Medical assistants actually do a wide variety of tasks. They work in small offices, large hospitals, clinics, and labs. Mostly, they focus on helping the office run smoothly. They can be at the front desk and in the examination room all in one day. Duties vary depending on what type of office it is.
Smaller medical practices utilize the services of medical assistants for nearly everything. They must be “jack of all trades.” In larger hospitals, however, medical assistants are given special tasks and do not have as many responsibilities. Big hospitals and offices also use several types of medical assistants, including “clinical MAs,” “administrative MAs,” “clerical MAs,” and “specialist MAs.”
Clinical Medical Assistants
Clinical MAs have a lot of patient interactions. They mostly work with the physician(s) in the office. Their daily tasks may include prepping patients, writing down medical histories, and helping the doctor during exams. Experienced medical assistants can even draw blood, suture wounds, and take ECGs. The extent of their medical duties largely depends on the laws of their state.
Administrative Medical Assistants
People who are good at organizing things and managing offices can do well as administrative MAs. These workers are found behind the desk, on the phone, and behind the computer. Bookkeeping entries and billing procedures are typical duties of the admin MA. While they are usually not found inside the patient exam room, they are always communicating with patients on the phone or at the front desk.
Clerical Medical Assistants
This type of jobs is best suited for entry-level medical assistants fresh out of college. Job duties include answering the phone, greeting patients, scheduling medical appointments, and going through the daily mail pile. They are basically administrative assistants who work in hospitals and doctor’s offices. Of all the medical assistants, clerical assistants make the lowest salaries.
Specialized Medical Assistants
Most medical assistants in big cities end up specializing in a certain modality. With further education, they can work in eye care centers, surgical centers, or even labs. You will need to take special classes to get these types of jobs, since medical assisting courses do not generally cover these fields in depth.
The NCMA Exam
The National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) exam is one of two major tests given by the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT). Medical assistants who have completed a course of study are eligible to take this test. It covers the subject areas of office management, anatomy, bookkeeping, medical procedures, phlebotomy, infection control, medical terminology, and more.
The job outlook is very good for those who are in the medical assisting field. Traditional schools, community colleges, and online schools now offer degrees and certificates in this fast-growing career field. Now is the best time to jump into a new career as a medical assistant.
10 Study Tips for the NCPT and the NCMA
Earning the NCPT or NCMA designation is a big step in your career. Not everyone in your field has these credentials, so yours will stand out. The road to becoming a medical assistant or phlebotomy tech is not very long, but it can be challenging.
Are you gearing up for the NCPT or the NCMA exam and want to know a few tips on how to pass? The good news is that both of these exams are in multiple-choice formats. That means you don’t have to type out any answers or fill in the blank. Not everyone, however, is skilled at taking multiple-choice tests. The array of answers can seem dizzying after awhile. Soon, everything starts to look alike and all of the possible answers look correct. Does this sound familiar? If so, read on to discover a few simple ways you can get the most out of your study sessions.
- Flashcards are an invaluable tool. They are small and portable, so you can slip them in a purse or backpack. Whip them out everywhere you go for a few extra minutes of study time. Believe it or not, the best way to study is in increments, not in one long cram session.
- Break your study sessions into increments. Get an outline of the exam’s contents. The NCCT website has a breakdown of the contents on each exam. Print it out and create a study schedule. A little bit of studying every day helps you retain more information.
- Learn relaxation-training techniques. Anxiety originates in the mind and tells the body to panic. If you can staunch the adrenaline before it has a chance to race through your body, you can relax quickly. Some easy breathing techniques can help you calm your nerves in a matter of minutes.
- Memorize the format of the exam well ahead of time. This will save you from having to read the basic test instructions. Every minute counts in a timed test!
- Every question on the NCPT and NCMA exam is scored equally. No questions are weighted more than others, so get through the easier questions first.
- Pace yourself during the exam. You have about one minute to answer a question.
- Narrow down the possible answers by eliminating the ones that seem incorrect. Even if you are left with two possible answers, you have just improved your odds by eliminating one answer.
- Use your “common sense.” Some test takers are so caught up in trying to recall the textbook answer that they fail to see the answer right in front of them.
- Take a timed practice exam before you take the real one. Simulate the testing conditions as accurately as possible. Do not get up, walk around, or look up any answers. The point is to train yourself to get in the “test mode.”
- Use the “true/false” method. Answer “true” or “false” for each possible answer. Pick the answer that is “most true.” This is usually the correct answer.
A Career as a Phlebotomy Technician
Phlebotomy is a fancy word for “drawing blood from a vein.” If the thought of this doesn’t scare you, then you may have a promising career ahead of you as a phlebotomist! First, you need to get your educational requirements out of the way. Many schools offer phlebotomy technology as a major or offer a short training program. There are also online schools that may or may not be accredited.
Only a handful of states actually require phlebotomy techs to have the CPT certification, but employers prefer to hire certified applicants over non-certified techs. Certified techs that hold the CPT designation usually are paid more than non-certified employees are. In any case, phlebotomists have important jobs. Hospitals never seem to have enough of these technicians to go around. Patients need to have blood drawn for a variety of reasons: tests, medical procedures, or blood donation.
Not only do CPTs draw blood, but they also must label and store blood samples correctly. They are responsible for transporting blood to and from labs and hospital rooms. They take the patient’s vital signs and record the results. They may also have clerical tasks, such as answering the phone, taking messages, and sterilizing the phlebotomy equipment. CPTs must have excellent interpersonal skills since they interact with patients daily.
Drawing blood is not rocket science, but it does require some training. You need to have a high school diploma or GED, be at least 18, and complete a phlebotomy tech program. These programs range from six to eight months in most states. Some places allow on-the-job training, but it’s preferable to have some formal education as well.
The average phlebotomy tech makes about $18,000 to $25,000 a year. Those with the CPT designation earn the higher amount in most cities.
On-the-job safety is crucial when you are dealing with blood every day. Blood is a bodily fluid that contains many germs and viruses that may be life threatening, so you must be especially careful when you are around it. Your phlebotomy training program should show you how to stay safe around blood and how to protect yourself and your patients from contamination.
Once you are done with your phlebotomy program, you can sit for the National Certified Phlebotomy Technician (NCPT) exam. The test contains 150 questions, all pertaining to the subject areas studied in phlebotomy school. You should know about infection control, medical terms, how to handle blood, how to draw blood, and how to handle problems in the lab. One way to study for these topics is to use flashcards.
The NCPT test can be completed in three hours, which is plenty of time to read each question carefully and click on the best answer. Those who pass this difficult exam can put “CPT” after their names and ask for higher salaries. They also receive a certificate for framing and a wallet ID card. You will have to keep up with continuing education classes according to the NCPT schedule, so check their website periodically.
The National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) Exam
Medical assistants who have graduated from an accredited certificate/degree program must take the NCMA exam. This is a comprehensive test regulated by the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT). Only those who have experience in medical assisting are eligible to take the exam. Medical assistants perform many tasks – administrative, clerical, and medical. Some specialize in a certain field, but others simply work as administrative assistants. At the lower end of the pay scale, administrative assistants work at the front desk. Higher pay is available in the specialized medical assisting fields.
There are several topics covered by the NCMA exam, including medical office management, terminology, procedures, anatomy and physiology, and bookkeeping. Of all the subjects, the most widely covered topic is medical office management since many medical assistants end up with this task.
The NCCT website has an online application for those who wish to take the NCMA exam. The application process is straightforward and simple to fill out. It asks for basic information, including your name, address, Social Security number, etc. You might need to contact your medical assistant school and ask them to forward a copy of your grades to your state licensing board, but this is not a requirement in all states. The NCCT does not require a copy of your grades. In fact, you do not need to graduate from an accredited medical assisting school in order to take the NCMA exam. Most employers, however, prefer to hire graduates from good schools.
You may also have to supply other supporting documents listed on the application. Finally, pay the fee for the exam and wait to hear back from the NCCT. It should take a few weeks before you get a letter of acceptance. You may then schedule a test date and get ready to take the NCMA test.
The NCMA exam lasts approximately three hours, but many people finish sooner. Tests are offered on a computer or with a pencil and paper, but it is faster to take it on a computer. You may only take the exam in English, as it is not offered in any other language.
NCMA Test Day
Bring a valid form of I.D. with you to the testing center. It can be a driver’s license, a passport, or a school I.D. Do not bring your cell phone or writing utensils. If you opt to take the computer-based NCMA test, you will get your scores immediately. The paper and pencil version may take a week or more to score. Once you have passed the test, you can start using your certification after your name.
Recertification is a part of the NCMA designation. You will have to take a live seminar and a workshop type of class at least once every two years for as long as you choose to work as a medical assistant. You may drop the NCMA designation at any time, since it is not mandatory. Your employer, however, may elect to pay for your continuing education classes.
The National Phlebotomy Technician Certification (NCPT) Exam
The National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) offers two types of tests for medical professionals. One is the National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) Exam and the other is called the National Certified Phlebotomy Technician (NCPT) Exam. If you are attempting to work in one of these fields, a certification is necessary for career advancement.
Phlebotomy Technician Certification (CPT)
A “CPT,” as one is commonly called, works with human blood. Your job is to draw blood from your patients. The blood can be used for a variety of purposes – medical uses or analysis. Other daily duties include phlebotomy tasks, patient interviews, taking vital signs, looking for blood diseases, testing for drugs in the blood, and managing the phlebotomy equipment.
The CPT test comes after you have completed your phlebotomy degree or certificate. You must be at least 18 with a GED or high school diploma and a phlebotomy degree/certificate. If you do not have a college degree, a year of related experience may be acceptable, but you need to have experience with venipunctures and capillary sticks. California may have caveats, so check with your Health Services Department to find out if you are eligible.
Applicants can get on the Internet and fill out the online NCPT application for speedier acceptance. All NCPT exams are given at PSI/Lasergrade test centers. Since there are over 500 testing centers throughout the country, it should be easy to find one. You will have to pay for the exam in full at the time of application and submit further documentation pertaining to your education and work experience.
NCPT Format and Content
The format of the exam is multiple-choice on a computer. There are 150 questions, and you have exactly three hours to complete the test. After several years of research, NCPT questions were compiled based on questionnaires from phlebotomy techs. Focus on areas such as “blood drawing methods,” “infection control,” “phlebotomy procedures,” “complications,” “specimen handling,” “anatomy & physiology,” and “medical terminology.” Dozens of topics make up the NCPT so be prepared to answer questions from all of these listed subjects.
Your test center will immediately give you the scores of your NCPT exam in a pass/fail format. You will know very quickly whether you have passed or failed. Furthermore, you should receive a detailed letter in the mail that gives you an overall grade. You also get an ID card in the mail for your wallet plus a certificate you can frame. For those who do not pass the test, they can appeal their grades or certain questions on the test. A formal rescoring process will commence if there are disputes.
Learning doesn’t end with your NCPT designation. You will have to recertify every two years to show that you are staying current with new technologies and procedures. Ten continuing education credits are required every two years. You can earn these credits from the NHA or from outside venues and online classes.