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Not To Specialize... Would You Enjoy Practicing as a Generalist Medical Assistant?

One of the most difficult decisions that a newly graduated Medical Assistant must make is where to seek employment.  With so many options available, including doctor's offices, hospitals, outpatient clinics and ambulatory care facilities, the decision can be a difficult one.  But this is not where this story ends.  Let's just assume that you have already elected to work in a doctor's office, which is the most common setting in which medical assistants work.  Is this where this story ends?  Unfortunately, no, it is not.  Now, you must decide to either be a generalist or a specialist! This blog will concentrate on what a Medical Assistant Generalist does and provide some information meant to be useful to a new MA deciding his or her career path.  My next blog will explore Medical Assistant Specialists and why some MA's choose this path over that of a Generalist.

A  generalist Medical Assistant is one who works for an internal medicine doctor or a family practitioner.  These physicians see a vast variety of patients across a wide age range who present with an array of medical problems, and therefore their Medical Assistants see these patients also. A specialist Medical Assistant is one who works with a physician who has decided to seek further training after medical school in order to treat more specialized medical problems. 

Of course, there are pros and cons to being a generalist and a specialist.  As mentioned earlier, this blog concentrates on the generalist, so let the exploration begin.  What it might be like to practice as a generalist Medical Assistant?  To answer this question, I will first explain the medical environment  in which Internal Medicine physicians and Family Practice doctors practice. These physicians are known as Primary Care Physicians and generally treat patients over the age of 18 for any and every illness that does not require a specialist physician.  THis work is most often done in a clinic/office setting.  These doctors (along with their Medical Assistants) tend to administer care to the same patient population over a span of many years, treating illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, anemia  and thyroid problems, among many others.  They would also manage more emergent problems like upper respiratory infections, asthma and bronchitis. These doctors are sometimes known as "gate keepers" because they decide when to send a patient to a specialist.  Take home messages: same patients for many years, ages 18 until death, office setting.

Now that we have established the basics, why would an MA choose this setting or not? The answer is that an MA would choose this setting for many of the same reasons that the physician did!  One thing that many PCP's and their staff enjoy about this line of work is the "continuity of care".  Continuity of care is the process by which the patient and the physician are cooperatively involved in ongoing health care management toward the goal of high quality medical care according to www.aafp.org.  These medical professionals and therefore their staff get to know patients and their families very well over many years.  They see them through marriages, births and deaths. They treat the same patients for any medical problem that should arise and have a rapport with the patients that would be impossible to establish in just one or two visits. This can be quite appealing to Medical Assistants who enjoy these types of long term relationships and interactions as they can be quite fulfilling.

In making the decision to practice as a generalist, the Medical Assistant will want to take all of the above information into account and decide if this is a setting that would work well with his or her personality  and needs as an employee. Although the decision can be difficult and the answer may not always be clear, my goal was to give you enough information to make this decision a bit easier.  I hope I was successful!