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What is a Medical Administrative Assistant?

Medical administrative assistant jobs are supportive healthcare positions. Medical professionals rely on medical administrative assistants for specialized secretarial tasks.

Sometimes called unit secretaries, patient coordinators, clinic coordinators, or administration coordinators, medical administrative assistants balance organizational and interpersonal skills to connect patients with physicians and other medical professionals.

What Does a Medical Administrative Assistant Do?

Medical administrative assistants are often the first people patients see when they walk into a physician’s office, clinic, or hospital. These caring professionals have varying roles depending on where they work, but in general, they must:

  • check-in patients
  • answer phones
  • schedule appointments
  • interview patients for medical histories
  • process insurance payments
  • submit billing
  • transfer lab results
  • manage patient files
  • maintain front desk or front office appearance
  • write up reports and correspondence for physicians or hospital administration

In hospital settings, extra interpersonal skills are a requirement for medical administrative assistants. Since the administrative assistant is often the first person an incoming patient sees, the person in this role needs the ability to stay calm, even in emergency situations.

Mothers in labor, trauma victims, and parents with very sick children may be panicking. The medical administrative assistant needs to be able to steady them while they collect the necessary information.

Most incoming patients aren’t dealing with an emergency in a private practice or clinic, but in those locations, medical administrative assistants may have more responsibilities than they would in a hospital.

There, they may have to handle medical billing, and knowing billing codes may be vital. They may also need to be better multi-taskers. A patient might walk in at the same time the doctor asks for something. Simultaneously, the phone might ring, and it’s up to the medical administrative assistant not to get overwhelmed.

Where Do Medical Administrative Assistants Work?

People with medical administrative assistant jobs work in various environments. Hospitals are one of the most common places for medical administrative assistants to work. Since hospitals are open 24/7, those with administrative assistant jobs there will typically work twelve-hour shifts and may work overnight and on weekends.

For some, this is a major plus, and it often comes with significant overtime pay. For others, working the standard hours of a clinic or private practice is a better fit.

Medical administrative assistants can also find jobs in nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and hospices.

What Degree is Required to be a Medical Administrative Assistant?

Medical administrative assistant jobs don’t require a college degree. However, most will require a high school diploma or GED.

On top of that, administrative assistants need to have good customer service skills. A knowledge of medical terms is also helpful. Medical administrative assistants may be able to learn these terms on the job, but many pursue an associate’s degree or certificate program to help.

Beyond that, medical administrative assistants need computer literacy, close attention to detail, and the ability to multitask. In some positions, they may also need knowledge of medical billing codes.

How Much Money Do Medical Administrative Assistants Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical administrative assistants can expect to make approximately $35,850 per year or about $17.25 per hour. However, actual pay will vary significantly based on where they choose to work.

A specialized private practice or hospital role may pay more than certain clinics. Pay will also vary based on geographical location.

Nursing home and hospice care positions may not pay significantly more, but the need for medical administrative assistants is growing in this area. As the U.S. population ages, nursing home and hospice positions will continue to rise. The BLS predicts an 18% growth for medical administrative assistant jobs between 2020 and 2030.

Medical Administrative Assistant Job Requirements

Most employers require medical administrative assistants to pass a certification exam called the CMAA exam. CMAA simply stands for Certified Medical Administrative Assistant. The exam is available through the National Healthcareer Association (NHA).

Before taking the exam, the NHA requires test-takers to possess a high school diploma and complete an accredited training program. Alternatively, test-takers can attain one year of supervised experience in a medical assistant role before taking the exam.

Most community colleges and several online schools offer accredited training programs for medical administrative assistant jobs. Usually, these programs take about nine months to complete.

Some colleges and online schools offer associate’s degrees for medical administrative assistants. These programs are longer, however, usually fifteen months or more.

To advance further in the field, it might be a good idea to seek out a medical administrative assistant training program that includes coursework on medical coding and billing. Medical billing codes can be complicated, but experience in the area makes medical assistants more versatile to future employers. This means there’s more room to advance.

Once the training program or equivalent supervised experience is complete, potential medical administrative assistants can sit for the CMAA exam either at their school, in a testing center, or in a remote location with a live proctor.

After passing the exam, medical administrative assistants will need to renew their certification every two years. Renewal requires a very small fee and ten continuing education credits.

Medical Administrative Assistant Career Paths

Medical administrative assistants can advance their careers by moving into a medical office manager position. Office managers supervise administrative staff, oversee financial operations, and implement office procedures.

Medical office managers will need a bachelor’s degree in some hospitals and private practices, but experience as a medical administrative assistant will help streamline the process.

Medical administrative assistants can also become instructors at accredited training programs. There, they can teach others how to do the job.

They may also choose to specialize or pursue further education in medical billing codes. Working in specific fields like pediatrics or dermatology often requires specialized knowledge but also comes with a higher salary.

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