Clinical Medical Assistant vs. Administrative Medical Assistant: Key Differences Between Career Paths

Administrative Medical Assistant

Medical assistant is a job title that encompasses a range of tasks, determined by the type of healthcare specialty or institution in which the medical assistant works. These usually include a mix of administrative and patient care duties. However, a distinction can be made between the roles of clinical medical assistant and administrative medical assistant, and these different roles can lead to divergent career paths. At Northwestern College, students in Oak Lawn, IL, and the greater Chicago area can earn a certificate in medical assisting. Here, we discuss the differences between these two rewarding positions.

Clinical Medical Assistant Job Roles

Spending a larger percentage of work time directly helping patients, clinical medical assistants perform many general tasks, such as taking patient histories and other personal information for the electronic health record (EHR). As a member of the healthcare team, they record patients’ vital signs, such as weight and blood pressure, note current medications, and prepare them for further examination. Depending on the setting, clinical medical assistants may do the following:

  • Collect samples of urine or blood, order tests, and organize receipt of the results
  • Run routine tests, such as preliminary eye exams
  • Operate tools and machinery, sterilize equipment, or obtain radiologic scans
  • Administer medications, such as through IV lines
  • Replace wound dressings and remove stitches
  • Educate patients about their condition, use of medications, and dietary requirements
  • Assist physicians when performing in-office procedures

As clinical medical assistants explore their interests and goals, they may become interested in pursuing further educational degrees in healthcare – such as studying to become a nurse or physician. Another path they may take leads to work as a technologist, for example in radiology, cardiology, gastroenterology, or surgical settings. In addition, as clinical medical assistants gain more experience in areas of medical specialization, such as obstetrics, ophthalmology, or neurology, they can continue on-the-job training, as well as gain outside certifications, to advance their careers within a medical field.

Administrative Medical Assistant Job Roles

Paperwork and digital records are an important part of every healthcare practice. There also is a great deal of communication among physician offices, within hospital departments, and with insurance companies. From patient intake forms to billing documentation, modern medicine needs expert administrators who can confidentially document, file, track, and properly exchange information. Depending on the setting, administrative medical assistants may do the following:

  • Schedule appointments for patients
  • Apply medical codes to patient records
  • Arrange hospital admissions for patients
  • Fill out insurance forms and laboratory test paperwork
  • Process payments from insurance companies and patients
  • Update electronic health record (EHR) data

Administrative medical assistants may move into jobs in healthcare administration or within specialized fields, such as organ transplant centers or pediatric hospitals. They can develop expertise in medical records or contribute to the business side of any institution or practice. As administrative medical assistants gain work experience, they may find they have talents in human resources and management skills. Healthcare administration requires many skills, along with the underlying medical knowledge and experience gained by medical assistants.

Employer Demand for Medical Assistants

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market for medical assistants is projected to grow 18 percent between 2020 and 2030. Whether the medical assistant works in a role that is more clinical or more administrative, they need training on medical terminology, anatomy, pharmacology, and medical ethics. Graduating from a training program, such as the certification in medical assisting available at Northwestern College in Oak Lawn, IL, and the greater Chicago area, can be the first step to an exciting career. Contact Northwestern College to learn more or get started.