medical assistant certification requirements


One out of every three adults in the United States has high blood pressure, according to the CDC. Those looking to play a role in providing care for this condition could do so after receiving training and fulfilling medical assistant certification requirements.

When going to the doctor to receive preventative care for such ailments, you may encounter a medical assistant who could take your vitals. A medical assistant taking vital signs is working to identify when a patient’s vital signs are abnormal. If you are looking to enter a career where helping people can be your main focus, you may want to fulfill your medical assistant certification requirements. Taking vital signs is one of the medical assistant skills and duties that can be learned through formal training.

Continue reading as we break down the basics of one of the most important medical assistant job responsibilities: how to take vital signs.


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What Does a Certified Medical Assistant Do to Take Vital Signs?

Medical assistant certification requirements include taking vital signs as an important aspect of training. The medical assistant taking vital signs typically does so before the patient sees the physician. This creates a baseline for a patient’s future physical exams.


Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the force that blood is pumped against the walls of the arteries. The medical assistant taking vital signs will measure the systolic and diastolic pressures.

There are two main factors that affect blood pressure including hypertension and hypotension.

  • Hypertension – high blood pressure. Can cause stroke, vision loss, heart failure, heart attack, and kidney failure.
  • Hypotension – low blood pressure. Mild hypotension may not be critical however extreme forms may be a result of shock, heart failure, severe burns, or excessive bleeding.


Pulse Rate

The pulse rate is an indicator of the health of the patient’s cardiovascular system. It is an indirect measurement of the amount of blood the heart pumps in one minute.

A patient’s pulse is measured as the number of times the heart beats in one minute. A medical assistant will use a pressure cuff and stethoscope to count the patient’s heartbeats when taking vital signs.

There are nine pulse points on the human body. Each pulse can give information about the area of the body and how well it is pumping blood. Some pulse points include the:

  • Wrist in the radial artery
  • Temporal artery on the head just above the ear
  • Carotid artery on the nape of the neck
  • Brachial artery on the inside of the elbow
  • Femoral artery on the inner thigh, popliteal artery under the knee
  • Posterior tibial artery on the side of the ankle
  • Dorsalis pedis artery on the top of the foot.


Respiration Rate

A healthy respiration rate means that the patient is providing the proper amount of oxygen to the tissue in their body. The best place to listen to or feel the respiration rate is at the patient’s chest, stomach, back, or shoulders. A physician usually counts respiration using a stethoscope and placing it on one side of the spine in the middle of the back.

A patient’s respiration rate is the number of times a patient breathes in one minute. One respiration includes both an inhalation and an exhalation. Respiration rate is counted to understand the patient’s respiration rate, rhythm, and quality. The rhythm should be regular, and the quality will be normal, shallow, or deep.

There are a few irregularities a physician or medical assistant will be looking for including:

  • Apnea – the absence of respiration, typically while the patient is asleep.
  • Dyspnea – difficult or painful breathing typically caused by chronic lung diseases.
  • Hyperventilation – excessive rate and depth of breathing usually due to hysteria. This is typically caused by exhaling more than the patient is inhaling and a build-up of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream.
  • Hyperpnea – abnormally rapid, deep, or labored breathing that can be caused by excessive exercise or a lack of oxygen at high altitudes.
  • Rales – a crackling sound indicating that fluid is in the lungs and the patient may have pneumonia or other breathing condition.
  • Rhonchi – a deep snoring or rattling sound most associated with asthma, acute bronchitis, and other conditions of the airway being obstructed.
  • Tachypnea – rapid breathing caused by a buildup of carbon dioxide in the lungs that can cause a buildup of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream.



The main objective for taking a temperature is so the medical assistant taking vital signs can determine abnormal temperatures. Body temperature is balanced between heat production by metabolic processes and the loss of heat from the body.

There are also many factors that can affect temperature including the time of day, age, gender, physical exercise, emotion, medications, and food intake. Environmental changes and the metabolism can also be a factor. Normal adult oral temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

It is important to know how to take a patient’s temperature and the technique for each measurement type. Measuring the temperature can be done by oral, tympanic, rectal, axillary, or temporal methods.

Oral Temperature – the patient must be able to hold the thermometer in their mouth, under their tongue. The patient will hold the thermometer in their mouth with lips closed.

Tympanic Temperature – a measurement of the patient’s temperature in their ear. The temperature taken in the ear may be slightly higher than an oral temperature. Taking a tympanic temperature may be an easy way to measure the temperature of a child to identify if they have a fever. Fever can be a sign of illness or infection.

Rectal Temperature – a measurement of the patient’s temperature through the anus. This may be a preferred method for those patients that are unconscious. The rectal temperature is usually one degree higher than the oral temperature. The medical assistant must always wear gloves and may use lubricant while measuring rectal temperature.

Axillary Temperature – a measurement of the patient’s temperature in the armpit. The average temperature under the arm is one degree less than the oral method.

Temporal Temperature – taking a patient’s temperature at the temporal artery on the side of the forehead at the temple. A temporal temperature is usually one degree lower than an oral temperature.


Body Mass Index

A patient’s body mass index is a reliable indicator of a healthy weight. Medical assistants will want to take a patient’s height and weight. This is especially important for children to understand if they are growing at a healthy rate.

Also, any major changes in a patient’s weight may be an indicator of a disease or disorder that may need attention. More than one-third of U.S. adults have obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Weight measurements are also important when dosing medication for a patient’s treatment or procedure.


Learn More Medical Assistant Certification Requirements at Mildred Elley

So what does a certified medical assistant do beyond taking vital signs? Are you interested in learning more about medical assistant certification requirements? Are you ready to gain knowledge of the medical assistant skills and duties you may need for the job?

Mildred Elley offers medical assistant programs to prepare students for entry-level positions in physician’s offices and other medical facilities. Our Medical Assistant AOS degree program, Clinical Medical Assistant Certificate, and Medical Office Assistant Certificate programs could help you develop the clinical and administrative skills that may be needed to meet medical assistant certification requirements.

Contact us today to learn more about the programs at our Albany, New York City, and Pittsfield campuses!


Begin training toward meeting your medical assistant certification requirements at Mildred Elley!



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