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Medical assistants are also known as “clinical assistants” or “healthcare assistants” in the United States. These allied health professionals provide support and help to physicians, nurses, and other health professionals, mostly in medical facilities or in clinics. They complete clinical and administrative tasks in the offices of hospitals, physicians, and other health facilities. Their duties can vary, depending on the specialty, size, and location of the practice.
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS 2019), the median annual wage for medical assistants was $34,800 in May 2019. The earning potential of medical assistants is linked to various factors, including work setting, experience, and location. It is important to note that medical assistants should not be confused with physician assistants (PAs), who are professionals examining, diagnosing, and treating patients under the supervision of a physician.
Typical duties of a medical assistant include recording patients’ personal information and history, measuring blood pressure, giving injections or other medications to the patients as directed by the physician, scheduling appointments, preparing blood samples, and entering patient information into medical records.
As with any profession, there are certain important qualities to succeed in a career as a medical assistant. Take a look at some of the must-haves for professionals in the field:
- Medical assistants must be able to follow and understand diagnoses and medical charts, as they are often tasked with coding medical records for billing.
- They need to be able to precisely take vital signs and record patient information as physicians rely on accurate records
- They must act in a professional and calm manner at all times, as they often have to interact with patients in distress or pain. Also, they should be able to discuss this information with their physicians
- They should be adept at using basic clinical instruments used for assessing a patient’s vital signs, such as blood pressure and heart rate.
Most states do not require medical assistants to be certified. However, there may be employers who would prefer hiring certified medical assistants.
There are several organizations offering certification for medical assistants. The National Commission for Certifying Agencies provides the following five certifications for medical assistants:
- Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) from the American Association of Medical Assistants
- Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) from American Medical Technologists
- National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) from the National Center for Competency Testing
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) from the National Healthcareer Association
- Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) from the National Healthcareer Association
In most practices, health facilities or hospitals, medical assistants are usually seen specializing in either clinical or administrative work. The job profile for each of these can be seen below:
- Medical assistants (administrative) – Typical jobs include filling out insurance forms or coding patients’ medical information. They are also required to answer telephones and schedule patient appointments.
- Medical assistants (clinical) – Typical responsibilities include doing basic laboratory tests, disposing contaminated supplies, and sterilizing medical instruments. Additional responsibilities may include instructing patients about special diets or medication, preparing the patients for removing stitches, X-rays, changing dressings, or drawing blood.
Self-reported data from PayScale.com shows medical assistants to be highly satisfied with their jobs with a score of 3.8 out of 5 based on 5,559 individual ratings (PayScale.com, 2020).
The U.S. News & World Report (2019) ranks medical assistants at number two in best jobs without a college degree, number six in best healthcare support jobs, and at number 52 in 100 best jobs.
Employability is another major benefit for those seeking careers as medical assistants. Being one of the fastest-growing occupations in the United States, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019) shows that the need for physician assistants is growing at a rate of 23 percent (2018-2028), which is much faster than the average for all occupations. An estimated 154,900 new medical assistant positions are expected to be needed by the year 2028 (BLS 2019).
The growth of the aging Baby Boomer population will in turn, increase demand for preventive medical services, provided by physicians. As a result, physicians will hire more medical assistants to perform routine administrative and clinical duties.
Aspiring professionals wanting to serve in clinical roles can become a medical assistant with only one to two years of postsecondary education. Although, in most states, formal education is not a necessary requirement for becoming a medical assistant. However, employers may prefer to hire medical assistants who have completed a formal program from a community college, university, vocational school, or technical school. Generally, these programs lead to a certificate or a diploma.
Read on to learn how much medical assistants make, where they are employed, and the top-paying clinical specializations.
Medical Assistant Salaries in the United States
In general, here is a breakdown of the 712,430 medical assistants’ salaries in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019):
- Average annual salary: $34,800
- 10th percentile: $25,820
- 25th percentile: $29,460
- 50th percentile (median): $34,800
- 75th percentile: $40,270
- 90th percentile: $48,720
Medical Assistant Salaries by Experience
According to PayScale (2020), an aggregator of self-reported salary data, medical assistants can expect to make the following hourly salaries based on their level of experience:
- Entry-level medical assistants who have less than a year of experience are expected to earn an average hourly pay of $13.14 based on 2,120 salaries.
- Medical assistants with one to four years of experience can earn an average hourly pay of $14.16 based on 13,572 salaries.
- Mid-career medical assistants with five to nine years of experience can earn an average hourly pay of $15.65 based on 8,509 salaries.
- Experienced medical assistants with 10 to 19 years of experience can earn an average hourly pay of $16.50 based on 7,867 salaries.
- Similarly, those in the later stages of their career, that is 20 years or more experience, can earn an average hourly pay of $17.00.
Top-Paying States for Medical Assistants
The list below shows the states with the highest salaries for medical assistants, an estimated number of employed medical assistants, and the annual mean wage as reported from the BLS (May 2019).
|State||Number of medical assistants employed||Annual mean wage (May 2019)|
|District of Columbia||1,870||$44,530|
Top-Paying Cities for Medical Assistants
Below is a list of the top-paying cities and their corresponding metropolitan areas with the highest salaries for medical assistants. Also shown are the estimated number of employed medical assistants (not including self-employed workers), and the annual mean wage as reported from the BLS (May 2019).
|Metropolitan area||Number of medical assistants employed||Annual mean wage (May 2019)|
|San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA||12,320||$48,920|
|Santa Rosa, CA||1,420||$46,550|
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||5,100||$46,450|
|Barnstable Town, MA||340||$45,900|
|Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA||890||$44,380|
Most Popular Work Environments for Medical Assistants
The list below shows the top three sectors and their percentages of employed medical assistants with data sourced from the BLS (2019).
|Work environment||Percentage of employed medical assistants (2018)||Average annual salary (May 2019)|
|Offices of physicians||57 percent||$35,490|
|Hospitals: state, local, and private (i.e., general medical and surgical hospitals)||15 percent||$37,190|
|Outpatient care centers||8 percent||$39,190|
Top-Paying Clinical Specializations for Medical Assistants
In order to earn higher salaries, medical assistants can specialize in a clinical medicine related area. The list below shows five medical assistant specializations and their average annual salaries based on self-reported data from PayScale (2020):
|Specialization||Average annual salary|
|Electronic medical records||$33,724|
Farheen is a freelance writer, marketer, and researcher. She writes about technology, education, and marketing. Her work has appeared on websites such as Tech in Asia and Foundr, as well as top SaaS blogs such as Zapier and InVision. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter (@FarheenGani).