If you are exploring the exciting and fulfilling career of medical assisting, you may be curious about income, in addition to all the other aspects of the profession. And if you’re thinking about becoming an administrative medical assistant, you may be wondering how your salary would compare with that of a clinical medical assistant.
This article will discuss the earning potential in the medical assisting field, with information about administrative versus clinical jobs and how you can maximize your earning potential working behind the scenes at a doctor’s office.
Medical Assisting Field: Nationally Outlook
The field of medical assisting is an ideal place to be right now, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). According to the BLS, this profession is expected to see a 23 percent increase in employment opportunities over the next decade. This is more than the 19 percent predicted for other healthcare support jobs and far more than the seven percent expected in the American labor market overall.
The BLS states that in 2015, the median annual salary for a medical assistant was $30, 590, meaning that half of the medical assistants counted earned less and half earned more (a little different than the mathematical average salary for a medical assistant). The highest 10 percent of medical assistants earned over $43,880 per year. If history is any predictor, the expected growth in the medical assisting field will translate to higher salaries as well.
The vast majority of medical assistants are paid hourly, rather than earning a fixed salary. Entry level medical assistants are reported to make approximately $13.00 per hour, while senior medical assistants make closer to $20.00 per hour.
While the median salary was slightly lower than some other allied health professionals (dental assistants, EMTs, and pharmacy technicians, etc.), there are advantages to medical assisting work:
- the aforementioned expected higher growth of employment
- better work hours (few nights and weekends compared to other professions)
- more varied job duties
- low barrier to enter the field (one or two years of formal training often preferred, but on-the-job training is permitted)
- no license regulations by states
There are some allied health professions that earn less than medical assistants, such as CNAs (certified nursing assistants) and phlebotomists, who in 2015 earned about $24,000 and $20,000 per year, respectively. Both of these jobs require less training than medical assisting, which places the medical assistant career about in the middle of medical support positions in terms of educational requirements and income.
Why Do Salaries Differ?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics also examined some of the factors that influence the typical salary of a medical assistant. Geography had by far the biggest effect on both available jobs and wages. Not surprisingly, states with heavy population densities ranked highest in job opportunities, with the following states taking the top five spots:
- New York
What was more interesting was the wage data across the country for medical assistants. Consider these top five ranked areas for earnings:
- Washington DC
- Washington (state)
It stands to reason that places like Boston, the District of Columbia, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Rochester, Minnesota (home of the famed Mayo Clinic) would have high wages for medical assistants, since there are so many hospitals and healthcare facilities in these areas.
But Alaska demonstrates that demand in remote areas also corresponds with higher earnings, which is great for prospective medical assistants who don’t want to live in a big urban area.
Other factors that affect medical assistant pay include the following:
- education (one-year diploma, two-year Associate’s degree, or no degree at all)
- credentials (certification or registration, associated with efficient clinic operation and lower risk of malpractice legal problems)
- level of experience
- type of medical facility
- job duties
In the BLS data, outpatient care centers paid the best, followed by hospitals, physicians’ offices, and other healthcare practices (like podiatry clinics), in that order.
Working in a medical specialty can also increase pay. Areas like obstetrics and gynecology, cardiology, and surgery require additional skills and can be higher in stress. They also tend to have the worst hours for medical assistants, with more weekend and night work than general practice clinics.
As a prospective administrative medical assistant, you should be pleased to learn that both clinical and administrative medical assistants can earn high salaries, depending on the factors listed above and the specific duties within their places of employment.
Administrative vs Clinical Medical Assistants
It can be confusing to separate the tasks of a clinical medical assistant from an administrative one, and sometimes the two do cross over a bit, with clinical personnel performing administrative tasks too.
If you think of a medical administrative assistant like a regular assistant with special medical knowledge, it makes it easier to understand the job. Typical duties of an administrative medical assistant include:
- working the reception desk
- maintaining the reception area
- answering the telephone
- scheduling appointments
- managing paperwork or paper charts
- interfacing with electronic medical records
- processing insurance documents
- ordering supplies
- general office duties (mail, emails, making coffee, etc.)
- opening and closing the clinic
Exclusively clinical medical assistants rarely work in the reception or office areas. Instead, their tasks include:
- taking patients from reception to their designated rooms
- obtaining height, weight, and vital signs
- taking patient histories and listing medications
- preparing patients for their exams, treatments, or diagnostic tests
- assisting physicians with the same
- prepping rooms and sterilizing equipment
- drawing blood (phlebotomy)
- giving immunizations
- calling prescriptions in to the pharmacy on behalf of the doctor
- taking specimens to the lab
- performing duties pertinent to medical specialties
Where and How Salaries Are Similar
Your salary as a medical assistant depends on so many factors—it’s not always the clinical medical assistants who make more money, even though their jobs are more technical.
You can be an administrative medical assistant with a two or four-year degree and be certified too, which shows employers you are qualified and serious about a career in healthcare. You can also do an internship after your training that helps you make connections for great jobs and gets you stellar letters of recommendation for future employers (you might even get hired to work where you do your internship).
The best way to command a high salary as an administrative medical assistant, in addition to being fully qualified for the job, is to make yourself invaluable to the office. Physicians and the organizations they work for want to keep the patient flow moving, maintain happy customers in the waiting room, and ultimately, make money for the practice.
If you can prove to them that you can do that, you can ask for a salary at the same level as, if not higher than, a clinical medical assistant. Some resourceful and reliable administrative medical assistants go on to become office managers for the practices that employ them.
The following section discusses additional ways you can increase your salary with both a primary employer and on the side.
How You Can Make More Money
Go where the money is. You’ve already learned about how geographic location can influence your salary as a medical assistant. If you are able to take advantage of this by moving or honing in on high-paying areas, do so.
Likewise, look for openings in specialty clinics. Areas of medicine like plastic surgery and dermatology have a large percentage of customers that pay out of pocket rather than with insurance, which is always better for the doctor’s revenue. Are there clinics that are willing to pay overtime for nights, weekends, holidays, or working more than 40 hours per week? What about clinics that need supervisory staff? If you have experience managing other people, even in another industry, you might also be deemed qualified to earn a bit more money.
Go where the nightmare paperwork is. One of the worst parts of being a physician today is the crazy amount of paperwork that needs to be completed on a daily basis. If you can take some of the work off the doctor’s plate, they will be indebted to you.
Look for jobs in geriatrics or specialties with a high percentage of senior patients, like cardiology or pulmonology, where there will be lots of insurance documentation. If you’re not familiar with Medicare, take a class or read up on it.
Improve your qualifications. In addition to getting the best degree you can and becoming certified as a medical assistant, there are other qualifications that will put you above other job candidates, so you can ask for top dollar. Learn how to type faster, how to take dictation, or how to manage the office computer system. To really clinch the deal, get certified as a medical coder.
Become more experienced. You don’t have to have experience as a medical assistant to get the best salary as a new graduate, but it does help to have some healthcare or administrative background. Even if you have to volunteer or work for a family member to get it, it will give your resume a boost. There are bound to be charities that could use help running a clinic, food pantry, or shelter. Contact your local government, United Way, or Rotary Club for suggestions.
Take other medical assistant work on the side. Allied healthcare professionals and nurses are some of the most in-demand people for temporary work. Register with an agency, and cover medical offices elsewhere when their regular staff members are out. With temporary work, there’s no commitment to a long-term job.
Don’t forget, too, that you can get the equivalent of money in other ways through insurance benefits, retirement funds, and tuition reimbursement. Some medical practices even have bonuses and profit sharing for employees. Do your homework before you go job hunting, be a little creative, and you can make a good living as an administrative medical assistant.
- Please bookmark Medical Assistant Professional for more helpful articles.
You Also Might Like: