Medical Assisting is a steadily growing and high demand career field. With its vast opportunities and room for growth, medical assisting is an appealing career to pursue.
With today’s medical climate, medical assisting can provide an individual with a substantial and steady income. Currently, the demand for medical assistants is very high, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of medical assistants is projected to grow 23 percent from 2014 to 2024.
What Does a Medical Assistant Do?
Before we dive deep into the salary of a medical assistant, and exactly what goes into determining how much one can earn per hour, let’s first examine what a medical assistant does and how they go about it.
Medical assistants are responsible for a vast array of specialized tasks, and these tasks vary from state to state. Medical assistants work directly with patients, physicians and other healthcare providers. Clinical MA’s are trained to properly:
- Obtain and record a patient history and physical
- Obtain and record patient vital signs, which include heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and oxygen saturation
- Administer injections either via intranasal, subcutaneously or intramuscularly
- Give medications to a patient as directed by the ordering physician
- Obtain and prepare blood samples
- Obtain and test urine samples
- Accurately enter patient information in electronic health records (EHR)
- Assist the physician with specialized exams and procedures such as, phlebotomy, wound care and instrument sterilization
- Assist physician in wound care and management
- Remove stitches
- Assist physician with ultrasounds
Medical assistants do not diagnose patients, and cannot assist in the treatment of a patient without the direct order from a physician. Medical assistants have a very clear Scope of Practice that must be adhered to at all times.
Due to the importance of patient privacy, medical assistants are also trained in HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act). Discretion is extremely important while working in the medical field, and training in patient interaction is also covered during education training.
Administrative medical assistants responsibilities include:
- Scheduling patient appointments
- Creating and maintaining patient health records
- Filling out insurance forms
- Coding the correct medical information
- Competency in Electronic Health Records
- Scheduling and coordinating care with other healthcare facilities
- Directing phone calls
- Filing documents
- Assisting with patients as needed/requested
The diversity in training and the demand for medical assistants allows for the option to work in different settings, and is not uncommon. Medical assistants can work in hospitals, physician offices, outpatient care centers or health practitioner settings.
Medical assistants working at outpatient care centers earned the highest average salary at approximately $31,000 annually. Medical assistants working at an office of other health practitioner settings earned the least per year at $27,250.
Depending on the setting of employment, work hours can vary. Typically medical assistants work full time from 9am to 5pm. However, depending on the type of employment, medical assistants can work weekends, nights and during holidays. If a medical assistant works at a facility with flexible hours, a night/weekend differential may be earned, which can increase the annual salary.
If a medical assistant has obtained other certifications during their training, they may work exclusively with that particular certification. An example of this would be a phlebotomy certification/license. Many programs offer other certifications during the course of the training, which will of course add value to your resume. The more certifications in which a medical assistant obtains, the higher the earning potential. Ultimately, becoming a CMA (Certified Medical Assistant) at the very least, will add to the merit of a medical assistant’s resume.
Each individual program/certification will vary from state to state, and should be determined prior to entry.
Income and the Medical Assistant
The median annual wage for medical assistants was $29,960 in May 2014. This equals approximately $14.41 per hour. The highest 10 percent earned almost $43,000.
Like most professions, experience can play a role in wage determination. However, some educational programs offer additional certifications in phlebotomy, medical billing and coding, and front and back office, which can increase the annual salary.
Also, graduating from an accredited medical assisting program, and passing the CMA exam will increase the value of a medical assistant. Reputable programs will be accredited through either CAAHEP or ABHES. The CMA exam must be completed and passed in order to apply for a job that requires a “Certified Medical Assistant.”
National Medical Assistant Average Salary
Medical assistants have the highest employment level in California, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and New York. Medical assistants make the most money in the District of Columbia, Alaska, Massachusetts, Washington and Connecticut.
Regionally, the East and West Coasts have the highest annual mean wage, whereas the Mid-West and Southwest have the lowest annual mean wages.
Typically, major metropolitan areas pay more and have higher employment rates then non-metropolitan areas. However, there are a few areas in which nonmetropolitan areas have a similar annual mean wage to their metropolitan counterparts.
The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale Metropolitan division in California employs the highest number of medical assistants in the nation.
The highest paying metropolitan area is the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara division in California. The annual mean wage in this division is $43,180.
The highest paying nonmetropolitan area is Railbelt/Southwest Alaska with an annual mean wage of $42,180.
The healthcare system is extremely complex, and requires many different employees in order for it to function properly. Registered Nursing is also a high demand career field, with the potential to earn significantly more then a medical assistant.
The nursing program is longer, and characteristically requires a long list of prerequisites prior to entering a RN program. There is also more flexibility in work hours and opportunity.
Registered nurses also have the option to join a travel-nursing agency, which will pay for relocation and housing. This is a very appealing option to those whom have a desire to travel the country. RNs can also gain their Bachelors or Masters in Nursing, which also adds to the potential to make more money, and “climb the medical ladder.” The national median income for a registered nurse is $66,640 per year.
A licensed practical nurse completes many of the same duties as a medical assistant. An LPN does not have as much training as a registered nurse; however, the median income for an LPN is $42,490 per year. A licensed practical nurse also has the option to bridge over to a registered nursing program, and obtain additional education and training. Typically, an LPN program is 12 months in duration.
The main difference between a medical assistant and licensed practical nurse is most notable in the annual salary. Currently, the law does not require that a medical assistant have formal educational training. Some medical assistants are trained on the job without completing an accredited educational program. LPNs must complete a state approved training program, and must pass the National Council Licensure Examination.
Medical assisting does offer the flexibility of joining the profession without experience, and earning more pay with due time. Becoming a Certified Medical Assistant and passing the Certified Medical Assistant exam, does give an edge above those without any formal training.
How to Get Started
While searching for a medical assisting position, a potential employee will have a better chance of getting hired if they have graduated from an accredited medical program and have passed the Certified Medical Assistant exam. However, as mentioned above, it is not a requirement in each state, that a medical assistant be certified. Certification does add to the value of a resume tremendously, and can give some bargaining power when discussing salary.
Medical assisting programs are offered throughout the United States, either at a community college, private college or University. Once accepted into a program, the course length typically lasts 12 months.
Given the sensitive nature of working in a healthcare setting, medical assistants will have a background check, physical and will be required to be up-to-date on vaccinations prior to starting a new position. The sooner those these are completed, the sooner an MA can begin their career.
Today’s society is filled with baby boomers, which need more and more medical care. This rising demand makes the healthcare field a very desirable profession. Medical assisting is a great place to start, and provides a glimpse into the healthcare industry. Medical assistants interact with patients on a daily basis, and should have the desire to help those within their community. Passing the Certified Medical Nursing exam will add tremendous value to the medical assistants’ resume.
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