Medical Assistant Training & Career Information
Every day, doctors and other health care professionals depend on compassionate, go-getting medical assistants to provide essential support services that allow them to focus on treating patients. Through the important work they do, medical assistants touch the lives of other people who may be physically or mentally ill or just trying to make positive changes to their overall health. Whether you're just starting out or want to make a career change to something more rewarding, becoming a medical office assistant can offer many upsides. Explore the frequently asked questions below to learn about the average medical assistant salary in Canada, what medical assistants do, where they can work, how to get training, and much more.
In order to treat patients effectively, doctors, nurses, and other health care personnel need assistants to take care of many important tasks necessary for keeping a medical office or health care facility running smoothly.
In Canada, a medical assistant or medical office assistant (MOA) is usually someone who handles multiple administrative duties and sometimes takes care of a few basic clinical tasks.
The most common job titles include:
- Medical office assistant
- Medical office administrator
- Medical administrative assistant
- Medical secretary
- Ward secretary
Most Common Duties
When it comes to specific duties, a lot can depend on the type and size of a particular office or health facility. (In large offices, duties are often divided among several different assistants.) Job responsibilities can also depend on level of experience and training.
That said, an MOA often has a wide variety of important duties that can include:
Interacting with Patients
- Scheduling and confirming appointments
- Greeting patients
- Validating patients' provincial health services cards
- Assisting patients with the completion of medical or insurance forms
- Asking patients about the reasons for their visit
- Helping patients feel at ease
- Taking patients to exam or treatment rooms
- Admitting patients for overnight (or longer) stays
- Directing patients to helpful resources
- Collecting payments if necessary
Maintaining Health Records
- Starting new medical files for new patients
- Proofreading medical records
- Updating electronic medical records
- Updating and filing paper records and medical charts
- Ensuring the confidentiality of patients' medical files and records
Facilitating Office Communications
- Relaying messages between medical staff
- Passing messages on from patients to doctors or vice versa
- Answering phones
- Sending and receiving emails
Preparing Reports and Correspondence
- Transcribing verbal or handwritten notes, case histories, and correspondence from doctors
- Typing, proofreading, and editing reports
- Completing insurance forms
Handling Day-to-Day Financial Matters
- Preparing invoices and financial statements
- Billing provincial medical services plans while following relevant guidelines
- Processing payments, bank documents, and payroll
- Managing cash
Coordinating Outside Services
- Arranging for laboratory tests or hospital admissions
- Helping patients get consultations with other doctors or specialists
Managing Office Needs and Routines
- Tracking the inventory of office and medical supplies
- Ordering necessary supplies
- Establishing or updating office procedures
- Keeping doctors' schedules organized
- Planning meetings and business trips
Performing Basic Clinical Procedures
- Measuring patients' basic vitals signs such as body temperature and blood pressure
- Taking patients' weight and height measurements
- Cleaning and setting up exam and treatment rooms
- Disinfecting and stocking medical instruments and supplies
In addition to some of the above duties, MOAs with a lot of experience are often responsible for training and supervising other assistants.
In Canada, the typical salary varies a little from region to region. How much you can make as a medical assistant also depends on your level of education, the type of employer you work for, and the range of responsibilities you're trained to handle.
National Salary Estimates
The Government of Canada's wage data from 2012-2013 shows that nationwide wages for medical office assistants break down as follows:
- Median hourly pay was $19.15 (which equals total annual wages of about $39,800 for full-time work)*
- The highest earners in the field made $25.65 or more (about $53,350 or more per year)*
In many provinces, medical assistants earn more than the national median wage. Based on the Government of Canada's 2012-2013 data, the provinces with the highest median hourly wages were:
- Alberta—$26.98 (which equals about $56,100 per year for full-time employment)*
- Ontario—$20.51 (about $42,660 per year)*
- Prince Edward Island—$20.36 (about $42,350 per year)*
- Newfoundland and Labrador—$20.21 (about $42,000 per year)*
- British Columbia—$20.00 (which equals a medical office assistant salary in BC of about $41,600)*
Best Aspects of the Job
- A sense of meaning and connection—Many gain satisfaction from the feeling of doing something important because they get to help other people, sometimes forming close bonds with regular patients.
- Daily variety—Because they often have a wide range of different tasks to take care of each day, they tend to stay engaged in their work and experience the satisfaction that comes from feeling productive.
- Strong demand for their skills—Since everyone requires health care services throughout their lives, most MOAs enjoy relatively stable job security.
- Opportunities for advancement—With experience, many move up into supervisory positions such as medical office manager or head administrator.
- The potential to work part-time—Many MOA jobs are well-suited to people who want to maintain an important career but also want the extra time to raise a family or pursue other interests outside of work.
Becoming a Medical Assistant
The most common path is to earn a post-secondary certificate or diploma in medical administrative services or health care administration. You can also gain marketable skills by completing programs or courses in related areas like nursing and business administration.
No Licensing Requirements
Medical office assistants are not regulated anywhere in Canada. That means you don't need to obtain professional certification or a government license to work as one.
In terms of other employment requirements, most employers prefer to hire people who have at least:
- A post-secondary education in a field related to medical office assisting
- A caring demeanour
- A solid understanding of medical terminology and office procedures
- Great organizational skills
- The ability to learn and use new computer software effectively
- A commitment to maintaining patient confidentiality
Many certificate programs take as little as eight months—or up to one year—to complete. Other programs, such as those that result in a post-secondary diploma, are designed to last about two years. Both types of programs can prepare you for an entry-level position.
What You Can Learn
By enrolling in a formal program, you'll have the advantage of developing marketable skills and knowledge in many different areas of medical administration such as:
- Medical terminology
- Business and medical communications
- Patient relations
- Fundamentals of health care operations
- Health care policies and government regulations
- Ethics and standards of conduct for health care professionals
- Medical recordkeeping and filing procedures
- Scheduling and planning systems
- Medical office software
Almost every type of health care facility requires administrative assistants trained in medical office procedures in order to keep things running efficiently for patients and health practitioners. As a result, MOAs can find work within a wide variety of health settings, including:
- Doctors' offices
- Walk-in clinics
- Specialty medical clinics (such as for mental health, obstetric, or diabetic patients)
- Dentists' offices
- Hospital departments (such as admitting, emergency, records, laboratory, etc.)
- Nursing homes and seniors' residences
- Rehabilitation facilities
- Public health agencies
- Alternative health care clinics (such as for chiropractic care, acupuncture, massage therapy, etc.)
- Insurance companies
- Medical software companies
The outlook for jobs in this field is good. According to the Government of Canada, workers in the group that includes medical office assistants are projected to be in high demand between 2011 and 2020. *
Numerous job openings are expected to result from the retirements of many existing medical administrative professionals in the coming years.
Look into the education options that are available near you. Many Canadian colleges and trade schools offer medical office assistant programs that can help you become a professional in this field. In less than a year or two, you could be providing vital administrative services that doctors and patients truly appreciate!
* Government of Canada, Job Bank, website last visited on January 6, 2015.
Government of Alberta, Human Services, website last visited on January 6, 2015.
Service Canada, website last visited on January 6, 2015.
American Association of Medical Assistants, website last visited on January 6, 2015.