delegation, Scope of Practice

Duties and Delegation Abroad

I field many scope-of-practice questions in my work, some of which are highly specific to the individuals posing them. Others can be applied more broadly, however. These serve as interesting material to share with readers of this blog. The following is one such question I received recently.

I practice as a medical assistant in North Carolina. I routinely travel outside the country for medical missions. As a CMA (AAMA), when working under a physician licensed in another country, am I permitted to perform the same tasks that I am allowed to perform under North Carolina law?

I responded as follows:

Thank you for your most interesting question.  Your legal scope of practice would depend on the laws of the country in which you are working.  You would not necessarily be able to perform the same tasks you are delegated in North Carolina.

However, to take your question a step further, it is my legal opinion that—if a physician licensed in North Carolina also went on such a mission trip—the physician would be permitted to delegate to you the same tasks that he/she delegates to you under North Carolina law.  This same legal principle would apply to nurse practitioners and physician assistants licensed in North Carolina.

Note that the state in question here is largely interchangeable. Were the medical assistant and physician from Oklahoma, for example, the same legal principle would apply, only specific to Oklahoma law instead of North Carolina.

delegation, Scope of Practice

The Relationship between Scope and Competence

Medical assistants are under a legal duty to not exceed the legal scope of practice in their state.  Medical assistants are also under a legal duty to perform all tasks competently.  It is important to understand the relationship between these two legal duties.

Even if a medical assistant performs a task competently, and meets or exceeds the standard of care that is required of a medical assistant, the medical assistant could face legal sanctions if the task is beyond the legal scope of practice for medical assistants in the state.

Similarly, if a medical assistant performs a task that is permitted under state law, the medical assistant (and, most likely, the medical assistant’s delegating provider) could be sued for negligence if the task is not performed competently.

Medical assistants must make sure they perform all tasks competently.  They must also make sure that the tasks they perform do not exceed the legal scope of practice in the state (or other American jurisdiction) in which they are working. Of course, the best way to do so is by remaining informed about the laws in your own state. To help health care professionals navigate this issue, the AAMA website has a large collection of documents relating to different states’ scope of practice laws. Any medical assisting scope of practice questions that are not covered by these materials can be emailed to me at

medication aide, medication assistant, medication technician, Uncategorized

Medical Assistants and Medication Aides/Assistants/Technicians: Differences and Clarifications

Although I have written about the difference between medical assistants and medication aides/assistants/technicians in Public Affairs articles in CMA Today, I continue to receive questions about the topic. Here are the basics:

Medical assistants work in outpatient settings under direct provider supervision, and may be delegated clinical and administrative tasks. Medication aides/assistants/technicians work in inpatient settings, usually under registered nurse supervision. A primary task of medication aides is to pass medications as directed by the RN supervisor.

Medication aides do not exist under the laws of some states. The laws of other states refer to these health workers by a designation other than medication aide. In some states an individual must first meet the requirements and register with the state as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) in order to be eligible to receive additional training and become a medication aide.

Medical assistants do not work in a clinical capacity in inpatient settings as medical assistants per se. Medical assistants must meet the requirements and register with the state as a CNA and/or a medication aide in order to work in a clinical capacity in inpatient settings.

Some state laws refer to medication aides as “certified medication aides.” The initialism associated with this phrase can cause confusion between medical assistants and medication aides. To help minimize such confusion, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing refers to medication aides as “MA-Cs” and encourages states to use this initialism. This change was made at the request of the American Association of Medical Assistants.

delegation, On the Job, Professional Identity, Scope of Practice

Medical Assistants and Limited Scope Radiography

I receive fewer questions than I did seven or 10 years ago about the legalities of medical assistants performing limited scope radiography. However, in some states medical assistants are called upon to expose patients to ionizing radiation, as specifically directed by the overseeing/delegating provider.

The legality of this task is governed by state law. In some states unlicensed professionals such as medical assistants are forbidden from doing any limited scope radiography. Only licensed radiologic technologists are permitted to perform radiography. In other states medical assistants are required to complete a short course and pass a test in order to be delegated limited scope radiography. In other states limited scope radiography under direct/on-site provider supervision is not regulated. Physicians are permitted to delegate limited scope radiography to knowledgeable and competent employees.

medication administration, On the Job, Professional Identity, Scope of Practice

Preparation and Administration of Injections by Medical Assistants

In the current ambulatory care environment, medical assistants are being delegated the preparation of injectable substances, as well as the administration of injections. I often receive questions about legal restrictions on medical assistants preparing injectable substances. In some states, there are specific laws that address this question. In general, it is my legal opinion that, if there is a likelihood of significant harm to a patient if an injectable substance is prepared improperly, the delegating provider must verify the identity and the dosage of the injectable substance before it is administered by the medical assistant.