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The Origins of Medical Assisting


Medical assistants are essential in healthcare. And just like doctors and nurses, these professionals have a fascinating history.

Human beings have been providing each other with healthcare since the dawn of time, which means that medical assistants (in some capacity) go back as far as medicine itself.

 

Medical history is long and rich, and many people are at least casually familiar with figures such as Hippocrates or Florence Nightingale, formative figures for doctors and nurses, respectively. However, MAs have their own history. For every Galen or Dorothea Dix, there have also been intrepid medical assistants right next to them, helping make healthcare happen.

 

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Ancient medical assisting

Since the beginning of time, no physician has worked alone. Ancient doctors like Hippocrates and Galen are known for being the founders of Western medicine, but these early physicians didn’t work by themselves, nor did they do everything themselves. Both of them (as well as other ancient doctors) were often surrounded by several students and assistants performing what we would call administrative or clinical tasks.

 

Some of these assistants would go on to become physicians in their own right, but not always. Sometimes these attendants made a career out of assisting a physician. These early recorded attendants would not have called themselves “medical assistants,” but they often filled that role, performing auxiliary and support tasks for a primary care provider so that a patient could receive the best treatment possible.

 

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The origins of the AAMA

Hospitals, clinics, and treatment centers since then have always employed support personnel to carry out clinical and administrative tasks. For years, however, that profession didn’t have a name nor any kind of organizational structure.

 

In the 1950s, professionals working as medical assistants formed a professional organization analogous to other organizations for physicians and nurses. In 1955, a regional organization called the Kansas Medical Assistants Society came together to form a national organization. The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) was founded in 1956. The AAMA grew out of the Kansas group working in concert with other professional entities such as the American Medical Technologists.

 

The first president of the AAMA was Maxine Williams. During the later half of the 1950s, Williams and her fellow members established educational standards and other principles that would guide the AAMA and medical assistants for the rest of the 20th century and into the present.

 

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Medical assisting since 1956

In 1961, the AAMA established a certifying board for new medical assistants. Certification for MAs was slow to spread, but over the next decade more and more state organizations would adopt some kind of certification for MAs. By 1976, the AAMA also accepted international members.

 

Today, medical assisting is a rapidly growing profession, and it’s better defined than ever before. Medical assistants, instead of being people who follow around a physician or do unorganized support work for a hospital, are now trained professionals who often have specific specializations. There have always been medical assistants of some sort, but today we finally have a name and a defined role for what always has been — and always will be — an essential part of healthcare.

 

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