What exactly is a "Medical Assistant"?

Discussion in 'Off The Beaten Track' started by dupa, Jan 25, 2011.

  1. dupa

    dupa Home Sweet Home

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    What exactly is a "medical assistant"? How does one become one? And, why am I trusting a medical assistant to handle certain aspects of my wellness checkups at my doctor's office. Are there no nurses anymore?
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  2. GarrAarghHrumph

    GarrAarghHrumph I can kill you with my brain

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    A medical assistant is a combination of a clerical job plus low level clinical. So this person has been through a formal medical assistant training program, which usually takes a year or so at either a community college or trade school.

    They handle things in a medical office such as scheduling, medical records, bookkeeping, and basic clinical tasks such as showing patients to the room, taking vitals, taking patient histories, etc. Medical assistants work under the supervision of the physician. What a medical assistant can do clinically varies by state.

    You may be seeing more use of medical assistants v. nurses because, to be blunt, medical assistants are cheaper.
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2011
  3. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa Port de bras!!!

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    They also give injections, put on dressings, draw blood, do urine dipstick tests, as well as assist physicians during in-office procedures like suturing.

    http://www.wisegeek.com/what-does-a-medical-assistant-do.htm
  4. dupa

    dupa Home Sweet Home

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    So basically it's a somewhat non-professional person that went through some one year program so they could get a job paying a little more than minimum wage.

    Why would I want this person to handle some areas of my, or more importantly my kids health?
  5. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa Port de bras!!!

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    Taking blood pressure, drawing blood and giving injections is not rocket science but rather a matter of practice. But if you want your doctor to keep a very expensive registered nurse to perform these low skill tasks, are you willing to shoulder the price difference of your health care?
  6. Flatfoote

    Flatfoote New Member

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    Along the same line of question, what is a physician's assistant? Is that the same thing? When my mom was in the nursing home for rehab recently, she saw an actual doctor maybe twice (once that I know of). All other visits from her doctor's office were made by the physician's assistant.
  7. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa Port de bras!!!

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  8. Kasey

    Kasey Loving on babies!

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    My mom works as a medical assistant. She required no additional training, as she'd been a CNA for years and was used to taking vital signs, documenting patient complaints/observations, etc. She doesn't give shots or draw blood (that would require different training/certification, so she is I guess not an "official" medical assistant).

    To her credit, whenever a patient calls her "nurse", she gently corrects them, saying she has a daughter who is a nurse who went through a great deal of schooling to be called that, and she herself hasn't ;)
  9. GarrAarghHrumph

    GarrAarghHrumph I can kill you with my brain

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    A physician's assistant is not a medical assistant. Two different jobs. A PA has gone through a post-graduate (post-bachelors) program for physician's assisting. They do work under a physician's supervision, but they can handle high level clinical work.
  10. GarrAarghHrumph

    GarrAarghHrumph I can kill you with my brain

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    Depends on the state, and in some states, on what additional training/certifications they've received.
  11. GarrAarghHrumph

    GarrAarghHrumph I can kill you with my brain

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    No, this is a professional job that requires specific education and training. And in many states, they must become a CMA in order to work - certified medical assistant, which means their program meets certain requirements, is accredited in specific ways, and they've sat a national exam. I don't know if that's true for your state, though.
  12. barbk

    barbk Well-Known Member

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    Because they're just taking some simple measurements and recording data that would otherwise take the doctor -- often a primary care doctor -- several minutes to do. Primary care doctors already receive very, very low reimbursements for office visits, so they pretty much have to make very efficient use of their time or go broke.

    I saw my internist for a physical in December. After her medical assistant took height, wt, blood pressure, temperature, pulse, and confirmed meds and supplements, my doctor then spent twenty-five minutes with me. She'll probably deal with at least three phone calls this year from me, and will write several prescriptions, and I'll probably talk to her nurse (her R.N.) several times as well. For all this work she got paid less than half of what my dermatologist's office got paid for a 5 minute skin cancer check and a quick (under five minute) biopsy of a suspicious spot (that turned out to be nothing at all), both of which were done by the dermatologist's P.A.

    The system is seriously underpaying primary care doctors.
  13. PDilemma

    PDilemma Well-Known Member

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    Medical Assistants get paid more than a little over minimum wage. My cousin has been a CMA for ten years and makes around $14 an hour. Payscale.com reports a current average starting wage over $10 an hour. It is certainly not an unskilled or unprofessional job. Her training was over a year and included national certification exams.
  14. dupa

    dupa Home Sweet Home

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    Yes. I'd rather have a nurse. It's unfortunate that's not the way it seems to be anymore.

    Why not just install one of those machines like at Target for the blood pressure? The lab draws the blood and I can get my shot at Walmart. ;) (and I'm only half kidding)
  15. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa Port de bras!!!

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    It's really like requesting a neurosurgeon to put a Band Aid on a boo boo. But if you want, you could find a posh private practice that's cash only and charges $500+ a visit. None of those riff raff MAs there. Le shrug.

    As a matter of fact BPs are taken by machines these days, operated by nurses or MAs as the case may be. I don't understand the need for an overqualified individual to perform rather simple tasks. People take their own temps and BPs all the time. Drawing blood and giving injections are skills that are given more than enough time to learn and practice in a typical MA course.

    It's not like the MA is determining the course of treatment, making clinical decisions or writing Rx.
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  16. dupa

    dupa Home Sweet Home

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    Well gee, keep that assembly line going by all means.
  17. LuckyCharm

    LuckyCharm Well-Known Member

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    Dupa, I'm really trying to understand where you're coming from. Why does it bother you to have an MA perform these relatively simple tasks, which they've been specifically trained to do? Is there something specific that you're concerned will go wrong?
  18. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa Port de bras!!!

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    :huh:

    I personally find MAs an important part of modern medical practice. Good ones can make your life as a clinician easier and the patient's experience at the office pleasant and smooth.
  19. Skittl1321

    Skittl1321 Well-Known Member

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    What's interesting is when you say you just want a nurse- it could mean a huge range of training too- an LPN/ LVN are fairly low level, but even with RN there are ones who went to community colleges and others who got Bachelor's. (And then there are CNA's, which aren't really even nurses.)

    (A friend who did her RN through a 4-year college and got a Bachelor's degree said she thinks that if actual nursing is your focus, a community college is better- they were all really prepared for the job, and she was rather caught by surprise by the realities. She, however, ended up going into public heath, which requires a Master's, so having gotten the Bachelor's was very useful, and she's glad she did nursing, because it's easier to enforce policy among nurses if you've been one previously.)

    Now, I don't know exactly what it takes to get an LPN, but it appears most programs are only a year. And they are further trained than an MA is.

    The thing I'm always confused about is the difference between a PA and an NP. I currently go to an NP who has her own practice- she has a supervising physcian, but he is out of the hospital. But in most places NPs work in physcian's practices, and so do PA's. Can a PA prescribe a drug without a doctor's approval? My NP definetly can... she does all my primary care.
  20. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa Port de bras!!!

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    The Wiki link about PAs talks about the difference between PA and NP. The former is based on the physician model and the latter on the nursing model. There are specifics of autonomy that are different as well.

    Who knows, perhaps dupa wants an NP to take her temp and BP.
  21. agalisgv

    agalisgv Well-Known Member

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    At the 7-11 on the corner, their starting pay is $12/hour. Petco's starting pay over here is close to $11/hour.

    Which isn't a dig on medical assistants--just a perspective on other entry-level pay scales.
  22. altai_rose

    altai_rose Well-Known Member

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    Reiterating what IceAlisa said, for things like suturing, drawing blood, etc. the one you want doing it is simply the person who has done it the most often. Which is not the doctor or perhaps likely not even the nurse when there's a medical assistant around.
  23. Skittl1321

    Skittl1321 Well-Known Member

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    I read the article but I don't really get what it means that they are based on the different model. What is the scope of their ability to care? Can a PA set up their own clinic like an NP can? Or do they have to work in a doctor's office? (I used a PA in high school,at my doctor's office, so I know they can do the whole appointment, but I don't know if they have to get approval for drugs they are ordering, etc)

    Dupa could go to my NP's clinic- there is no one else there to take temp/BP, it's a one woman shop.
    Although, maybe the secretary is actually an MA, so I guess she could :)
  24. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa Port de bras!!!

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    To clarify as altai_rose undoubtedly meant, the doc would be doing the suturing, the MA would just be assisting.

    As short answer to the question above is that PA has to be supervised by an MD. I gotta run to a meeting, will discuss more later. :)
  25. dupa

    dupa Home Sweet Home

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    I personally find MAs don't necessarily make the patient's experience pleasant and smooth at all. Maybe that's because it's not exactly difficult to become one. Any ol' body can do it. But I'm so glad they make YOUR life as a clinician easier and hey, they're cheap. Bonus!
  26. PDilemma

    PDilemma Well-Known Member

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    Entry level in some fields, yes. But hardly "barely over minimum wage" as dupa described it. Federal minimum wage is still only $7.25 an hour. And around here, where my cousin is making roughly $14 -last I knew- as a CMA, convenience stores are starting in the $8.50 to $9 range (trust me, my father was the president of a company that owned 14 in the area until he recently retired). Since payscale.com gives average salaries, I would guess that in regions where other pay is as high as you say, experienced CMAs are probably making more.
  27. Skittl1321

    Skittl1321 Well-Known Member

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    A stressed clinician is not an effective one. If an MA is making their job easier, you are recieving better service because of it.

    You might think it's bad, but it could be much worse.
  28. bardtoob

    bardtoob Well-Known Member

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    Because, with that one year of training plus experience, they still know more about healthcare as an industry, including minor clinical tasks, than you.

    Medical Assistants function under the license of the Physician. The Physician is responsible for the care provided by a Medical Assistant in his office. A Physician would not hire a Medical Assistant if they were not competent at the tasks that the Physician allows them to do for a variety of reasons, including malpractice considerations.

    I have been working in healthcare for quite sometime, and I have met some amazing Medical Assistants. Quite frankly, there are many Physicians that might forget important details if it was not for their Medical Assistant just like many Lawyers could be lost without a good admin, even if their role is not precisely analogous.
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2011
  29. Prancer

    Prancer Ray Chill Staff Member

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    :confused:

    Did you have a bad experience with an MA or something?

    Most basic-level medical care CAN be done by any ol' body. Don't you take care of your kids when they're sick? How much training did you get for that? But I'll bet you manage pretty well anyway, because it's just not that hard to do.

    You said you would rather have a nurse. May I ask why?
  30. dupa

    dupa Home Sweet Home

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    I am? Would the clinician be even less stressed having a nurse working for them?


    So am I supposed to settle for the lesser of two evils? And when did this happen. Is it because medical costs are so out of control?
  31. dupa

    dupa Home Sweet Home

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    I guess I'd just like a health care provider to be a little more than just any ol' body. I find nurses to be more personal when it comes to patient care. But that's just me.
  32. bardtoob

    bardtoob Well-Known Member

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    This is like asking, "What is a foster child and where are all the orphanages?" :lol:

    Medical Assistants have been taking care of patients in ambulatory care settings (clinics) since the 1950s.
  33. dupa

    dupa Home Sweet Home

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    You sound like you're a MA. Are you? :lol:
  34. Prancer

    Prancer Ray Chill Staff Member

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    Again, did you have a bad experience with an MA?

    I think being personal is a matter of personality more than anything else. I've had friendly, personable MAs and brusque, grouchy nurses and vice versa.

    It doesn't take years of clinicals to learn how to take vitals and a medical history, which is pretty much what MAs do. I don't understand how a nurse would, by definition, do those things better. But then, I also don't understand why people feel the need to see a doctor instead of a PA or NP when they have a minor problem, or why they have to see a specialist instead of a family doctor for routine care. Yeah, sometimes you need someone with more knowledge and training. Most of the time, you really don't.
  35. altai_rose

    altai_rose Well-Known Member

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    Yup. My point is that the person who you want doing these things is the person who has the most experience doing them.

    dupa, let's take a look at some of America's future doctors--my classmates. Some of us go out and party a lot, get drunk a lot, cram for exams, etc. Others have an appalling grasp of basic anatomy or care more about the disease than about the patient and perhaps will only go into residency as a "back up plan" in case they can't get a faculty position in a basic science lab. Does that make you feel better? :p:hat1:
  36. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa Port de bras!!!

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    And may be it's because you had a bad experience. There are bad apples in every profession.
    I find it puzzling that the cost of health care is not a concern. You must be very rich. Our health care system is tiered and that's one of the ways to contain cost while providing high quality care as well as being efficient. The profession of PA is currently being studied by other countries.
    And hey, don't forget surgeons. They are the OGMs of grouchy.
    :respec:
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2011
  37. Japanfan

    Japanfan Well-Known Member

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    Here, a Nurse Practitioner is pretty much a GP. The program is relatively new (had its first crop of graduates within the last ten years) and was established to say the health care system money. NPs make less than doctors- but certainly make a very decent salary - and do pretty much everything that GPs do, aside from prescribing narcotics. And I assume there are other limits to their practice. A NP can in specialized areas such as peri-natal care, but I don't think they can go into surgery.
  38. bardtoob

    bardtoob Well-Known Member

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    If I was, it would not bother me so long as I was working towards something more inline with my capacity, not unlike MDs that worked as EMTs, RNs that worked as MAs, X-Ray Techs that worked as receptionists. It takes all kinds to build a healthcare team.
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2011
  39. dupa

    dupa Home Sweet Home

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    I very rarely go to the doctor and neither do my kids. Other than my OB where I either saw her or one of her midwives I've only just established a relationship with a "primary care provider" in the last three years. My kids see her now too as they have outgrown their pediatrician. Believe it or not we all go once a year for our yearly check up. Bar regular child care checkups at the pediatrician, one cold last month for my older daughter who had a really bad cough for a month and my younger daughter spraining her ankle three years ago that's it. We are very lucky that we are as healthy as we are.

    The pediatrician's office always had a nurse (several over the years) who was very nice. I'm a little surprised I guess at how things are at the new office and the MA was kind of a bitch. For someone who goes to the doctor all the time I suppose it's just another day at the office. So I'm thinking, where're all the nurses? They're always very nice. :lol:

    My daughter has "post viral bronchial spasms" which I suppose is the new term for 'we refuse to give you antibiotics unless you are dying of pneumonia and have a fever of 105.' ;)
  40. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa Port de bras!!!

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    Well, you must have met a mean MA. I assure you there are plenty of nice ones out there. And plenty of not so nice nurses. And vice versa. And don't let me get started on doctors, especially some surgical professions.

    Yes, they do try not to give antibiotics unless they absolutely have to, to prevent the development of resistant strains.

    Here's another recent development in tiered medicine: nurse anesthetist. So if you are having a routine procedure that doesn't require an ICU stay, chances are you could have a highly trained nurse managing your anesthesia, under the supervision of an MD.

    Like altai_rose said, and I find this very important: it doesn't matter what the letters after the name are, rather the amount of practice/experience they've had.