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What is a Medical Assistant?

A patient enters a doctor's office, and sees someone wearing scrubs sitting at the front desk with a stethoscope around their neck. On their name tag it says Person Persons, CMA. The CMA stands for Certified Medical Assistant.

Certified Medical Assistants complete post high school training through either a one year certificate program or a 2-year program leading to an associates degree. In order to take the CMA exam, an individual must have attended a program accredited by CAAHEP (Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs) or a program accredited by ABHES (Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools). Coursework may include human anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, keyboarding and computer applications, record keeping and accounting, coding, clinical and diagnostic procedures, pharmacology, medication administration, first aid, office practices, patient relations, and medical law and ethics. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for a CMA is $31,220.
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According to the AAMA (American Association of Medical Assistants), MA's duties include both administrative duties and clinical duties. An MA's administrative duties may include using a computer, answering telephones, greeting patients, updating and filing medical records, coding, scheduling appointments, arranging for hospital admissions, scheduling lab services, and completing correspondence. An MA's clinical duties may include taking patient medical history, explaining treatment to patients, getting patients ready for examination, assisting physicians during exams, collecting lab samples, performing basic lab work, instructing patients about medication, authorizing prescription refills, drawing blood, taking EKGs, and removing stitches and changing dressings.

Nonetheless, like many healthcare professionals, the MA's scope of practice is limited.  Scope of practice defines what procedures and actions a professional may take as is defined by their licenses issued by their states. MA's may not perform telephone triage, diagnose or treat patients, prescribe medications, give out medication samples without a physician's order, inject medications into a vein, start or stop IV's, provide medical treatment, analyze test results, advise patients about treatment plans, administer anesthesia, interpret results of blood tests, or operate laser equipment.  An MA also is not a nurse, although there is some confusion.  An MA should not present himself/herself as a nurse, as the scope of practice under nursing licenses differ for MA's and nurses.