What to Know About Being a Medical Assistant
- Medical assistants handle administrative and clinical tasks at healthcare facilities.
- Employers are more likely to hire medical assistants with professional certifications.
- Certifications involve an exam and a demonstration of professional experience.
- Medical assistants earned a median salary of $35,850 in 2021.
You can't spell "team" without "medical assistant." OK, maybe you can. But you get the point — medical assistants are crucial workers in healthcare facilities, and more are needed.
A 2021 report on the industry outlook by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA) found that employers had a significant increase in difficulty finding qualified medical assistants from 2020-2021.
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Medical assistants are some of the most common workers employed in the healthcare industry. About 743,500 medical assistants were employed in 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Most medical assistants need to enroll in professional certificate programs to be eligible for hire, which can take between a few months and a year to complete. If medical assistants are specifically trained for the role, they have a much better chance of being hired.
What Is a Medical Assistant?
Medical assistants handle administrative and clinical tasks at healthcare facilities, such as scheduling patient appointments, recording vital signs, and reviewing medical histories. They often work in places like hospitals, physician offices, and laboratories.
Most work side-by-side with primary care providers. The field also offers opportunities for specialization. For example, administrative medical assistants fill out insurance forms, record medical billing codes, and prepare patients for X-rays.
What Training Does a Medical Assistant Need?
Medical assistants typically need professional certification to be eligible for hire. The 2021 NHA report found that 88% of employers encourage or require certification for medical assistants.
The certification process involves passing an exam and demonstrating professional experience.
Nationally recognized organizations offering certification include:
Medical assistants can enroll in training programs to broaden their skillsets. Programs include courses in medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, and electronic health records. Many schools also offer hands-on training through internships with local healthcare providers.
Many employers look for medical assistants with advanced skills in electronic health records, medical scribing, and conducting phone screenings and triage. Employers had a significant increase in difficulty finding qualified candidates for billing and coding from 2020-2021, according to the NHA.
Most states have no licensing requirements for medical assistants unless they perform specific clinical duties.
What Is the Career Outlook for Medical Assistants?
The BLS projects a 16% growth in employment for medical assistants from 2021-2031 — or the creation of about 139,200 new positions. This projected growth exceeds projections for healthcare occupations overall during the same period (12%) and is much faster than the average projected growth for all occupations (5%).
Demand for healthcare services continues to grow as people live longer and seek preventative care to improve their quality of life. Medical assistants can take care of routine tasks within the medical office, allowing practitioners and clinical personnel to spend more time with patients.
How Much Do Medical Assistants Make?
Medical assistants earned a median salary of $37,190 in 2021, according to the BLS. Their salaries ranged from less than $29,070 to more than $48,170.
Agencies, brokerages, and other insurance-related businesses offered the highest mean salary per year ($52,970), followed by professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers ($48,940).
Factors influencing a medical assistant's salary include education, experience, and location. According to Payscale, entry-level medical assistants reported an average salary of $35,550 in February 2023. However, experienced medical assistants can earn much more.
Medical assistants earned the highest salaries working in Washington state, earning a mean annual wage of $47,320, according to the BLS. The highest-paying metropolitan area in 2021 was New York-Newark-Jersey City — medical assistants in this area earned an average of $42,390 a year.
Pro Tip: Earning a professional credential can increase your salary potential. The NHA found 56% of employers increased pay for medical assistants who earned professional certification.
Frequently Asked Questions About Medical Assisting
Do you need to be certified to work as a medical assistant?
States do not require licensing or medical assistant certification. However, many employers do require or encourage medical assistants to seek professional credentials from an accredited organization.
Employers also have a tendency to reward workers with professional certification. According to the NHA, 56% of employers increase pay for certified medical assistants.
How long does it take to become a medical assistant?
Career-focused training programs require a few months to a year to complete. An associate degree in medical assisting takes about two years to earn. A two-year degree may also include general education courses, and these credits can often be transferred toward a four-year degree should you decide to continue your education later.
How much do medical assistant programs cost?
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a two-year degree in healthcare costs about $3,908 per year. However, the cost of a medical assistant program varies. You can find training programs at community colleges, vocational training centers, and nonprofit and for-profit medical training schools.