How to Become a Medical Administrative Assistant

    October 7, 2020
    Receptionist at a hospital answering the phone

    If you have excellent people and communication skills, are organized, and are interested in improving the healthcare experience for both patients and practitioners, a career as a Medical Administrative Assistant might be right for you!

    This rewarding role offers the ability to directly interact with patients as well as medical staff. Medical Administrative Assistants are also the ones who make sure that things are running smoothly. Interested? Read on to find out more about this career and how to get started. 

    Part One What is a Medical Administrative Assistant?

    Medical Administrative Assistants, sometimes referred to as medical secretaries or medical office managers, are the professionals who handle administrative functions in a medical office. 

    Though their responsibilities may vary, they generally include essential day-to-day operational activities like:

    • Accurately maintaining and compiling the information in medical records and charts
    • Scheduling patient appointments 
    • Filing required insurance paperwork 

    Is a Medical Administrative Assistant the same as a Medical Assistant?

    The two positions share some responsibilities, but Medical Assistant training provides the ability to perform therapeutic functions including taking vital signs, giving injections or medications and helping physicians with patient examinations, while Medical Administrative Assistants will have more extensive training in compiling medical records and charts, scheduling appointments and filing insurance paperwork and billing. 

    Why Medical Administrative Assistants are a Vital Role!

    Medical Administrative Assistants play an important role in the functioning of medical offices. And even more importantly, they also provide excellent customer service that conveys both professionalism and compassion to patients. 

    Medical Administrative Assistants are frequently the very first person that a patient will encounter when they contact a medical setting. They set the tone for a patient ,and the impression that they make goes a long way towards establishing a positive relationship. 

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    Part Two What Do Medical Administrative Assistants Do? 

    Though their duties vary depending upon their job setting, they are generally responsible for:

    Customer Service

    1. Greeting and checking patients in when they arrive for their appointments
    2. Answering phones 
    3. Scheduling patient appointments 
    4. Conducting and recording vital information on the patient’s medical history and symptoms

    Administrative Duties

    1. Coordinating co-pays 
    2. Composing and responding to correspondence on behalf of the practice 
    3. Assembling medical charts and records 
    4. Entering information into the practice’s computer software regarding patient medical information, billing, insurance and diagnostic results received  

    Other Administrative Tasks

    1. Checking inventory
    2. Ordering office supplies
    3. Arranging for maintenance of the office and its equipment

    Part Three Where Do Medical Administrative Assistants Work?

    Medical Administrative Assistants can work in any healthcare setting that requires the coordination of patient medical records and care, including:

    1. Private practices for any type of physician or medical practitioner
    2. Outpatient clinics
    3. Hospitals
    4. Dental offices
    5. Research laboratories

    The needs of each of these are unique, and their differences will be reflected in the responsibilities that the Medical Administrative Assistant is assigned. 

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    Part Four Medical Administrative Assistant Salary 

    The Medical Administrative Assistant is generally the first contact that a patient will have with the medical office that employs them, and as a result, their professionalism, knowledge and skills are highly valued.  

    The BLS reports that the mean annual salary for Medical Secretaries and Administrative Assistants is $38,090, or $18.31 per hour. This will vary based on the geographic region in which the individual works, the amount of responsibility that the specific individual has, and the number of years that they have worked in the field. 

    Highest Paying States for Medical Administrative Assistants

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the five U.S. states that pay Medical Administrative Assistants the highest annual mean salaries are: 

    • District of Columbia - $46,020
    • Massachusetts - $44,180
    • California - $44,110
    • Washington - $43,290
    • Hawaii - $43,240

    Part Five How to Become a Medical Administrative Assistant

    There are two different paths to becoming a Medical Administrative Assistant:

    1. A certification or diploma program
    2. An Associate’s Degree program 

    1. Medical Administrative Assistant Certificate/Diploma Programs

    Medical Administrative Assistant certificate or diploma programs are available through vocational schools and online training programs. 

    What Will You Learn?

    They will teach you what you need to know about the management of healthcare information, medical terminology, the administrative functions involved in running a medical office and more. 

    Successfully completing one of these programs will provide you with the knowledge needed to pass a certification test. 

    How Long Does it Take to Complete?

    These programs can usually be completed in 6 to 12 months.

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    2. Medical Administrative Assistant Associates Degree Program

    The Medical Administrative Assistant Associate's Degree Program moves beyond the basic education provided by a certificate or diploma program. 

    What Will You Learn?

    Though each program is different, most Associate’s Degree programs will provide all of the knowledge required to perform the job of Medical Administrative Assistant as well as general education classes that may be applied to baccalaureate programs in the future. 

    How Long Does it Take to Complete?

    Medical Administrative Assistant Associate's degree programs usually take two years to complete.

    Which Path is Right for You?

    Factors like how quickly you want to enter the field, how much money you have available, and your local job market will all factor into choosing the right path for you. Here are some things you should consider when making this decision:

    1. As long as you have either a high school diploma or GED equivalent you will be eligible to enter either program. 
    2. Both provide the necessary qualifications and will cover similar course material, including medical office procedures, human anatomy and physiology, medical transcription and medical insurance procedures.
    3. Those with an Associate’s Degree will generally be eligible for higher salaries and for positions that carry more responsibility within the practice or facility. 
    4. In most cases, many of the general education credits earned in an Associate's degree will count towards a Baccalaureate degree if you’re planning on continuing your education. 

    Medical Administrative Assistant Test

    Whether you choose a certificate program or an Associate’s Degree program, completion of the program will prepare you to take the National Healthcare Association’s Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) test. 

    Passing this test provides employers with the confidence that you have the credentials needed to keep their offices functioning well. 

    Part Six What is the Career Outlook for Medical Administrative Assistants? 

    If you are looking for a career that promises staying power and consistent demand, you can’t get much better than choosing to be a Medical Administrative Assistant. 

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is an expectation that 80,000 new positions will open up between now and the year 2026, representing a growth of 23 percent. 

    And those who begin working as Medical Administrative Assistants often find themselves so interested in patient care and practice management that they move on to pursue careers in related fields including nursing and Healthcare Administration. 

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    Part Seven What are the Continuing Education Requirements for Medical Administrative Assistants? 

    Medical Administrative Assistants who take and pass the CMMA test are eligible for highly-respected positions within medical practices and offices. 

    Though recertification and continuing education are not required, those who earn this credential may consider expanding their capabilities and earning potential by pursuing additional education in the area of Billing and Coding or Electronic Health Records. 

    Part Eight Where Can I Learn More About Becoming a Medical Administrative Assistant? 

    There are a number of professional organizations and societies open to Medical Administrative Assistants, and their websites provide invaluable insights into the career and the opportunities available. Some of these include the American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management, the Association for Healthcare Administrative Professionals and the Healthcare Billing and Management Association.

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    Part Nine Medical Administrative Assistant FAQs

    • How much do Medical Administrative Assistants make a year?

      • The average base pay for a Medical Administrative Assistant is $44,285 per year according to Glassdoor.
    • What degree do you need to be a Medical Administrative Assistant?

      • You can pursue a career as a Medical Administrative Assistant after you have earned either your high school diploma or have successfully completed a GED equivalency program. Certification is available through vocational schools, and those who wish to earn an Associate’s Degree can do so through programs offered by community colleges. 

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