There are many different medical assistant specialties that are available outside of family practice and primary care physician’s offices. If the medical assistant has an interest in a specific field of medicine, they may be able to move into a specialty after graduating from a career college and obtaining a little bit of experience as a medical assistant. The medical assistant specialties include cardiology, dermatology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, geriatrics, neurology, obstetrics and gynecology, ophthalmology, orthopedics, otolaryngology, pediatrics, pulmonary medicine, and urology.
Cardiology is the medical specialty that deals with diseases and abnormalities of the heart. The common tests that a medical assistant will assist in include phlebotomy, cardiac imaging, Electrocardiogram (ECG), and cardiac stress tests. Common disorders of the heart include carditis, congestive heart failure, myocardial infarction, cardiac arrhythmia, and congenital and valvular heart disease. Common disorders of the blood vessels include atherosclerosis, hypertension, varicose veins, venous thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, cerebrovascular accident, aneurysm and anemia.
The medical assistant performs many different diagnostic testing procedures while being supervised by the physician. To prepare the patient for a cardiovascular examination by the physician, the medical assistant will gather vital information, including weight, blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, body temperature and heart cardiovascular history. The medical assistant will verify the patient’s medications and get a brief history that includes lifestyle and hereditary risk factors. The physician may order additional testing that the medical assistant will perform including phlebotomy, cardiac imaging, Electrocardiogram (ECG), and cardiac stress test.
Phlebotomy – the drawing of blood for laboratory testing. The medical assistant draws the specimen from the vein to test the level of red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, iron content, and other signs of abnormalities.
Cardiac Imaging – used to evaluate the anatomic location and gross structures of the heart, blood vessels and lungs.
Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) – tool that evaluates the electrical pathways through the heart. During the ECG, the medical assistant prepares the patient and educates them on the procedure. The medical assistant is responsible for keeping the test artifact free and to prepare the output for physician’s review.
Cardiac Stress Test – used to measure the response of the patient’s heart to increased demands for oxygen.
Dermatology is the medical specialty that is concerned with diagnosis and treatment of skin, nail, and hair diseases and disorders. The skin is the largest organ of the body and can be affected by bacterial infections, viral infections, fungal infections, parasitic infections, inflammatory reactions, skin cancer and other disorders.
Bacterial Skin Infections – some bacterial infections can be treated by over-the-counter medications and others require antibiotics. The most common bacterial infections of the skin include carbuncle, cellulitis, folliculitis, furuncle, impetigo, and leprosy.
Viral Skin Infection – infections caused by a virus and range from mild to severe. The most common viral skin infections include chickenpox, herpes zoster, herpes simplex, measles, verruca and warts.
Fungal Skin Infection – most likely to develop in damp areas of the body including feet and armpits. Common fungal skin infections include athlete’s foot and nail fungus.
Parasite Skin Infection – can spread beyond the skin to the bloodstream and organs. Two common types of parasite skin infections are pediculosis and scabies.
Inflammatory Reactions – disorders that can cause rash, skin itching, redness and skin inflammation. Common disorders include acne vulgaris, eczema, psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis and urticaria.
Skin Cancer – the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells that occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to the cells triggers mutations. Common skin cancer diagnosis includes basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma.
The medical assistant is responsible for assembling the medical devices that the physician will need to perform diagnostic procedures including physical examination, wound cultures, skin biopsy, urine melanin, and Wood light analysis. They are also responsible for collecting and delivering specimens to the appropriate laboratories.
Wound Cultures – a medical assistant can obtain a wound culture from a sample of the wound drainage using a sterile swab. They typically send the specimen to an outside laboratory. At the outside laboratory, they will apply the specimen to a growth medium and allow the microorganisms to grow.
Skin Biopsy – removal of a small piece of tissue from a lesion for examination under a microscope to determine if it is benign or malignant. The medical assistant typically prepares the instruments and medical supplies needed for this procedure.
Urine Melanin – a test that identifies if the patient has a malignant melanoma. The medical assistant can collect the specimen and send to an outside laboratory to identify the presence of melanin.
Wood Light Analysis – a dark, ultraviolet light that is used to detect a fungal infection. The medical assistant will prepare and clean the instruments for the physician to perform the Wood light analysis.
Endocrinology is the medical specialty that deals with diseases and disorders of the endocrine system, endocrine glands and hormones. The common tests that a medical assistant will help with include thyroid function tests and blood sugar level tests. Common diseases and disorders endocrinology deals with include diabetes, thyroid disease and androgen excess.
The medical assistant will assist, schedule, prepare and educate patients about common diagnostic and therapeutic procedures of the endocrine system. Many of the tests involve removing specimen and delivering it to a lab for review. The testing of blood and urine can measure hormone levels and blood glucose to identify abnormalities associated with endocrine disorders and diseases.
Gastroenterology is the medical specialty that deals with disorders of the stomach and intestines. The gastrointestinal system is responsible for ingestion, digestion, transportation and elimination of the food a person consumes. The common tests a medical assistant will help with include phlebotomy, ultrasonography, stool tests, barium swallows and endoscopy.
There are many different disorders of the gastrointestinal system that a medical assistant should be familiar. They include caries, stomatitis, gingivitis, oral cancers, hiatal hernia, gastroesophageal reflux disease, esophageal varices, esophageal cancer, gastritis, peptic ulcers, gastric cancer, gastroenteritis, duodenal ulcers, malabsorption syndrome, Crohn disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulosis, polyps, hernia, appendicitis, hemorrhoids, colorectal cancer, functional disorder, hepatitis, cirrhosis, liver cancer, cholelithiasis, gallbladder cancer, pancreatitis, and pancreatic cancer.
The medical assistant will assist the physician with diagnostic and therapeutic procedures to exam the GI tract. The medical assistant will compile a history of the patient including signs and symptoms. The history includes occupation, family history, recent travel out of the country, and current medications. The medical assistant will also check for signs of heartburn, GI bleeding, weight gain or loss, history of alcohol use and use of a laxative or enema.
Phlebotomy - the medical assistant may pull blood if ordered by the physician to determine liver function and pancreatic enzymes.
Ultrasonography – use of high-frequency sound waves to diagnose disorders of the GI tract. The medical assistant will schedule the test, advise the patient of the procedure, follow up after the test and notify the patient with any findings or additional instructions.
Stool Tests – the medical assistant may administer a stool test to identify the presence of blood in the stool.
Barium Swallows – used in conjunction with flat plate radiographs to outline the organs and identify abnormalities.
Endoscopy – the use of flexible tubes down the esophagus to examine the stomach, small intestines and colon.
Geriatrics is a medical specialty that focuses on the health and care of the elderly. Interactions with geriatric patients must demonstrate dignity and respect, keeping in mind the limitations and abilities of the older patient.
One of the focuses of medical assistants when caring for the elderly is to make sure they take their prescribed medication. Since the elderly can have a problem with memory loss or thought processes, the medical assistant should identify ways to remind elderly patients to take medications and follow physician’s instructions.
Many geriatric patients are coping with aging and the medical assistant will help with management of stress, loss of senses, abilities and important things in their life. At the most basic level of care, the medical assistant can just listen to the geriatric patient.
Some medical assistants can work with geriatric patients in long-term care facilities. They will need to understand that some patients will be happy to leave the stress of life behind whereas some patients will greet long-term care with sorrow and a sense of loss. To maintain optimum health, the medical assistant will educate the older adult patients with exercise, proper diet, and safety suggestions.
Common diseases of the older adult, that a medical assistant will need to become familiar with include Parkinson’s disease, dementia, aphasia, hearing problems, voice problems, dysarthria and Alzheimer’s disease.
Obstetrics & Gynecology Specialty
Obstetrics is a medical specialty that focuses on pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. Gynecology is a medical specialty that focuses on the female reproductive system. Common gynecologic disorders include dysfunctional uterine bleeding, premenstrual syndrome, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, endometriosis, uterine prolapse and displacement, leiomyomas, ovarian cysts, gynecologic cancer, infertility, and sexually transmitted diseases.
Some common diagnostic and therapeutic procedures a medical assistant may assist a physician with include the gynecologic examination, colposcopy, dilation and curettage, and hysterosalpingography.
- The Gynecologic Examination – the physician examines the patient’s breasts, performs a pelvic exam and obtains a Pap smear. The medical assistant will schedule the procedure and instruct the patient on how to prepare.
- Colposcopy – a visual examination of the vaginal and cervical surfaces with a stereoscopic microscope. The colposcopy typically follows an abnormal Pap smear to locate the abnormal cells.
- Dilation and Curettage – performed to remove uterine or endometrial tissue for diagnostic testing.
- Hysterosalpingography – a diagnostic process where the uterus and uterine tubes are radiographed after injection of a contrast medium.
The medical assistant will assist, schedule and prepare patients for different obstetric care. They may assist physicians that diagnose, monitor and deliver babies for pregnant patients. During the monitoring of the fetus, the medical assistant will use an ultrasound to document different stages of the fetus and allow the physician to identify any abnormalities.
Neurology is a medical specialty that focuses on the nervous system including the brain, spinal cord and the nerves that transmit impulses. Some of the common nervous system disorders include meningitis, encephalitis, herpes zoster, poliomyelitis, tetanus, rabies, Reye syndrome, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, febrile seizures, focal seizures, neural tube defects, hydrocephalus, and cerebral palsy.
The medical assistant will assist in examining the patient’s nervous system. The physician will diagnose disorders based on mental status and orientation, cranial nerve assessment, sensory and motor function and reflex assessment. Other tests a medical assistant will help with include radiologic tests, electrical tests and lumbar puncture.
Radiologic Tests - includes computed tomography (CT), which makes use of computer-processed combinations of X-ray measurements to produce a cross-sectional image of the patient, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that uses powerful magnets, radio waves and a computer to make detailed pictures inside the body.
Electrical testing - done with electroencephalography (EEG) to monitor and record electrical activity in the brain.
Lumbar Puncture - used to diagnose infectious inflammatory and bleeding disorders that can impact the brain and spinal cord.
Ophthalmology is a medical specialty that focuses on disorders and disease of the eye. The medical assistant is expected to perform basic procedures associated with the eyes. Some diagnostic testing of the eye includes visual acuity testing, color deficit testing, and eye pressure testing. The medical assistant is commonly responsible for instilling eye medications and teaching patients how to administer these medications at home.
Common disorders of the eyes a medical assistant may encounter include cataracts, conjunctivitis, corneal ulcer, retinopathy, glaucoma, refractive errors, strabismus, and color deficit.
Orthopedics is a medical specialty that focuses on the correction of deformities of bones and muscles. The main system that orthopedics focuses on is the musculoskeletal system. Bones and muscles work together to support the body and allow it to function properly. Common disorders of the musculoskeletal system include sprains, strains, dislocations, and fractures. Other disorders of the musculoskeletal system include bursitis, arthritis, tendonitis, fibromyalgia, gout, muscular dystrophy, osteoporosis, and bone tumors. The most common tools to detect disorders of the musculoskeletal system are radiology and diagnostic imaging.
Medical assistants can be involved in the bandaging of patients and preparation of medical instruments that the physician may use to isolate dislocations and fractures. Some of the devices used to restrict movement include casts, braces, slings, splints and collars. The medical assistant may also educate patients on proper care of orthopedic disorders including rest, immobilization, and heat and cold packs.
The medical assistant will work with the physician to perform diagnostic procedures including the assessment of structure and function, movement and pain. They will interview the patient to better understand the events that occurred and circumstances that led to the patient seeking medical help.
Otolaryngology is a medical specialty that focuses on diseases of the ears, nose and throat. The medical assistant will assist the physician with auditory testing and tuning fork tests in order to diagnose hearing loss in a patient. For nose and throat disorders, the medical assistant will assist the physician with instruments and medical devices for the physician to examine the patient with a penlight or tongue depressor. The medical assistant will assist in a throat culture and delivery of the specimen to an outside laboratory.
Common disorders of the ears that a medical assistant must become familiar with include ceruminosis, conductive and perceptual hearing loss, meniere disease, otitis externa, otitis media and otosclerosis. Common disorders of the nose and throat that a medical assistant will also need to become familiar with include allergic rhinitis, epistaxis, nasal polyps, sinusitis, pharyngitis, tonsillitis and laryngitis.
Pediatrics is a medical specialty that focuses on the medical care of infants, children and adolescents. The medical assistant will assist the physician with the diagnosis and treatment of childhood disease, the prevention of accidents, and monitoring of the mental and emotional development of the child. The medical assistant will need to know that many children are more susceptible to diseases as their immune system has not fully matured, metabolism is faster, and they have an accelerated growth pattern. They will need to concentrate on safety, from the medical equipment a child can reach to the toys that are located in the waiting room.
The medical assistant will assist with many different pediatric visits from the well-child office visit to the sick-child office visit. The well-child office visit sets a baseline for the child, administers immunizations and helps with other preventative measures to keep the child in optimum health. The goal of the sick-child office visit is for the medical assistant to work with the physician in diagnosing and treating the child’s immediate illness or injury.
The medical assistant is responsible for preparing the pediatric patient and documenting the pediatric physical examination. The physician will review the body systems of the patient and monitor the general appearance of the child. While documenting the pediatric exam, the medical assistant will want to record the child’s medical history including prenatal history and the details of the mother’s pregnancy. As the child grows, the medical assistant will be responsible for documenting the history of childhood diseases, development, immunizations and nutritional status. The medical assistant will also obtain and record measurements and vital signs during each patient visit. Weight is the most frequently obtained measurement as it is often needed to assess nutritional status and determine medication dosages.
Common pediatric illnesses and disorders that a medical assistant will need to be familiar with include impetigo, meningitis, encephalitis, tetanus, cerebral palsy, croup, epiglottitis, cystic fibrosis, asthma, otitis media, tonsillitis, obesity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Pulmonary Medicine Specialty
Pulmonary medicine is a medical specialty that focuses on the diseases and disorders of the respiratory tract. The more common diseases of the respiratory tract that a medical assistant would need to become familiar with include asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, lung cancer, tuberculosis and occupational lung disease. Some of the tests a medical assistant would assist in include bronchoscopy, pulmonary function test, arterial blood gas testing and pulse oximetry.
Bronchoscopy – an endoscopic procedure where the physician inserts a lighted scope into the trachea or bronchi for visual inspection. This test can be used to collect sputum specimens, obtain tissue for biopsy and to visually assess the airways for signs of COPD or asthma.
Pulmonary Function Test – performed with a spirometer to measure the air output of a patient moving in and out of the lungs.
Arterial Blood Gas Testing – measures the pH and pressure of oxygen and carbon dioxide in arterial blood.
Pulse Oximetry – measures the percentage of oxygen saturation in a patient’s capillary blood cells.
A traditional examination of the respiratory system that a medical assistant would assist in includes four parts: inspection, palpation, percussion and auscultation.
Inspection – a visual examination of the chest and the patient’s respiratory system. The physician looks for abnormalities and any visible signs of respiratory disease.
Palpation – the physician uses their hands to check for lumps, tenderness or tumors in the throat and trachea. The physician will also ask the patient to speak and will listen for vibrations that may be caused by solid masses or fluids.
Percussion – the physician places a finger on the chest and strikes it with the fingers of the other hand. They will listen for normal sounds or dull and flat sounds that may be an indicator of pneumonia or a tumor.
Auscultation – use of a stethoscope to listen to the lungs and airway passage. The physician listens for abnormal sounds that may indicate disease.
Urology is a medical specialty that focuses on the diseases and disorders of the male and female urinary tract system and male reproductive organs. Common urinary disorders include renal failure, calculi, tumors, hydronephrosis, urinary system infections, benign prostatic hyperplasia, prostate cancer, testicular cancer, hydrocele, cryptorchidism, inguinal hernia, and erectile dysfunction.
A medical assistant will help the physician with urinary system diagnostic and therapeutic testing including urinalysis, phlebotomy, cystoscopy, pyelogram, ultrasound, and vasectomy.
Urinalysis – testing of the patient’s urine which is collected by the medical assistant and delivered to a laboratory for testing.
Phlebotomy – blood draw by the medical assistant to measure the serum levels of uric acid, blood urea nitrogen and creatinine.
Cystoscopy – direct visualization of the bladder and urethra with a cystoscope.
Pyelogram – both intravenous and retrograde radiographic examination of the kidneys and urinary tract. The medical assistant may be responsible for scheduling the procedure and educating the patient with instructions to follow before the procedure.
Ultrasound – use of sound waves to show stones and obstructions in the urinary system.
Vasectomy – surgical procedure that removes all or part of the vas deferens to prevent sperm from leaving the testes. The medical assistant typically schedules the procedure, assists with a surgical tray and instructs the patient on how to prepare for the procedure.
Interested in learning more about the specialties that are available to medical assistants? Ready to start a Medical Assistant Program? Mildred Elley offers a Medical Assistant Program that prepares students for entry-level positions in physician’s offices, clinics, hospitals and other medical facilities as a medical assistant. The Medical Assistant Program helps develop the skills necessary to excel in the healthcare industry.
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