What Do Medical Assistants Do?

Learn about the essential day-to-day duties and responsibilities of a medical assistant:

Michelle Heller

Michelle Heller

Certified Medical Assistant | Allied Health Content Strategist, National Healthcareer Association

What are the daily responsibilities of a medical assistant?

Daily responsibilities vary due to the versatility of medical assistants and the differences in the way they are utilized from one organization to another.

Clinical Responsibilities

Examples of clinical responsibilities of medical assistants include taking vital signs, gathering information about the chief complaint, taking histories, administering medications (this will vary by state and organization), assisting with minor surgical procedures, performing EKGs and pulmonary function testing.

Laboratory Testing

In some settings, medical assistants perform laboratory testing including phlebotomy (drawing blood), urinalysis testing, rapid strep & flu testing and pregnancy testing. Of course, in specialty practices, duties will be a bit different, based on the specialty.


Administrative duties of the medical assistant may include checking patients in for their appointments, answering phone calls, scheduling appointments, posting patient payments as well as some billing and coding responsibilities.


Medical assistants working in advanced roles may have additional responsibilities including some health coaching, flow management or clinical supervisor responsibilities.

A day in the life of a clinical medical assistant

Upon arrival at the office, the medical assistant will often turn on the equipment and make certain rooms are stocked and ready to go for the day as well as review the schedule.

Prior to seeing patients, the MA, provider and other team members may have a huddle to discuss the game plan for the day and go over the patient schedule together, during which, they will discuss any special procedures that are on the schedule or patient concerns.

Following the meeting, the MA will room patients which may include measuring the patient’s height and weight and obtaining their vital signs. Gathering the chief complaint, reviewing medications, updating the patient’s medical history and preventative screening sections of the EHR are additional responsibilities that may be included in the rooming process.

Once the rooming process is completed, the MA will provide disrobing instructions for the patient and set out any necessary equipment and supplies that the provider may need during the exam.

While the provider is examining patients, the MA will usually continue to fill all of the provider’s rooms with patients so that the provider can stay on schedule.

The MA will read the electronic order’s screen for each patient to see if the provider has any special instructions in regards to lab work or procedures that need to be performed as well as any discharge instructions to share with patients.

Between patients, the MA will return phone calls and perform other tasks requested by the provider or patient.

A day in the life of an administrative medical assistant

Medical assistants that work in an administrative capacity work a great deal in the electronic health record. They may greet the patient as they enter the reception room, update demographic information on the patient and collect and post co-payments from the patient.

They may answer phone calls, scan information into the EHR and schedule new appointments for the patient, following their current visit. If the medical assistant has a coding and billing background he or she may assist with the coding of claims and claim generation.

What should someone expect when entering the role?

What are the challenges they will face and what do they need to be prepared for? Realize that no two practices are the same. Steps for performing procedures, equipment, and organizational policies will differ from one practice to another. Many practices will have onboarding procedures and training that will need to be completed before being assigned to a specific area.

Testing is usually involved so reviewing normal values, dosage calculations, the actions of common medications and steps for performing clinical and administrative procedures is a great way to prepare for the training.

During the training period, take good notes and listen attentively to everything that is stated. Never tell a supervisor or trainer that they are doing something incorrectly, just because you learned it differently.

Realize that members of the leadership team and other peers will be sizing you up during the first few months. They will want to know that they can trust you with patients, that you will be dependable and that you have great essential or soft skills.

Patients will also be sizing you up. Do you exuberate confidence and do you look like a professional? Do you follow through with what you say you are going to do? But also realize that you are going to make mistakes and that is ok as long as you own the mistake and learn from it. If you dwell on your mistakes, you will be more likely to make more mistakes.

Find ways to connect with your peers, whether it is giving someone a card that went out of their way to help you or bringing in goodies for members of the staff, find those connection opportunities.

What can medical assistants do to evolve their careers over time?

Be a great citizen in your organization. Be kind and friendly and always extend assistance to others when opportunities arise. Treat everyone in the organization with respect and make patients feel/know that you genuinely care.

Get certified and keep your credential/s current. Take advantage of micro-credentialing opportunities offered through credentialing organizations and build a great brand for yourself.

Medical Assistant Industry Outlook

Eric D. Grahling, M.D.

Eric D. Grahling

Owner & Director, Comprehensive Pain Management of Central Connecticut, LLC | President, Connecticut Pain Society

Medical assistants are the blood and soul of a medical office

They make or break the office “vibe.” Their expertise goes way beyond simply taking vital signs, calling in prescriptions, and dealing with insurance challenges.

They get to know patients and their families (and pets!) and are often the best advocates for patients in need in a busy office where all too often, the meaning of true healthcare is overlooked.

I am blessed to work with the best medical assistants one could ever ask for.

Alan D. Vojtech

Alan D. Vojtech

Cosmetic Surgery & Stem Cell Consultant | CMO, Innovations Medical

Non-surgical “MedSpa” treatment assistance

These can include skin tightening, laser resurfacing, chemical peels, cellulite reduction. We noticed years back that hiring aestheticians for this ended up in a high turn over rate. We were noticing that many aestheticians were expecting very high salaries for the work, and though I believe in getting paid fairly, it was not something a cosmetic practice could afford to do.

There was also no loyalty to the business as they would only work as long as you had clients. When the season slowed down in Sept, they would jump ship and go somewhere else.

Hiring MA’s provided the practice with skill medical labor, loyalty, and people already familiar with medical practice salary structure.

Cosmetic surgery assistance

We use MA’s within our procedure suites to assist with cosmetic surgery. Duties include prepping the surgery room, assisting during surgery as both sterile and non-sterile help, post-surgical wound dressing, and for office duties on follow up days.

Stem cell processing

In the stem cell therapy practice, we hire MA’s to help process the stem cells from the patient sample during treatment. In stem cell treatment, a general sample of tissue is harvested from the patient when they come in. This sample of fat (about 50 cc’s) needs to be processed in order to separate out the untapped stem cells.

The job is very detailed and MA’s have shown to be very good at doing this type of work. Their medical experience allows us to have multiple lab stations running at the same time, which increases our ability to treat patients.

Once again, pay and loyalty come into play when making the decision. We could hire LVN’s, RN’s, or Surgical Tech, and each are excellent options. But, the cost to hire such an employee is incredibly high right now. RN’s, in particular, expect a salary of $90k or more, and with the increased demand for them in cosmetic practices, these salaries usually come with commissions of $100-$300 per patient seen.

For a business, this is a killer to the bottom line and makes it incredibly hard to keep the doors open, while charging a fair market price for services.

If we raise prices, we can hire more expensive employees, but the cost increase would destroy the volume of patients seen. (this is all out of pocket) High paid workers also have less loyalty to the practice, and many demand flexible work hours/schedules, extra vacation time, etc.

Thomas Uzuegbunem, BSN, RN

Thomas Uzuegbunem

Nurse | Blogger, Nurse Money Talk

Medical assistants either does paperwork or direct patient care

What medical assistants do can vary significantly based on the facility or the specialty healthcare the medical assistant (MA) works in.

If the MA is doing patient care some of their job duties could involve getting patient vital signs, sitting with patients for those that require 1:1 care or bed baths, and assisting patients with ambulating. If the MA is doing paperwork it could involve charting patient information in medical records.

Anna Martinez

Anna Martinez

Practice Manager, La Jolla Vein Care

As a medical assistant and now manager of a large, thriving medical practice I have experienced both being in the trenches as a medical assistant and mentoring others as their leader. I can’t emphasize enough to my students the tremendous responsibility and role they have in the medical field.

Medical assistants set the tone of the practice

Not only do we have the responsibility of collecting the patient’s vitals and their PMH ( Personal Medical History), but we set and deliver the tone of the practice by being confident, polite and caring. Patients must feel confidence and trust going into a medical office.

To be a good medical assistant, one always has to be a step ahead; for example knowing the schedule, preparing for everything that your doctor might need and paying attention to every small and great detail.

Medical assistants have to be compassionate

Also, a medical assistant has to learn how to put his or herself in the patient’s shoes and understand that the patient might have certain insecurities and doubts about putting their trust in the doctor but also the assistant.

A medical assistant always has to be aware of the surroundings and their personal conduct as you would never want to make the patient feel uncomfortable; by laughing or talking loud outside the patient’s room as it can send the wrong message.

The medical assistant’s ultimate goal should be to deliver exceptional care to their patient and to be the most helpful and reliable assistant to the doctor.

Jocelyn Nadua

Registered Practical Nurse | Care Coordinator, C-Care Health Services

Medical assistants are what form the medical support team

A medical assistant’s role can change depending on the day and what tasks need to be completed. In other words, they require a broad set of skills.

A medical assistant’s duties can vary from scheduling appointments over the phone, to doing laboratory work such as analyzing blood or urine tests. Medical assistants are typically in charge of keeping all patients files up to date and in order. At times, medical assistants can also help physicians with actual patient examinations.

Overall, medical assistants are what form the medical support team. They help where they can and are a crucial part of assuring that everything in the hospital or clinic is running smoothly and with ease.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What is the most difficult part of working as a medical assistant?

The most difficult part of working as a medical assistant can vary depending on the individual and the healthcare facility for which they work. However, here are some common challenges medical assistants may face on the job:

Dealing with difficult patients or situations: Medical assistants must handle anxious, agitated, or painful situations professionally and compassionately.

Balancing administrative tasks and patient care: Medical assistants must balance administrative tasks such as scheduling and record keeping with patient care responsibilities.

Working long or irregular hours: In healthcare facilities, medical assistants may be required to work early mornings, evenings, weekends, or holidays, making it challenging to balance work with other commitments.

They are exposed to illnesses and ailments: Medical assistants work close to patients, increasing their risk of being exposed to illnesses.

Keeping up with changing regulations and technology: Medical assistants must keep up with changing regulations and technologies, which require ongoing education and training.

What qualifications do you need to become a medical assistant?

A high school diploma or equivalent is usually required to become a medical assistant. In addition, many medical assistants complete a post-secondary education program, ranging from a certificate program to an associate degree program.

These programs are offered at community colleges, vocational schools, and some universities. Courses may cover topics such as medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, and clinical procedures.

Although certification is not always required to work as a medical assistant, some employers prefer to hire certified medical assistants.

Certification can be obtained through an accredited medical assistant program or organization such as the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) or the National Healthcareer Association (NHA).

To become certified, medical assistants typically must pass an exam and meet other eligibility requirements, such as graduating from an accredited program or having some work experience in the field.

In addition to training and certification, medical assistants should possess certain skills and attributes that are important for success in the field.

What skills make a good medical assistant?

Communication skills: Good verbal and written communication skills are important for conveying information and listening to patient concerns.

Organizational skills: Medical assistants should be organized and detail-oriented to efficiently manage patient records and procedures and prepare patients for medical procedures.

Compassion: A compassionate and empathetic attitude toward patients can contribute to a positive patient experience.

Ability to work under pressure: Medical assistants work in a fast-paced environment and should be able to handle stressful situations and work well under pressure.

Knowledge of medical terminology: Basic knowledge of medical terminology helps medical assistants accurately record and report patient medical information.

Computer skills: Proficiency with computers and software programs is vital for managing patient records and scheduling appointments.

Attention to detail: Paying close attention to detail is essential to accurately record and document patient medical information.

Can medical assistants work part-time or on a flexible schedule?

Yes, medical assistants can work part-time or on a flexible schedule, depending on the needs of the employer and the health care facility for which they work.

Many healthcare facilities offer flexible work schedules to accommodate medical assistants with other obligations, such as family or school.

Part-time medical assistant positions may be available in various healthcare facilities, including hospitals, clinics, and private practices. Part-time medical assistants typically work less than 40 hours per week, although exact hours may vary depending on the facility and patient needs.

Flexible scheduling options may include:
– Working split shifts, such as working in the morning and returning to work in the afternoon
– Working on weekends or holidays
– Working fewer hours per day but more days per week
– Job sharing, where two medical assistants share the duties of a full-time position

It is important to note that while part-time or flexible work schedules are possible, they do not always offer the same benefits or salary as full-time positions.

In addition, some healthcare facilities may require medical assistants to occasionally work overtime or adjust their hours to accommodate patient needs.

What is the difference between a medical assistant and a certified nursing assistant?

Although medical assistants and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) work in healthcare settings and their roles overlap, there are some key differences between them.

Medical assistants:
– They work in various healthcare settings, including clinics, hospitals, and private practices.
– They have clinical and administrative duties, such as taking vital signs, drawing blood, administering medications, assisting with medical procedures, managing patient records, and scheduling appointments.
– May have completed a post-secondary education program in medical assisting and be certified by an accredited medical assistant program or organization.

Certified Nursing Assistants:
– They typically work in long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes or assisted living facilities.
– They help patients with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, and eating.
– They may measure vital signs, report changes in patient’s health status to nurses or physicians, and assist with medical procedures under the supervision of a licensed healthcare professional.
– They must complete a state-approved education program and pass a competency exam to become certified.

Medical assistants have a broader range of responsibilities and work in various healthcare settings, while CNAs have a more specialized role in long-term care facilities.

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