There are many careers in the medical and healthcare fields, and each of these will suit different people. Which career you choose will depend on your personal interests, the skills you have to offer, whether you are willing to study for qualifications, and many other factors. One career to consider is the role of a medical assistant. This is an interesting career that is a supportive role and there are many options for how and where you want to work. If this is a career that sounds interesting to you, then here is what you need to know about the role, including how to become a medical assistant and the salary that you can expect to earn in this position.
What is a Medical Assistant?
According to the American Association for Medical Assistants, a medical assistant is a healthcare professional that supports the work of physicians. They do this by undertaking a combination of clinical and administrative duties. They also support nurses and other medical professionals.
What Does the Role of a Medical Assistant Involve?
The role of a medical assistant is a varied one, and the tasks and duties undertaken can vary from one job to the next. However, Snag-a-Job says that some of the duties and responsibilities of a medical assistant can include the following:
- Making appointments- A medical assistant will often answer the telephone or call patients and make patient appointments.
- Record-keeping-Some of the record-keeping duties includes updating patient records, filing, and filling out forms.
- Arranging testing-Physicians may ask for the medical assistant to arrange tests on their behalf, and the medical assistant liaises with the appropriate departments. Some testing is undertaken by a medical assistant.
- Administrative tasks- Other administrative tasks are undertaken by medical assistants and these include handling correspondence, handling billing, and arranging admissions.
- Taking medical histories- When a patient is admitted, the medical assistant is often the first point of contact and they will take the patient’s medical history.
- Recording vital signs- Medical assistants will usually record a patient’s vital signs, such as their pulse, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation levels.
- Explaining treatments- Patients often need their treatments explaining, and this is something that a medical assistant will often do.
- Preparing for examinations- If a patient needs to prepare for an examination, such as removing their clothing and putting on a hospital gown, a medical assistant may help them with this,
- Assisting the physician- Medical assistants assist physicians with any duties requested within their level of skill, experience, and responsibility.
- Clinical procedures- Some clinical procedures are also undertaken by a medical assistant. Some examples include removing sutures, taking blood, and running an EKG.
Reasons to Become a Medical Assistant
If you are unsure of whether pursuing a career as a medical assistant is for you or not, it is important to look at the benefits of the role to decide if they appeal to you. Working as a medical assistant is very rewarding, and some of the benefits of this role are:
- Personally rewarding- There is a lot of personal satisfaction that you can gain from working as a medical assistant as you will play an important role in the health and improvement of a patient.
- Patient contact- This is great for people who want to work with other people as it involves paid contact.
- Varied role- This job is never boring as the tasks you undertake will change daily, depending on the patients being seen by the physicians.
- Varied job options- There are opportunities for medical assistants in a variety of work environments and in many different capacities. This means that there are job options so that you can choose the best position for you.
- Challenging-This role poses many challenges that keep the job exciting.
How to Become a Medical Assistant
Another thing to take into consideration when deciding if working as a medical assistant is right for you is what is involved in becoming a medical assistant. The following are the steps you will need to take to qualify and become a medical assistant, according to Learn How to Become.
Step 1- Get the Right Education
Before you can become a medical assistant, you need to get the right education. In most cases, the minimum requirement to begin training in this role is a high school diploma. However, this will only allow you to start working in an entry-level job. By getting a degree or certification from a postsecondary program, you will find it easier to find employment and to progress in your career.
If you opt to undertake an accredited postsecondary medical assisting program, you will usually attend a community college or vocational school. Some of the different qualification levels offered include certificates, diplomas, and associate degrees. Opting to study for the certificate or diploma takes about one year to 18 months. It takes two years to complete an associate degree. The latter option will give you more advanced medical training, and you can also use this qualification as a stepping-stone to go on to study for a bachelor’s degree.
If you wish to specialize in a specific aspect of the medical assistant role, there are further options available. Some schools offer specialist certificates in either administrative assisting or clinical assisting. The administrative certificate is intended for those who will predominantly work in front office positions, focusing more on the administrative aspects of the role. The clinical assisting certificate is for those who want to take a more hands-on approach to the role and get involved in patient testing and treatment. They will learn more about monitoring vital signs, doing laboratory testing, and collecting samples.
Step 2- Build Experience
Becoming a good medical assistant is not something that you can learn from books alone. Therefore, you will need to get some direct experience of working in the role, usually by starting in an entry-level position. Some medical assistant programs offer placements that allow you to gain some experience while studying for a qualification, and this is almost always the case if you are studying for a bachelor’s degree in medical assisting. Gaining experience during rotation is a way of learning many of the practical aspects of the job, especially in the clinical elements of the role.
Step 3- Gaining Certification
Gaining appropriate certification is essential in some states. Even if you do not need certification immediately for the state in which you are located, it makes sense to get the accreditation in case you need it in the future. Similarly, it can give you an advantage when going for a job as there are many employers who prefer to hire certified medical assistants. To get accreditation, you will usually need to complete an accredited program of study and then take an exam. Gaining accreditation shows you have the knowledge, skills, and experience to work in the role of a medical assistant. There are various accreditations offered by several accrediting agencies. Some of these include:
- The Registered Medical Assistant certification is offered by the American Medical Technologists.
- The Certified Medical Assistant certification is offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants.
- The National Certified Medical Assistant certification is offered by the National Center of Competency Testing.
- The Certified Medical Administrative Assistant and the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant are offered by the National Healthcare Association.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Medical Assistant?
If you get a job as an entry-level medical assistant immediately after obtaining your high school diploma, you can become a medical assistant immediately. However, to have the option of working at a higher level for a better salary, you will need to complete at least one year at college. To achieve the best qualifications and give yourself the greatest opportunities to achieve your full potential, you should complete three years of training and study to gain the bachelor’s degree, get accreditation, and gain the experience to enjoy a successful career. Overall, how long it takes to become a medical assistant depends on the education and career route you choose to take.
Skills Needed in the Medical Assistant Role
There are many skills that you will need if you want to pursue a career as a medical assistant. Some of these include:
- Interpersonal and communication skills- These skills are essential as you will work with people daily. This includes both patients and other medical professionals.
- Literacy, numeracy, and ICT- The role of a medical assistant includes many administrative tasks. To complete these properly you must have a good level of literacy, numeracy, and ICT skills.
- Organization and time-management- As a medical assistant, you will juggle many different tasks and responsibilities, many of which you must complete by a set deadline. This will require organization and time-management.
- Working in a team- On many tasks, you will work alongside other people, such as nurses and physicians. Therefore, it is vital that you are able to work as part of a team and make a positive contribution.
- Working independently- You must have the ability to work independently on tasks using your own initiative.
What is the Medical Assistant Salary?
The potential salary of any role is one of the deciding factors and can dictate whether people are willing to undertake a role. The salary of a medical assistant depends on many factors, including qualifications, environment, location, and experience. According to Salary.com, the average salary for a medical assistant is approximately $35,042. However, the salary range of a medical assistant is generally between $32,304 and $37,837.
The Medical Assistant breaks the potential salary down further. They say that medical assistant salaries are often on an experience-based scale. Therefore, the more experience you have, the larger the salary you will receive. They give the following as a rough guide as to the minimum salary you can expect to earn based on the length of your experience.
- Under one year’s experience- $29,000
- Between one and four years of experience- $30,000
- Five to nine years of experience- $34,000
- More than 20 years of experience- $36,000
These figures may seem a little low in comparison to the national average salary for medical assistants. However, this is because salaries vary significantly according to location. There are many states that pay significantly higher than these figures, which brings up the average. This also means you should consider where you want to work if you want to improve your earnings potential. Some of the higher paying states offer the following average wages:
- Alaska- $45,490
- District of Colombia- $42,010
- Washington- $41,340
- Minnesota- $40,320
- Massachusetts- $40,270
There is also a greater earnings potential if you live in metropolitan areas. Some of the metropolitan areas that offer the highest wages per hour include:
- Vallejo-Fairfield- $22.20 per hour
- San Francisco- Oakland- Hayward- $21,94 per hour
Is Working as a Medical Assistant Worth It?
To decide whether a job is worth it, you must take into account the length of time it takes to qualify, the responsibilities you will have, and the financial compensation you will receive. Working as a medical assistant is personally rewarding, and it has the potential to become a financially rewarding role. To get the best salary possible in this career, you should make the effort to get the highest qualifications, gain experience in the workplace, and choose the location in which you work carefully. This relates to both the geographical location and the type of working environment.
What is the Working Environment of a Medical Assistant?
Medical Assistants can work in a variety of environments, depending on their role and location. Some possible working environments include:
- Hospitals- Medical assistants are needed in almost every department within a hospital. These jobs can involve working on the wards, supporting a physician in his office or an examining room, working in the emergency room, or supporting surgeons on surgical wards. The environments in these different hospital settings can vary greatly.
- Medical centers- If a medical assistant works in a clinic or medical center, they will usually split their time between the clinician’s office, the treatment rooms, and the administrative office.
- Physician’s office- Private physicians often hire medical assistants to support their work. Like those who work in clinics and medical centers, a medical assistant working in a private physician’s office may work in the office or the treatment rooms.
What Are the Working Hours of a Medical Assistant?
The working hours of a medical assistant can vary significantly from one role to the next. There are both full-time roles and part-time positions available, so it is possible to work for the number of hours that suit you the best and fit in with your lifestyle and other commitments. Some medical assistants work set hours. For example, if a medical assistant is working in a clinic that only has appointments at set times, then they will work within the opening hours of the clinic. On the other hand, there are some working environments where medical assistants are needed 24 hours a day, such as in hospitals where patients spend the night. This means that some medical assistants can work night shifts or go on a rota on a shift pattern basis that means they may work both daytime and night shifts.
Can You Advance in This Career?
Career advancement as a medical assistant generally relates to experience and this is reflected in pay. However, your qualifications can also make a difference to both the level of your responsibilities and to your salary. In working environments that employ lots of medical assistants, there are sometimes managerial and team leader positions for qualified, certified, and experienced medical assistants. It is likely that you will only reach these positions if you have a bachelor’s degree in medical assistance and several years of experience.
Can Qualified Medical Assistants Transfer Their Qualifications and Experience Abroad?
Once qualified as a medical assistant, you can work in any state in the United States. However, not everyone wants to remain in the United States for the rest of their lives. Some people may wish to move abroad and will need to work following their move to pay their bills and support their lifestyle. Therefore, it is essential to do the research properly to find out if your qualifications are transferrable to your new location or if you will need to undertake further training following your move before you can secure work.
The first thing to note is that this role is not necessarily called a medical assistant in all other countries. This role is identified in many different ways, depending on the location. You may see jobs for roles such as health care assistant, health care practitioner, auxiliary nurse, care worker, and many more terms. It is important to check out each of these roles to see if they are the equivalent to the role of a medical assistant or if they are a completely different role.
In terms of transferring your qualification and accreditation, this really depends on where the location to which you are relocating. While some countries do not require those who are accredited as medical assistants in the United States to undertake any further training, this is not always the case. There are some countries that will disregard your American qualifications and accreditations and require you to start at entry level and to retake your qualifications with one of their accredited bodies. It is vital that you check this before making a life-changing decision about where you will live or work.
Are There Plenty of Job Opportunities for Medical Assistants?
A further concern is whether you will find job openings once you have undergone the training to become a medical assistant. Fortunately, there are plenty of jobs for certified medical assistants and there is an increase in demand for those working in these roles.
Online Medical Assistant Programs says that the increase in these positions is due to an aging population that have greater healthcare needs. It is also in part because the value of medical assistants and the role they play is increasingly valued by physicians.
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates that there will have been an increase of 160,000 medical assistant positions in the period between 2012 and 2022.
Not only are there plenty of openings, but there is also a fantastic choice of roles and working environments. Certified medical assistants can choose to work in a range of working environments and in a diverse range of different medical situations. Therefore, you can find a job in an area of medicine or healthcare that interests you the most.
Although there are plenty of job opportunities, it is also a competitive market with many people wanting to work in healthcare. Therefore, it is important that you make yourself stand out from the competition. You can do this by gaining experience in various settings and putting in the effort to take the highest qualifications. Even if your state does not require certification, you should try to obtain this any way to give yourself the best chance of employment.
A Medical Assistant Career – The Final Verdict
With all this information to mind, is a medical assistant career a good choice? This depends on what you want from a career. This is a fantastic career to choose for those that want to combine administrative and clinical elements of healthcare to make a positive contribution to the care of patients. If you do choose this career, there is the opportunity to increase your earnings as you gain more experience in the role. Employment is attainable as there are plenty of job opportunities in this field and there is growth in the demand for medical assistants. Therefore, you should have plenty of choice for positions that appeal to you and you can opt for a position that offers the best role and working environment for you.