While most administrative assistants work in an office setting, that isn't always the case. Medical assistants perform similar work, but they also work closely with patients and doctors.

"They're the people who open the clinic, get the computers running, put in patient information, greet the patients and get insurance information," explains Tracy Anderson, president of the MN Society of Medical Assistants. "They're on the front lines."

If you are considering a career in medical assisting, now is a good time. Accor-ding to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, because of technological advances in medicine and a growing and aging population, job prospects are excellent through 2012.

People People

A common thread between medical assistants is their desire to help patients.

"I love working with people and giving them one-on-one attention," says Anderson.

Samantha Blanchard, a medical assistant in respiratory care at Fairview Southdale, works with patients on issues that aren't therapy-related.

"I love anything that has to do with the patients," says Blanchard. "I love patient care and going the extra mile for them."

For instance, when a patient arrives – as most of them are on oxygen - Blanchard will bring a wheelchair out and greet them at their cars.

"They love that door- to-door service," says Blanchard.

Medical assistants can work even more closely with patients as a Health Unit Coordinator. These assistants serve individual floors of a hospital.

"They can work more specifically with doctors on the floor," says Blanchard.

Skills and training

Educationally, medical assistants need an associate degree. Earning a bachelor's or master's degree can help propel them toward management.

"Most people don't realize how complex this job is," says Anderson. "They think we're just receptionists, but there's so much more going on."

Medical assistants can show their skill by earning certification. The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) offers its Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certification for those who qualify.

Ultimately, those drawn to the medical assisting career do so because the work and work environ-ment are satisfying.

"The co-workers I have are a team. We have a partnership mentality," says Blanchard. "It's not a dog-eat-dog environment."

Robert Elsenpeter is a freelance writer from Blaine.