Medical assistants: the invisible "glue" of primary health care practices in the United States?

J Health Organ Manag. 2010;24(3):288-305. doi: 10.1108/14777261011054626.


Purpose: Little attention has been given to the field of medical assisting in US health services to date. To explore the roles medical assistants (MAs) currently play in primary care settings, the paper aims to focus on the work scope and dynamics of these increasingly common healthcare personnel.

Design/methodology/approach: This is a multiple step, mixed methods study, combining a quantitative survey and qualitative semi-structured interviews: eight experts in the field of medical assisting; 12 MAs from diverse primary care practice settings in Northern California.

Findings: Survey results revealed great variation in the breadth of tasks that MAs performed. Five overarching themes describe the experience of medical assistants in primary care settings: ensuring patient flow and acting as a patient liaison, "making a difference"; diversity within the occupation and work relationships.

Research implications/limitations: As the number of medical assistants working in primary care practices in the United States increases, more attention must be paid to how best to deploy this allied health workforce. This study suggests that MAs have an expertise in maintaining efficient clinic flow and promoting patient satisfaction. Future recommendations for changes in MA roles must address the diversity within this occupation in terms of workscope and quality assurance as well as MA relationships with other members of ambulatory care teams.

Originality/value: This is the first study to explore perspectives of medical assistants in the USA. As this is a largely unregulated and understudied field, a qualitative study allowed the exploration of major themes in medical assisting and the establishment of a framework from which further study can occur.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Allied Health Personnel / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Job Satisfaction*
  • Middle Aged
  • Primary Health Care* / organization & administration
  • Professional Practice
  • Professional Role*
  • United States
  • Workforce
  • Young Adult