The Real Poop
You love hospitals, and watch re-runs of medical dramas on TV religiously. You think it'd be awesome to have a career where you get to be around needy sick people and hot doctors all day, but maybe you don't have the time, money, energy, or grades to earn an MD of your own.
Here's an alternative career for you, then: medical assistant. You've seen these guys and gals many a time around the doctor's office. They're usually the ones who take down your information and medical history; measure your temperature and blood pressure; assist with patient exams; give shots and prep blood for testing; and schedule patient appointments.
Medical assistants can also come in more specialized flavors. Clinical medical assistants, for example, may do basic lab tests; give patients the low-down on medication; get rid of the germy garbage no one else wants to touch; and slap bandages on patients after drawing blood or taking out stitches. There are also medical assistants whose tasks are determined by the specialist they work with—if you get a gig at an orthopedist's office, you’re going to spend your days ordering X-rays. If you land a job with an obstetrician, you'll be the one in charge of keeping the ultrasound gel warm.
You don't need a college degree to do this job. In fact, you don't even need to be certified as a medical assistant (although certifications can help you land certain jobs and earn more dinero). What you do need are the following:
- Interpersonal skills. Duh: You're going to be talking to patients, doctors, and other medical personnel all day, every day.
- Technical skills. You may do administrative work on a computer, or you might have to get down and dirty with a thermometer and a blood pressure cuff,
- Analytical skills. You need to be able to follow a patient chart and understand the medical gibberish getting thrown around by the doctor.
- Attention to detail. There’s a big difference between a blood pressure reading of 120/80 and 80/120.
Lots and lots of medical assistants are going to need to be hired and trained in the years ahead. Lots and lots of medical assistants also aren't going to make more than about $30k a year in salary. However, if you're looking for a fast, easy, cost-effective way to begin a career in the healthcare industry, this is the job to get. Also, it helps if you love the idea of wearing scrubs—aka pajamas—to work every day.
Low pay isn't the only issue medical assistants have to deal with, however. If you end up working in an office where you hate the doctor or doctors or other medical staff, you're going to hate your job, because office politics exist in hospitals just like they do everywhere else. You'll find that some doctors and patients treat you like you're diseased because your title—medical assistant—doesn't have $100k in student loans behind it. Depending on what kind of medical facility you work in, you could catch who knows what from a patient and have to miss work, even though you can't really afford to.
Also—and this can't be emphasized enough—you're going to have to be able to deal with patients. Just like medical assistants, patients come in many different flavors: normal, frightened, ill, stupid, and outright crazy. You'll need to be patient, compassionate, and good-humored in order to deal with the inundation of personalities you're going to encounter as a medical assistant. You'll also need to know your job really well so you can help the patient and the doctor you work for to the best of your abilities.
If you're good with people and you collect specialized skills like they're Pokémon, you should always be able to find work, especially if you live in a large city with lots of doctors. Also, as a specialized medical assistant, you'll be able to perform more technical tasks and so earn slightly better pay.
If being a medical assistant sounds like it's your bag, baby, here are a few other careers you might want to consider: working in a psych ward as an aide or technician; working in physical therapy; working as a pharmacy tech; assisting at a dentist’s office; or specializing in medical records and health technology. You may even find that you enjoy the medical aspects of this career so much—and you're going to learn a lot about medicine, just from running around a doctor's office or hospital all day and seeing the many ways in which the human body can get it wrong—that you decide to go to school for a degree in nursing or medicine.