If you're considering applying for a medical assistant program, now is the perfect time. The healthcare sector has been steadily growing in recent years, and the demand for medical assistants in particular has led to nearly 30% job growth in that sector.
But before you make up your mind, do you really know what medical assistant positions entail? If you're not quite certain, we've got your back. Read below to find out everything you need to know about medical assistant job positions, education requirements, salaries and more.
What Do Medical Assistants Do?
Unlike more specialized professionals, medical assistants
perform a wide range of tasks and have multiple responsibilities. The nature of the work and the exact tasks included vary from niche to niche and workplace to workplace.
As a medical assistant, you may be required to perform one or more of the following:
- Measure vital signs
- Perform medical checkups
- Prepare patients for a medical procedure
- Treat patients
- Perform clerical and administrative duties
- Maintain and manage medical equipment
Education and Training Requirements
Medical assistants are not required by law to go through formal training or obtain a license prior to employment. Having a high school diploma or equivalent may be enough for some employers.
However, lack of formal training and/or certification can severely limit your job opportunities and may negatively impact your expected paycheck. You might want to consider one of two types of medical assisting training programs: associate degree or certificate.
It's best that you research the exact job opportunities in your area and their unique requirements ahead of time.
For instance, if your town or city has a high demand for medical assistants, this means you'll have higher chances to secure a job without extensive education. If, on the other hand, there are fewer openings or more competition, employers might lean toward applicants with formal training and professional certifications.
There are three major ways you can educate yourself:
You can completely skip formal training to storm the job market, and you might get lucky enough to find a medical position. It's not impossible to go straight into employment after high school, and learn mainly through on-the-job training provided by your employer.
This route is faster but often more difficult than going through a formal training program. This may also result in a lower starting wage. You'll be primarily training on-the-job and have to learn as you go. You might also be asked to shadow another experienced medical assistant in the office.
- Save time & money on training programs
- Start working immediately
- Learn from first-hand experience and acquire practical knowledge right from the start
- Risk of losing the position to a certified candidate
- Possibly lower starting salary
- Less employment opportunities
2. Certificate / Diploma of Medical Assisting
Medical Assistant certificate programs usually take between 9 to 12 months to complete. Both an associate degree and a certificate program offer you practical and comprehensive coursework. The biggest differences between the two are (a) program length (b) program cost and (c) general education requirements.
You can expect a certificate program to be more specialized than an associate degree program. Associate degrees often include general education requirements like Math and English, but medical assistant certificate programs are focused solely on medical training. And despite the length of a degree program, the primary medical training you receive in a certificate program is comparable to, and sometime greater, than that of an associate degree.
Many schools which offer medical assistant certification programs offer both day and evening classes to accommodate full-time students and professionals alike. You’ll have access to a classroom and lab, and will have to complete a clinical internship. Certification programs will give you all the essential skills needed to become a successful medical assistant and many will also prepare you for professional certification through American Medical Technologists (AMT)
or American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)
- Short program length (9–12 months)
- No non-medical courses
- Low cost and fees
- Courses may not be eligible for credit if you choose to continue your education
3. Associate Degree
It may take you up to 24 months to get your associate degree. Associate degree programs have more educational requirements than certificate programs. Students are often required to take general education and liberal arts classes.
Getting an associate degree naturally demands higher academic stamina — you'll be in school twice as long compared to a certificate program. However, you may be able to apply your credits to a bachelor's degree program, should you decide to further advance your medical career after getting your associate degree.
- Potential for a higher starting salary
- College credits are more likely to transfer to another higher education program
- Longer program length (up to 24 months)
- Costs may be higher
Finding the Right Workplace and Employer
Deciding which education path you'd like to go down is closely related to knowing what your ideal work setting is. Your choice of workplace plays a huge role in determining your everyday workflow and job satisfaction.
Your three main options are: doctor’s office, health clinic, or a hospital.
If you’re working at a doctor’s office, you’ll work closely with the physician. Working in a clinic or a hospital, on the other hand, allows you to be part of a bigger team — you’ll work with doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals, including other medical assistants.
Once you start working, you can choose to specialize in a certain area, including: clinical duties, patient care, phlebotomy, medical billing or maintaining medical records.
Most employers don’t require a college degree, and are often willing to hire you with little to no experience. This is no coincidence given the rise of job openings — employers are happy to train you just so long as they start getting assistance around the office.
In fact, there were 560,800 medical assistant positions in 2012, and today, that number has increased to nearly 590,000. More than half of medical assistants (nearly 350,000) work in physician offices.
What Starting Salary Can You Expect?
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected 29% job growth over the period from 2012 to 2022, and this prediction has held true with salaries steadily rising from 2012 to today. Let's explore what the BLS data can show us.
Top Highest Employment Level By State:
- Lowest Annual Wage: $21,540
- Mean Annual Wage: $31,220
- Highest Annual Wage: $42,760
Top Paying States (Mean Annual Wage):
- California: 81,240 jobs
- Texas: 55,620 jobs
- Florida: 40,770 jobs
Top Paying Industries (Mean Annual Wage):
- District of Columbia: $39,860
- Alaska: $39,680
- Massachusetts: $37,640
- Scientific Research and Development Services: $36,670
- Personal Care Services: $36,030
- Insurance Carriers: $35,090
Want to Go Higher? Discover Advancement Opportunities
Medical assistants can specialize in several different areas, by means of gaining more experience or acquiring more certifications. The top paying clinical fields are also very demanding: podiatry, pediatrics and ophthalmology, cardiology, phlebotomy, and emergency medicine.
Different organizations offer different opportunities for career advancement. These are some common higher level positions you can grow into:
- Clinical team leader
- Lead medical assistant
- Medical office manager
- Clinical office manager
- Medical assistant instructor
- Medical records manager
- Healthcare administration
- Executive medical office secretary
The knowledge and skill requirements for each specialty are very different. For some, you will be required to earn specialized certifications. For others, you can talk to your employer and receive additional on-the-job training to advance your career.
Your career advancement path may continue in the direction of medical assistance, or may sometimes lead you toward other careers in healthcare.
Transitioning From Your Career to Another Medical Profession
Some individuals choose to keep advancing their career by transitioning to a more high-level specialty.
Provided you’ve completed a formal medical assistant program or you’re certified, it will be easier for you to transition to a new career. Even if you don’t hold a professional certificate, your medical assistance experience will help you greatly during coursework, clinical, and administrative classes.
Reviewing patient records
If you’ve earned an associate degree, some of your credits may be transferable to fulfill liberal arts requirements for a bachelor's degree. This really saves you from hours of extra work, which is unrelated to your job.
Some of the possible career transition options for medical assistants are listed below. Most of these careers will require further education and training.
You can become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a registered nurse (RN). Nursing is a very demanding profession, highly focused on patient-care and treatment. But, should you decide to immerse yourself in the field, you’ll find the job very rewarding. The average annual salary is double that of a medical assistant.
Allied Health Management
Some medical assistants decide to move into supervisory roles and become part of the management team. You’ll most likely be required to get an associate or even a bachelor’s degree. Managing people and overseeing administrative duties will be your main focus.
Medical Records and Health Information Technician
You’ll be overseeing most of the administrative activities in a medical office. Your main task would be to make sure data is properly recorded and utilized. Maintaining patient health records is a vital part of any health organization, and demand for Medical Record Technicians is rapidly increasing.
Physical Therapist Assistant
Physical Therapist Assistants are also known as Physical Therapist Aides. You’ll work under the direction and supervision of physical therapists. Your main duties will be to help patients recovering from injuries or illnesses. Most importantly you’ll be involved in helping and teaching patients how to regain movement and manage pain.
Other Allied Health Careers
Within the spectrum of allied health, there are numerous career options. Many people start off as medical assistants to get some healthcare experience before moving on to more specialized and challenging careers. Some of the most popular career choices include sonographer, dietitian, radiologic tech, neurodiagnostic tech, MRI tech, and respiratory therapist.
Setting Yourself Up for Success
Many dream of a satisfying career in medicine. If you've set your heart on an allied health profession, and medical assistant in particular, we hope this post gave you a good sense of what it takes to reach your goals.
From in-field specializations to workplace options and unique education paths, the possibilities are endless. With an incredible variety of career advancement options, the medical assistant profession is a fluid one, which evolves with you as you grow, learn, and develop.
If you’d like to know more about how to become a medical assistant, check out the AIMS Medical Assistant Training Program in New Jersey or just give us a call.