The Modern Medical Assistant: a Day in the Life

The modern role of a medical assistant is far more than a job or position; it’s a rewarding profession that covers a wide variety of disciplines. Whether in a private practice or general practitioner’s office, responsibilities will vary widely across the front office, back office, and labs.

In fact, medical assistants are often referred to as ‘generalists’ in smaller clinics because they do everything – from greeting patients and answering phones to tending to wounds and drawing blood. Let’s take a closer look at what these valued professionals do on a daily basis.

Front-Office

Medical assistants working in the front office are the first point of contact for patients in-person and on the phone, greeting patients as they come in as well as managing the office’s multi-line phone system. In both cases, it’s important that the patient is asked the relevant triage questions that will help the physician (and office at large) determine the severity of the issue and develop a plan for treatment. As the medical assistant is speaking on behalf of the practice and simultaneously tasked with comforting the patient, it’s important that they display professionalism and follow protocol in doing so.

While much of this front office role requires sensitivity and grace, it also requires  keen attention to detail.  Working with patient information is a responsibility in and of itself and follows the strict guidelines of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This is the private information of each respective patient and must be handled with care.

Back Office

The back office of healthcare settings is where most of the patient interaction occurs. Here, medical assistants take vital measurements on the patient’s health that range from pulse, respirations, blood pressure, height and weight – just to name a few. Factoring in these vitals, they will assess the patient’s primary reason for their visit and prepare a briefing for the doctor and staff. Other responsibilities can include administering vision and hearing tests, setting up and assisting in procedures, and preparing or administering medications.

Much like the patient-interaction roles of the front office, medical assistants have a great responsibility in making sure the patient is as comfortable as possible. These soft skills and beside manner are an integral piece of the patient experience.

Labs

The third primary area of expertise that medical assistants command is in the in-house lab. These tasks include preparing specimens for testing, manually testing specimens, and analyzing the results in an effort to identify the presence, or lack thereof, of specified cells and other biological matter. Similar to the front office, the lab requires some administrative work. But unlike front-office duties, this area provides an option for medical assistants that prefer not to focus on patient interaction.

Other Career Opportunities

Beyond the array of duties outlined above, medical assistants often pursue other careers and advanced education after gaining experience in health practices – going on to work in healthcare administration, health insurance, patient finance, health sciences and much more. With a job outlook reported to grow by a staggering 19% between 2019-2029 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019), modern medical assistants have an abundance of career opportunities in medical practices and beyond.

If you’re interested in a medical assisting career, check out Northwestern College’s Medical Assisting page for more information.