Are you looking for a meaningful job?  Do you have an interest in health and medicine?  Are you a people person?  Medical assistants fill an important role in helping to provide high quality health care for those seeking medical attention. They are often the first person the patient interacts with, completing administrative and clinical tasks in the offices of physicians, podiatrists, chiropractors, and other health practitioners.  The duties of a medical assistant will vary depending upon the location, specialty and size of the practice.

Career Overview

As a medical assistant in Florida, you have the opportunity to gain employment in different environments such as physician’s offices or hospitals.  Medical assistants generally work a 40-hour week, which may include weekends and/or evening hours.  Depending on how much you study and where you work, your duties as a medical assistant can vary.  In larger institutions, such as hospitals, medical assistants may specialize as just administrative or just clinical, and within the clinical area, further specialization may be possible.

Medical assistants typically handle the following clinical and clerical duties on a day-to-day basis:

  • Interview patients to obtain patient history and measure vital signs
  • Record all information in a patient file
  • Prepare rooms for patient examinations
  • Help the physician with patient examinations and treatment, handing them instruments or materials
  • Prepare and administer medication and injections as directed by the physician
  • Explain treatment procedures, medications, diets, or other physician instructions
  • Schedule patient appointments
  • Collect blood, tissue, or other laboratory specimens, and prepare them for laboratory tests

Depending on what type of institution you choose to work for in Florida, and if you decide to earn extra certifications, your work may also include taking x-rays, doing ultrasounds, or drawing blood for lab tests.

The shift to electronic health records (EHRs) is changing the job of the medical assistants.  As more and more physicians adopt EHRs, and move all their patient information online, medical assistants’ job responsibilities will continue to change. Assistants will need to become familiar with EHR computer software, including maintaining EHR security and analyzing electronic data, to improve healthcare information.

An individual seeking a career as a medical assistant should have exceptional communication skills.  They must be able to give their full attention to their patient in order to obtain all the pertinent information and speak in a way that can be easily understood by the majority.  It is also important for someone choosing this career field to be compassionate and discrete.  Medical assistants take and record patients’ personal information. They must be able to keep that information confidential and discuss it only with other medical personnel who are involved in treating the patient.

Medical Assistant Training

Completing a formal training program is preferred by most employers; however medical assistants can be trained on the job as well. Those seeking formal training will find programs offered at technology schools or community colleges.  A technology (or vocational school) program typically takes one year or less to complete.  For instance the American Institute of Health Careers program can be completed in 9 months and the Florida Career College program can be completed in 12 months.  Earning an associate’s degree from a community college will typically take 2 years to complete. Brown-Mackie College offers a two-year associates degree program and Southwest Florida College’s associates degree takes a year and a half to complete.

The benefit to completing a longer program is that they are more likely to include an externship component where you will be able to put your skills to the test in the real world while still learning.  Longer programs also allow you to go in depth into each topic and gain more experience and practice in each skill learned.  Students enrolled in any of these programs will take courses in anatomy, physiology, medical terminology, clinical procedures, pharmacology, insurance billing and coding, basic lab procedures, phlebotomy and medical office management.Taking a longer program will of course cost more.  The diploma program at Florida Career College requires 48 credits at a cost of about $13,000.  An associate’s degree consists of 90 credits and costs approximately $23,000.  Financial aid, book and materials costs and any previous credit you may want to transfer to the program may affect the price and length of the program you choose.

Before you Apply to a Medical Assistant Program

Make sure before you start anything else, that you have your high school diploma or GED.  After that, brush up on your interview skills and test skills.  Most schools will look for your probability of success during the interviews, and will ask about your support system and commitment to the program.  Schools that require entrance exams will be looking for your English proficiency or to make sure you are ready for college level coursework, mostly testing you in basic English and Math skills.

Medical Assistant Certification

Certification to become a medical assistant was voluntary.  An assistant can become certified through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) or become a registered medical assistant through the American Medical Technologists.  While not required by the state, obtaining certification will provide you with the opportunity to apply for more jobs since many employers prefer and require it.  Most vocational programs offered in Florida will prepare you to be eligible to take the certifications, but the AAMA requires that the school you attend be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health, as are Keiser and Everest Universities, or by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education, which has approved Southwest Florida College.

After completing an accredited course you can apply for certification.  The initial certification fee is $125.  Recertification costs $125 for AAMA members and $250 for non-members.  To keep their certification in good standing, medical assistants must get recertified every 5 years by taking either the original exam again, or through continuing education courses.

Having a CPR certification, or a Basic Life Support certification is not always required, but depending on where you work, an employer can ask for you to have it or get it as soon as you are hired. Both certifications are offered through the American Heart Association, and usually are only a commitment of a single day.

Salary Information

According to Salary.com, the median national annual salary for Medical Assistants is $31,603, or $15 per hour.  The median annual salaries for select major cities in Florida fall right around the national average as shown below.

Jacksonville $30,149
Miami $31,003
Orlando $29,043
Tampa/St. Petersburg $29,707
Tallahassee $28,885

Career Outlook

Medical assisting is one of the nation’s fastest growing careers.  According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics employment of medical assistants is expected to grow by 31% from 2010 to 2020 – must faster than the average for all occupations.  The aging baby boomer population will spur demand for preventive medical services, which are often provided by physicians.  As their practices expand in order to accommodate more patients, physicians will hire more assistants to perform routine administrative and clinical duties.  Medical assistants will be used in place of more expensive workers, such as nurses, to reduce costs.  Additionally, an increasing number of group practices, clinics, and other healthcare facilities need support workers, particularly medical assistants, to handle administrative and clinical duties.

Although the medical assisting profession is growing and is a very lucrative and productive career, there are opportunities to advance beyond this career.  Working as a medical assistant is a great way to learn valuable skills that will help you in future jobs.  With added training and experience you can advance to unit clerk, medical secretary, a supervisory role, instructor or even become a registered nurse.

Ready to move forward towards a career in medical assisting?  Review our list of Medical Assistant training programs in Florida.  To find a school near you, enter the name of your city in the search box at the top of the page.

 

For more information about becoming a medical assistant, including information on certification and job opportunities, you can visit these other sites not listed within the article

National Center for Competency Testing

National Healthcareer Association

Institute for Credentialing Excellence

American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants

Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology

AMT Career Connection