Medical assistants are healthcare professionals who help doctors in medical offices and clinics. They show patients to exam rooms, take vital signs, and check weight and height. They even talk to patients about their health concerns and symptoms and then pass that information to the doctor.
While they work directly with doctors, they aren’t able to provide medical advice to patients. Instead, their duties are limited to preparing the patient and doctor for the visit and collecting information.
Medical assistants have great opportunities for career advancement in the field of medical assisting. They’re able to choose to specialize in various areas in medicine and can work in just about any setting.
In this article, we’re going to talk about medical assistant salaries and what they can do to advance in their careers, along with job outlook in the future.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2019, medical assistants earn an average annual salary of $34,800 per year ($16.73 per hour). Graduates who are just starting with their first job straight out of school will have to gain some experience as a medical assistant to increase their average income past the entry-level wage.
Entry-level medical assistants typically have a starting salary of about $25,000. The job prospects for medical assistants are also very promising. The BLS projects a growth rate of 19 percent between now and 2019, which means more job opportunities for entry-level professionals.
Medical assistants are generally offered a benefits package that amounts to as much as 30 percent of their annual pay. Some things that can be included in that package include:
The benefits that a medical assistant receives are in line with what other healthcare workers receive. While the dollar amount of the benefits will vary, the benefits are typically the same.
The average medical assistant salary in the United States is $36,538 as of March 29, 2021, but the range of medical assistant salaries falls between $33,681 and $39,451.
Keep in mind that the salary of a medical assistant is going to vary depending on a variety of factors, including experience, skills, certifications, and education.
Medical assistants work with doctors to perform a wide range of tasks, including administrative work, performing minor procedures, and helping patients.
They typically work in doctors’ offices, hospitals, and facilities that handle outpatient procedures. There is some overlap between medical assistants and other medical support staff; medical assistants have a distinct skillset and role.
Different employers emphasize different skills when hiring medical assistants, so be sure to read all job descriptions carefully before applying. Here’s a look at the top medical assistant skills you need:
Medical assistants generally graduate from postsecondary educational programs. There are no formal education requirements to become a medical assistant in most states, but employers may prefer to hire someone who has completed medical assistant programs.
Programs for medical assisting can be found in technical schools, universities, vocational schools, and community colleges and take about a year to complete. These programs typically lead to a diploma or certificate.
Medical assistants who only have a high school diploma and no postsecondary education certificates can learn their skills through on-the-job training. Physician assistants and other medical assistants can teach new medical assistants medical terminology, how to interact with patients, the name of instruments, and how to perform daily tasks.
Medical assistants aren’t required to be certified in the majority of states. However, employers may prefer to hire certified medical assistants and can lead to a higher salary.
Several organizations offer certifications. To become certified, the applicant must pass an exam and have taken one of the several routes to be eligible for certification. These routes include having graduated from an accredited program with work experience, among others. In most cases, the applicant must be 18 years or older before they can apply for certification.
The National Commission for Certifying Agencies, part of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence, accredits five certifications for medical assistants:
As medical assistants gain more experience, they can specialize and move into leadership roles. With more education, they can even advance into other healthcare occupations such as nurse practitioner, physician assistant, or registered nurse.
Medical assistants play an important role in all healthcare organizations. From interacting with the patients to helping doctors with an exam, medical assistants provide numerous services. While the job duties are generally the same no matter what state you live in, certain county areas offer higher salaries and more opportunities.
The top three paying states for medical assistants are:
Being a medical assistant, there are several specialties to pick from depending on what type of clinic or doctor you work for. Medical assistants can work in immunology, dermatology, chiropractic, emergency medicine, obstetrics, family medicine, osteopathy, ophthalmology, pediatrics, otolaryngology, pathology, podiatry, radiology, and plastic surgery.
Which specialty is the highest paying will depend on your location, education, and experience level. It also helps if you’re certified in that specialty too.
Most of the medical assistant employment in the United States is in physician offices. But this isn’t the highest-paying facility for medical assistants.
According to the BLS, the highest paying jobs for medical assistants are outpatient care facilities, followed by hospitals, physician offices, and chiropractor offices.
It’s been found that those medical assistants that work in outpatient care facilities earn around $35,336 every year. Those who work in hospitals have a national average of $35,072 per year, and those that work in physician offices earn around $33,510 every year.
Salary isn’t the only critical thing to think about when you search for a job; location is a big consideration also. A lot of the demand for medical assistants is determined by the state’s demographic data and how many facilities they have for the elderly and baby boomers, who usually drive this data.
Here’s a quick look at which states have been determined to be the biggest employers of medical assistants by the BLS:
Several states depend on state funding and budgets to keep their healthcare facilities running efficiently. But if a state doesn’t have a big enough budget that allots enough funds for maximum efficiency, fewer jobs are available to medical assistants and other healthcare workers.
Medical assistants have a ton of opportunities available to them in growing in their careers. Here’s some more information about projected job growth and developing their medical assisting careers.
The employment rate for medical assistants is expected to grow by 19 percent over the next 10 years, which is much faster than the growth rate of most other jobs. The continued aging of the baby boomer generation will aid in the growth of medical assistant jobs because there will be an increased demand for preventative medical services that physicians provide.
To meet the increased demand for medical services by physicians, they’ll likely hire more medical assistants to perform the routine clinical and administrative duties, allowing physicians to see more patients.
Additionally, an increased number of clinics, group practices, and other healthcare facilities will need more medical assistants to complete clinical and administrative duties. Medical assistants typically work in primary care, which is a growing sector in the healthcare industry.
There’s no law requiring medical assistants to be certified or licensed, but the vast majority of them will still choose to pursue certification to advance in their careers.
Medical assistants do a variety of tasks, including scheduling appointments and taking vital signs. They’re an important part of the healthcare industry. While it might sound like some of the daily tasks that medical assistants do are easy, there are so many complexities to their job where medical assistant programs could come in handy.
Programs for medical assistants are designed to teach them the necessary skills for their job in a short time frame, resulting in a diploma or certificate. Typically, the curriculum for medical assistant programs includes medical office management, pharmacology, medical terminology, accounting, and physiology and anatomy.
You can see that from the extra work that a medical assistant puts into their career, the more benefits they receive. With continued education, medical assistants can use their certification to develop their careers.
With certification, a medical assistant will see higher pay, better job security, and wide career options. For instance, a medical assistant isn’t limited to a physician’s office. Those that have training in a particular field can go into more challenging careers, such as office management, or they can become nurses.
Associate degree or certificate? Medical assistants have a couple of options available to them when they pursue higher education.
Certificate Program: 9 – 12-month long program
Certificate programs have been designed to be based entirely on career training; students will spend all of their time during the program learning how to do the job of a medical assistant. The coursework will focus on core topics, with most of the program culminating in an externship.
A benefit to the certificate program is that it doesn’t take as long to complete; however, you may find that you need more education if you decide to change career roles later down the road.
Associate Degree: 2-year long program
Earning an associate degree takes more time than a certificate program, but it can provide you with a large payoff in the long run. You’ll take all the same courses you would participate in a certificate program, you’ll also have to take general education courses, such as English composition and business math. You’ll also have the chance to take more in-depth medical classes.
So, why should you devote more time to education? Being a medical assistant holding an associate degree, you might have more career advancement opportunities. With more education, you could also be eligible for more pay.
Before deciding which medical assistant certification is right for you, you should take stock of your current goals, specialty, and field. A few organizations offer medical assistant certifications, but we’re only going to talk about two of the most common ones.
Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)
The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) gives out the Certified Medical Assistant certification. You have to renew your CMA credential every five years, and the AAMA Certification/Recertification Exam is offered year-round. Scheduling your test is easy – you’ll make an appointment to take the exam and pay the enrollment fee.
If you want to become a CMA, you have to take the exam within 12 months of graduating, or no more than 30 days before completing your practicum or formal education. You don’t need to provide documentation; your program’s director will verify that you have, in fact, completed the program to earn your certification.
Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)
The National Commission has accredited the American Medical Technologists (AMT) for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) to give the RMA certification and other certifications in other healthcare careers. To maintain your RMA credential, you need to pay a nominal annual fee and complete a specific number of continuing education hours every three years.
Before you can take the RMA exam, you have to meet some eligibility criteria. This can be done in five ways: education, instructor, work experience, military, or another recognized exam.
Many RMA’s will complete an education program before they take the exam. If you want to do this, you’ll need to be educated within the last four years at an accredited school. To be eligible for the RMA certification, the program you do must have 720 clock hours of instruction, including 160 hours of externship.
Career advancement happens on a personal timeline; this is a rough idea of a typical career path for a medical assistant.
Start by attending a medical assisting training program at an accredited school. Schools that offer students medical assisting program opportunities include universities, vocational schools, and community colleges.
If you want to keep your options open, choose an associate degree program instead of a certificate program. Students should have to go through clinical training while they attend their medical assisting program.
Several agencies offer certifications for medical assistants. Once the training has been completed, the certification should come next. In some programs, medical assisting students are expected to sit for a certification exam by graduation. Others may be able to wait a few months after graduation. Either way, you need to hit the books and pass the test with flying colors.
Become employed at a medical office. If you attended a medical assisting program, figure if your school offers job search and placement help. During this time, try to learn as much as possible and offer to take on more responsibility. Try to gain a deeper understanding of the medical field and take notes of the areas you excel in and like.
After medical assistants have gotten some general experience, they might want to start looking into a specialization such as ob-gyn, podiatry, or ophthalmology. Having a few different certifications and specialized training certifications can help broaden your medical field job outlook, as well as look great on your resume.
How much more education would you need to become a nurse? Would any work that you’ve done as a medical assistant apply for a nursing degree? Would you still be able to work while attending nursing school?
This is the time to get answers to these questions. When it’s time to change your career, start looking at your options. Furthering your education or training can help you get into a new career in healthcare because the fundamentals are already there.
Medical assistants play an important role in the healthcare industry because they help doctors and nurses with administrative and clerical tasks that they don’t have time for. Medical assistants can earn an average annual salary of $34,800, but they can increase their annual salary by becoming certified or continuing their education.
Some of the best paying states for medical assistants are Alaska, Washington state, and Massachusetts. But the places that have the most jobs are California, Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania. This is because more elderly people and baby boomers live in these states, which creates more jobs for medical assistants in outpatient facilities. As the number of elderly patients increases, more preventative care jobs are available for medical assistants.
To earn more money and advance in their career, medical assistants can choose to specialize in a specific field (i.e., ophthalmology). Which specialty pays the most will depend on where you live, how much experience you have, and if you’re certified.
The BLS projects a 19 percent growth rate for medical assistants in the next 10 years, which is higher than it is for most other occupations. Again, medical assistant jobs are expected to grow because of the increase in the elderly as the baby boomer generation continues to grow older.
You can use your medical assistant certification to develop your career by obtaining a certification in a specialty or continuing your education. But having a certification helps increase your pay, your skillset, your prestige and can help you rise in your position.
There are two main medical assistant education programs you can go through certification program (9-12 months) or an associate degree (2 years). Which one you go to will depend on how much time you have and if you want to change your career after some time in the medical assisting field. If you want to try to change careers, you should go with the associate degree because you’ll get a much deeper understanding of the healthcare industry and help you when you need to get more education.
There are two main certificates that you can obtain as a medical assistant: Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) and Registered Medical Assistant (RMA). With a CMA, you need to retake the exam every five years to keep your certification.
For the RMA, you have to pay a fee every year and complete some continuing education hours every three years. Which one you go for is a personal preference, but you have to keep in mind that they each require different things before you’re eligible to sit for the exam.
Medical assistants play a big role in the healthcare industry, and without them, doctors and nurses would be struggling even more with their jobs. The job outlook for medical assistants is very good and is expected to continue to be good for years to come.