How Much Do Medical Assistants Make & 6 Other FAQs about This Hands-On Healthcare Career
Perhaps you once dreamt of becoming a doctor or a nurse, but life got in the way. The four (or more) years of school seemed impossible with your schedule, finances or work-family balance.
Don’t lose heart—you can still work in the medical field without breaking the bank. If you are considering a career change to the medical field and want a relatively quick way in, becoming a medical assistant may be the route for you.
But even knowing that there’s a shorter investment in time and schooling to become a medical assistant, you likely have other important questions to consider before you dive in. We compiled this handy guide of frequently asked questions regarding a medical assisting career to help you weigh your healthcare career options.
How much do medical assistants make?
The 2018 median annual salary for a medical assistant will vary by state—ranging from $27,810 in West Virginia to $44,230 in Alaska.1 The average hourly wage is $16.16, making the median annual wage $33,610, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).1
This position in the medical field pays just below the 2018 median annual wage for all occupations, $38,640.2 While that may not be the most exciting thing to read, it’s not the only factor to consider. A medical assisting salary can provide a solid and steady income while being one of the quickest routes to working in direct patient care—and getting established within the healthcare field.
What is the job outlook for medical assistants?
Another important factor to consider is whether there is significant demand for medical assistants. The good news is that job prospects for medical assistants appear to be strong. According to the BLS, employment of medical assistants is projected to grow 23 percent from 2018 to 2028.2
As the baby-boomer population both ages and retires, demand for medical services and staff, including medical assistants, will increase. Medical assistants with certifications or skills in dealing with electronic health records may find themselves with even better job prospects.
What do medical assistants do?
Medical assistants have a variety of fast-paced tasks they complete day-to-day. These tasks will vary somewhat depending on the exact clinic and role. Medical assistants may be tasked with administrative work like collecting patient history and contact information as well as scheduling appointments and updating information into medical records.
Medical assistants may also work directly with patients as they take vital signs, collect blood samples for tests and help physicians with patient examinations. Depending on state law, they may also give patients medication or injections as directed by a physician.
Medical assistants can specialize in administrative or clinical skills. Some even specialize according to medical specialties like optometry or podiatry.
Where do medical assistants work?
It may come as a surprise, but medical assistants work in more environments than just hospitals. In fact, only 15 percent of medical assistants worked in hospital settings in 2018, according to the BLS.2 The reality is that most medical assistants—57 percent of them, to be exact—worked in physicians’ offices.2
Physician offices typically have daytime hours, closing anywhere from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m., which can be a perk for those looking to avoid the overnight shifts and holiday hours that tend to come with some healthcare jobs.
Medical assistants can also work at colleges and university hospitals, medical research centers, insurance companies or nursing care facilities. If you’re interested in working as a medical assistant for the majority of your career, you’ll find more and more workplace options as you get more experience.
What skills do medical assistants need?
If you care about people and their health and have a good eye for detail, you can make it as a medical assistant. Successful medical assistants are analytical and are good at making patients feel at ease. They pay attention to details in recording information and working technical instruments such as blood pressure and heart-rate monitors.
Communication is a key ability—medical assistants need to be able to effectively speak to patients, physicians and other healthcare facility staff, as well as the ability to take clear notes. They learn quickly and are dependable members of the medical team.
What are some benefits of becoming a medical assistant?
Every state and nearly every city needs medical assistants. With a high rate of job openings and a small requirement as far as post-high school education, it is a fast way to break into the medical field. It is a great career to make a difference, as you have direct impact on quality care for the patient.
A medical assisting position can also serve as an excellent way for you to test the waters of working in a direct patient care role before diving into the schooling needed for other patient care careers. Caring for others can be a challenging way to earn a living, so it might help to find out if it suits you by taking a relatively low-risk route into the field first.
If working as a medical assistant isn’t the last stop on your preferred healthcare career path, gaining necessary medical knowledge like anatomy and skills like drawing blood or performing an EKG can translate well to a number of other healthcare roles down the line. Whether you’re interested in going back to school or moving up to a leadership position in administration, the skills and knowledge you gain as a medical assistant can provide a nice foundation to build upon.
How do you become a medical assistant?
Though the road to becoming a medical assistant isn’t too long, you’ll still want to know the steps you’ll need to take. The BLS reports that while most states have no formal education requirements for these roles, most medical assistants have completed some form of postsecondary (post-high school) education or training. This training is relatively short—the Medical Assisting Diploma program at Rasmussen College can be completed in as few as 12 months—but will provide an excellent foundation of healthcare skills.3
After completing a diploma, you may need to pass a certification test, depending on where you want to work. Some employers prefer the Certified Medical Assistant CMA (AAMA) exam while others opt for the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) exam. Both cover critical topics like anatomy, medical terminology, plus safety and legal compliance.
Considering becoming a medical assistant?
Now that you know the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about medical assistant careers, do you think you have what it takes? If you think this is the right path for you, learn more about the path ahead in our article, "How to Become a Medical Assistant: 5 Steps You Can't Ignore.”
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2018 – Medical Assistants [accessed December, 2019] https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes319092.htm Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed December, 2019] www.bls.gov/ooh/.
3Completion time is dependent on number of transfer credits accepted and the number of courses completed each term.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2017. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2020.