dispose of contaminated supplies, and sterilize medical instruments. As directed by a physician, they might instruct patients about medications and special diets, prepare and administer medications, authorize drug refills, telephone prescriptions to a pharmacy, draw blood, prepare patients for x rays, take electrocardiograms, remove sutures, and change dressings. Medical assistants also may arrange examining room instruments and equipment, purchase and maintain supplies and equipment, and keep waiting and examining rooms neat and clean.

Ophthalmic medical assistants, optometric assistants, and podiatric medical assistants are examples of specialized assistants who have additional duties. Ophthalmic medical assistants help ophthalmologists provide eye care. They conduct diagnostic tests, measure and record vision, and test eye muscle function. They apply eye dressings and also show patients how to insert, remove, and care for contact lenses. Under the direction of the physician, ophthalmic medical assistants may administer eye medications. They also maintain optical and surgical instruments and may assist the ophthalmologist in surgery. Optometric assistants also help provide eye care, working with optometrists. They provide chair-side assistance, instruct patients about contact lens use and care, conduct preliminary tests on patients, and otherwise provide assistance while working directly with an optometrist. Podiatric medical assistants make castings of feet, expose and develop x rays, and assist podiatrists in surgery.

Work environment. Medical assistants work in well-lighted, clean environments. They constantly interact with other people and may have to handle several responsibilities at once. Most full-time medical assistants work a regular 40-hour week. However, medical assistants may work part time, evenings, or weekends.

Medical Support Assistant, GS-0679-05

You need to have:

Knowledge of, and skill in applying, general rules and regulations of the medical facility, its personnel, and its functions, and automated data processing methods sufficient to:

  • provide general information to new employees regarding equipment/supplies and techniques involved in the treatment of patients;
  • using the available computer data system, schedule patients for treatment;
  • process patient demographic data into the automated or manual system, and identify and correct patient data errors;
  • provide patients with required paperwork for treatment;
  • review all paperwork to ensure accuracy of information; and
  • annotate patient records and maintain a variety of information files.
  • Medical Support Assistant, GS-0679-06

    You need to have:

    Knowledge of, and skill in applying, general rules and regulations of the medical facility, its personnel, and its functions, and automated data processing methods sufficient to:

  • Serves as receptionist for the unit.
  • Performs routine front desk duties that include reviewing patient records for necessary forms, preparing appropriate forms for laboratory, x-ray, and EKG studies. Sets up next day schedules for providers. Performs end-of-day processing, and requests and retrieves necessary x-rays and medical records for physician appointments.
  • Registers emergency patients, assembles patient charts, and reviews and selects medical information for a variety of purposes. Enters specific lab and radiological orders in the automated patient care system and completes a computerized medical record at the time of discharge.
  • give instructions to patients and arrange appointments;
  • schedule in-patient appointments and consultations with various clinics and services throughout the medical facility;
  • record in patient records a variety of physicians’ orders involving patient activities, diets, tests, and medications; and
  • record telephone messages pertaining to detailed laboratory reports, x-rays, and test results, and refer urgent ones to appropriate professional staff for immediate action.
  • Receives telephone calls and visitors to the unit. Makes and cancels appointments, and obtains all medical records, x-rays, and laboratory results prior to patient’s arrival.
  • Maintains office files on all laboratory reports and searches for and withdraws lab reports, medical data, and other clerical information upon request. Distributes lab reports according to prescribed format. Keeps records of all tests referred to other laboratories.
  • Obtains data from various forms and enters data into an automated data system to effect the admission and disposition of patients to and from the medical clinic. Meets and greets all inpatients being admitted, and verifies eligibility for care.
  • Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

    Some medical assistants are trained on the job, but many complete 1- or 2-year programs. Almost all medical assistants have at least a high school diploma, although there are no formal education or training requirements.

    Education and training. Medical assisting programs are offered in vocational-technical high schools, postsecondary vocational schools, and community and junior colleges. Postsecondary programs usually last either 1 year and result in a certificate or diploma, or 2 years and result in an associate degree. Courses cover anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology, as well as keyboarding, transcription, recordkeeping, accounting, and insurance processing. Students learn laboratory techniques, clinical and diagnostic procedures, pharmaceutical principles, the administration of medications, and first aid. They study office practices, patient relations, medical law, and ethics. There are two accrediting bodies that accredit medical assisting programs. Accredited programs often include an internship that provides practical experience in physicians' offices or other healthcare facilities.

    Formal training in medical assisting, while generally preferred, is not required. Many medical assistants are trained on the job, and usually only need to have a high school diploma or the equivalent. Recommended high school courses include mathematics, health, biology, keyboarding, bookkeeping, computers, and office skills. Volunteer experience in the healthcare field also is helpful. Medical assistants who are trained on the job usually spend their first few months attending training sessions and working closely with more experienced workers.

    Some States allow medical assistants to perform more advanced procedures, such as giving injections or taking x rays, after passing a test or taking a course.

    Other qualifications. Medical assistants deal with the public; therefore, they must be neat and well groomed and have a courteous, pleasant manner and they must be able to put patients at ease and explain physicians' instructions. They must respect the confidential nature of medical information. Clinical duties require a reasonable level of manual dexterity and visual acuity.

    Certification and advancement. Although not required, certification indicates that a medical assistant meets certain standards of knowledge. It may also help to distinguish an experienced or formally trained assistant from an entry-level assistant, which may lead to a higher salary or more employment opportunities. There are various associations—such as the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and Association of Medical Technologists (AMT)—that award certification credentials to medical assistants. The certification process varies by association. It is also possible to become certified in a specialty, such as podiatry, optometry, or ophthalmology.

    Medical assistants may also advance to other occupations through experience or additional training. For example, some may go on to teach medical assisting, and others pursue additional education to become nurses or other healthcare workers. Administrative medical assistants may advance to office managers, or qualify for a variety of administrative support occupations.

    Job Outlook

    Employment is projected to grow much faster than average, ranking medical assistants among the fastest growing occupations over the 2008–18 decade. Job opportunities should be excellent, particularly for those with formal training or experience, and certification.

    Employment change. Employment of medical assistants is expected to grow 34 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. As the healthcare industry expands because of technological advances in medicine and the growth and aging of the population, there will be an increased need for all healthcare workers. The increasing prevalence of certain conditions, such as obesity and diabetes, also will increase demand for healthcare services and medical assistants. Increasing use of medical assistants to allow doctors to care for more patients will further stimulate job growth.

    Helping to drive job growth is the increasing number of group practices, clinics, and other healthcare facilities that need a high proportion of support personnel, particularly medical assistants who can handle both administrative and clinical duties. In addition, medical assistants work mostly in primary care, a consistently growing sector of the healthcare industry.

    Job prospects. Jobseekers who want to work as a medical assistant should find excellent job prospects. Medical assistants are projected to account for a very large number of new jobs, and many other opportunities will come from the need to replace workers leaving the occupation. Medical assistants with formal training or experience—particularly those with certification—should have the best job opportunities, since employers generally prefer to hire these workers.


    The earnings of medical assistants vary, depending on their experience, skill level, and location. Median annual wages of wage-and-salary medical assistants were $28,300 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $23,700 and $33,050. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,600, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $39,570. Median annual wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of medical assistants in May 2008 were:

    General medical and surgical hospitals $29,720
    Colleges, universities, and professional schools 28,820
    Offices of physicians 28,710
    Outpatient care centers 28,570
    Offices of other health practitioners 25,240

    Sources of Additional Information

    Information about career opportunities and certification for medical assistants is available from:

    • American Association of Medical Assistants, 20 North Wacker Dr., Suite 1575, Chicago, IL 60606. Internet:
    • American Medical Technologists, 10700 West Higgins Rd., Suite 150, Rosemont, IL 60018. Internet:
    • National Healthcareer Association, 7 Ridgedale Ave., Suite 203, Cedar Knolls, NJ 07927. Internet:

    For lists of accredited educational programs in medical assisting, contact:

    • Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools, 7777 Leesburg Pike, Suite 314 N, Falls Church, VA 22043. Internet:
    • Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, 1361 Park St., Clearwater, FL 33756. Internet:

    Information about career opportunities, training programs, and certification for ophthalmic medical personnel is available from:

    • Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology, 2025 Woodlane Dr., St. Paul, MN 55125. Internet:

    Information about career opportunities, training programs, and certification for optometric assistants is available from:

    • American Optometric Association, 243 N. Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63141. Internet:

    Information about certification for podiatric assistants is available from:

    • American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants, 2l24 South Austin Blvd., Cicero, IL 60804. Internet:

    Information on obtaining Medical Support Assistant positions with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government's official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724–1850 or  (703) 724–1850  or TDD (978) 461–8404 and   (978) 461–8404. These numbers are not toll free, and charges may result. For advice on how to find and apply for Federal jobs, download the Insider's Guide to the Federal Hiring Process” online here.


    • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition; and
    • Office of Personnel Management, Position Classification Standards.

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