What is a Medical Assistant?

Throughout the healthcare industry, staff and providers rely on medical assistants for their versatile knowledge and skills.  Found in both inpatient and outpatient settings, medical assistants support patient care clinically and administratively.

Medical AssistantWhat is the role of a Medical Assistant?
Medical assistants are an important part of the healthcare team.  They work closely with providers to complete assigned patient care tasks, and responsibilities vary depending on organizational needs.  In smaller healthcare offices, medical assistants schedule patient appointments, coordinate referrals, obtain insurance authorizations, room patients, request medical records, and assist in recording patient information into charts.  In larger organizations, medical assistants may have a more narrow scope of responsibilities.  Specialized clinics may require that a staff member focuses on a specific skill set.

Medical assistants work in a fluid environment, and staff must quickly adapt to changing needs. Even if there are multiple medical assistants, they may have separate responsibilities. Some staff may be expected to master a complex set of circumstances—like working on a procedure team.  Other staff may be responsible for making sure that patients are promptly roomed and paperwork is completed.  All medical assistants are available to assist patients by answering questions and solving problems.

Generally, medical assistants can room patients, take vital signs, record patient history, prepare samples for the lab, and record medical information into charts.  As appropriate, medical assistants also help physicians with appointments.  These staff members are also usually responsible for communicating updates after the patient has been roomed.

What are the Washington State Requirements?
Medical assistants in Washington must be licensed through the Washington State Department of Health. To be eligible for licensure, applicants need to complete a medical assistant training program.  Candidates should have completed a program that is offered or accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP.)  Programs with local or regional accreditations can be counted as long as the accrediting organization is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.  Candidates can also be eligible if they have completed an apprenticeship program administered by the state.
Candidates who have completed an appropriate program are eligible to sit for one of four certifying exams.

  • Certified Medical Assistant Exam through the American Association of Medical Assistants
  • Registered Medical Assistant Exam through American Medical Technologists
  • Clinical Medical Assistant Exam through National Health Career Association
  • National Certified Medical Assistant Exam through the National Center for Competency Testing

Additionally, candidates must also have completed high school, have proficiency in English, and complete HIV/AIDS training. Candidates must submit all required materials for review by the Washington State Department of Health.  After review, the department will follow up with the candidate about the status of their application.


Resources
How to Become a Medical Assistant. United States Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 17 December 2015, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm.  Accessed February 27, 2017.
Medical Assistants. United States Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 17 December 2015, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm.  Accessed February 27, 2017.
Medical Assistant—Certified or Interim Certification Requirements. Washington State Department of Health, http://www.doh.wa.gov/LicensesPermitsandCertificates/ProfessionsNewReneworUpdate/MedicalAssistant/LicenseRequirements/CertifiedorInterim. Accessed February 27, 2017.