Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc is Practice Management Editor of The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine and is Chief Executive Officer of Velocity Urgent Care.
Urgent message: Each year, the third full week of October is earmarked to celebrate an extremely valuable group of individuals in the urgent care world: medical assistants (MAs). We are in the middle of Medical Assistants Recognition Week for 2019—and Medical Assistants Recognition Day is today, Wednesday, October 23.
While the general public may not necessarily recognize the difference between MAs and other clinical support functions like nurses and technicians, MAs play a crucial role in assuring fast, efficient, and effective delivery of care in the urgent care setting. As such, Medical Assistants Recognition Week is the perfect opportunity to celebrate these important team members.
What Does a Medical Assistant Do in an Urgent Care Clinic?
According to the Urgent Care Association’s (UCA) 2018 Benchmarking Report, 99% of urgent care centers employ medical assistants—dramatic growth from the 2015 figure of 57%.
MAs are trained to perform a variety of roles in the urgent care setting. While their specific scope of practice is determined individually by each state, MAs can often perform both clinical support tasks and administrative duties.
In most states, medical assistants collect a patient’s chief complaint as well as their relevant medical and pharmacologic history before a physician, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner comes in to examine the patient. However, some states allow MAs to do more. For instance, MAs commonly give vaccines, start IVs, and assess vital signs depending on existing physician orders and each individual’s skill level and training. It’s worth noting that MAs, unlike nurses, don’t fall into the category of “licensed clinicians” and cannot be introduced to patients as such. Rather, they work under the supervision of a licensed physician who is responsible for their actions.
Positive Outlook for Medical Assistants
Considering the positive growth of the urgent care industry as a whole, the use of medical assistants is also expected to increase. According to recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are currently 686,000 MAs in the United States. The job market for MAs is projected to increase by 23% between 2018 and 2028—a much faster pace than average. In that same timeframe, an anticipated 155,000 medical assistant positions will be added in the U.S. alone. UCA data suggest that MAs working in urgent care are paid a median rate of $16 per hour, up from $14.53 per hour in 2015, with 38% of urgent care clinics offering bonuses and variable incentive pay on top of that.
Notably, there is no nationwide law regulating the scope of practice for MAs and there is no standard licensing exam. Instead, hopeful MAs typically pursue either a 2-year degree program or vocational school training. There are also several certificate programs, such as the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) and National Healthcareer Association courses that verify an MA candidate’s skill and knowledge levels.
Even so, most training happens on the job with physicians and other medical assistants. Thanks to the nature of the field, however, it doesn’t take long for someone with little-to-no experience to learn the tools they need to succeed.
How to Recognize Medical Assistants This Week
As it is currently Medical Assistants Recognition Week, taking a few moments to appreciate the vital role that MAs play is a perfect way to say thank you. Both urgent care managers and other team members can take this opportunity to lift up any MAs on the staff.
Clinic owner/operators can do things like investing in career development programs that help MAs get certified, earn continuing education credits, or even pursue an advancement in their career by going back to school. Managers can go out of their way to plan an event or luncheon for MA team members to thank them for their hard work and provide them with well-deserved recognition.
However, celebrating Medical Assistant Recognition Week doesn’t stop there. Everyone can do their part by simply thanking an MA for all that they do. Meanwhile, the American Association of Medical Assistants is prompting people to use the social hashtags #MARWeek and #MARDay to spread awareness about the field.
Regardless of how you want to celebrate MA Recognition Week, be sure to take a moment and appreciate these team members. They are a key piece in making sure that urgent care clinics can run smoothly and cost-effectively, and provide patients with the best experience.
(For more insights into the contributions MAs are making in urgent care centers across the country, read Cost-Effective Staffing with Medical Assistants in the JUCM archive.)