How to Become a Medical Office Assistant

Overview

Doctors and patients alike rely upon medical office assistants to bring order to the complex world of medicine. As a medical office assistant (MOA), you are the first point of contact between patient and office, and as such, set the tone for the patient’s experience. In addition to guiding patients, MOAs also work behind the scenes to coordinate referrals, lab test reviews, chart updates, insurance reimbursements and other functions that keep a medical office running smoothly. A medical office assistant can be given great leeway by a doctor who trusts in his integrity and judgment, particularly in smaller practices where an MOA must inevitably fill a wide variety of roles. Larger medical practices or hospitals rely on medical office assistants, too, but for fewer and more specialized tasks. Regardless of the size of the practice, medical office assistants are an integral part of any medical office, and can tip the balance of a patient's experience from mundane to superlative.

Work Environment

Medical office assistants most often work in doctors’ or dentists’ offices, hospitals, and surgical centers and less often in insurance companies and government agencies. An MOA interacts with people all day long, including patients, doctors, nurses and other staff. In smaller practices, an MOA may take patients to their exam rooms, record their weight, take their blood pressure and act as a chaperone for opposite sex exams. MOAs must be consummate multi-taskers, as frequent interruptions of one task to perform another are commonplace.

Requirements

Education

A high school diploma or graduation equivalency degree (GED) is sufficient for an entry-level medical office assistant position, with further training done on the job.

Training

Many employers prefer to hire MOAs with an associate’s degree or vocational school training. Vocational school training consists of courses in biology and medical terminology along with record-keeping, accounting and insurance practices. Since every office varies in its procedures, a certain amount of on-the-job training is inevitable. On-the-job training for smaller practices will be more extensive due to the need for an MOA to cover a greater variety of tasks.

Licensing and/or Certification

A prospective medical office assistant can attend a training program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) to become a certified medical administrative assistant (CMAA). Certification will increase your chances of getting hired, as employers prefer the stamp of approval it bestows. Practice tests and other test preparation materials are available online at either of the links above.

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Medical office assistants need to be organized yet also personable, as they interact with others throughout the workday. The employer will assume a candidate has computer skills, including familiarity with basic word programs and spreadsheet functions. An MOA must be willing to learn new systems and methods, such as how to work with specific scheduling and billing software common to most medical practices. As in virtually all medically related jobs, attention to detail is a must.

Opportunities for Advancement

All but the smallest of private medical practices have a small hierarchy of office staff. Over time, experienced people in the pyramid need to leave work for one reason or another. Many employers prefer to move an existing employee into an empty spot and hire a new entry-level person. To be chosen for such advancement, an MOA needs to be competent and confident. Promotions will often include supervising other people, so demonstrating good people skills on a regular basis also helps an MOA stand out to supervisors.

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Salary

According to the May 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the average MOA’s salary is $32,430 per year. The middle fifty percent of MOAs earn between $25,660 and $37,660 per year. The range of salaries nationally is approximately $15,000 - $55,000. Salaries improve with more experience and/or education, and also according to geography. Those living in larger cities and towns, particularly along both coasts, will earn more. The top three employers for MOAs are doctors’ offices, hospitals and dentists' offices.

Job Outlook

Available positions for MOAs are increasing, driven by the ongoing retirement of the baby boom generation and general increases in population. Many medical practices are converting to electronic health records, which often precipitates the need for additional staffing, improving prospects particularly for those who are computer-savvy.

Related Careers

Also, check out our Health Careers page for more career guides.

Further Reading

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