Everything You Need To Know About Medical Assistants

In the recession it can be tough to find a steady job, but the medical industry is one which is always in need of good staff. You don’t have to train to become a doctor or nurse to get a job in a medical environment. Auxiliary staff like medical assistants play a critical role in the operations of medical workplaces, and these jobs are always in high demand. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that the demand for medical assistants will rise by 34% by 2018. Most professions in the US are only projected to increase in demand by a third of that rate. That means that this is one of the fastest growing fields in the country right now.

medical assistantsThere are three basic types of medical assistant, and there is demand for all three types. These types include medical administrative assistants, medical clerical assistants and medical clinical assistants. If you become a medical administrative assistant, you will handle the back end of office operations such as filing, billing, organization, scheduling, recordkeeping, and more. If you become a medical clerical assistant you will handle front-end office operations such as answering the phone, greeting patients at the front desk, and other reception related duties. If you become a medical clinical assistant you’ll get to help out with examinations and even perform some medical procedures. Some medical assistant jobs comprise all three roles. This is most common in smaller workplaces where there aren’t as many staff members to execute specific roles.

How much is a medical assistant salary?

According to BLS data from 2008, the middle 50% of medical assistants were making $28,860. The lowest salary recorded was $20,810 and the highest salary recorded was $40,190. Why is there such a wide range in these numbers? Lots of factors can influence medical assistant salaries, including the qualifications of the medical assistant, where the medical assistant has chosen to work, and whether the medical assistant has a specialty. At the lower end this isn’t really a lucrative position, but if you can manage to get into the ranks of the higher earners you can make a good living as a medical assistant. The job offers fairly good security since medical positions are always of necessity and the BLS projects such a rapidly growing demand for more medical assistants. As demand grows, employers may begin to offer more competitive wages to attract the best candidates.

How do you become one of the best candidates?

You will want to get certified through the official CMA (AAMA) Certification/Recertification Examination offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants. This certification provides an objective measurement of your knowledge and proves your skills are up to date. Before you take the exam you’ll want to take a course which is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accreditation Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).

What are the best medical assistant schools?

This depends on your needs. You’ll have to select a school based on your financial resources, your schedule, your geographical location, and also based off of the details of the program offered. Not all programs are tailored toward all aspects of medical assistance. For example, if you want to become a clinical medical assistant, you won’t want to enter into a program which focuses mostly the administrative and clerical aspects of the job. You’ll need a program which trains you in the finer details of anatomy and teaches you skills like how to draw blood or sterilize instruments. So your first step to becoming a medical assistant is actually to figure out what kind of a medical assistant you want to be. Then you will need to find a program which is suitable for your goals. Medical assistants can sometimes earn more money if they specialize, too. So try and figure out whether there is a specialty which interests you (podiatry, dentistry, laboratory work, etc.), and if there is, look for a program that will train you in that specialty.

After you complete the program (which can take one or two years, depending on what type of program you enter), you can apply to take the certification exam. The exam does cost money ($125-$250), so you’ll have to have that on hand when you’re ready to test your knowledge.

Becoming a certified medical assistant opens up opportunities which might be closed to you if you weren’t certified. There are medical assistants who don’t have this additional training and certification and who cannot qualify for jobs which pay higher salaries. That is one of the reasons that some medical assistants don’t earn a lot of money. By improving your qualifications you increase your edge and it becomes more likely that you will be among the higher paid medical assistants.

One other step you can take to earn a higher salary as a medical assistant is to opt to work in a workplace which pays well. Some settings offer more opportunity than others. On the whole, medical assistants who work at dentist offices or psychiatric or drug abuse clinics make more money than those who work in the clinics of physicians and health practitioners. The worst salaries are paid to administrative medical assistants who work in hospital gift shops. Salaries are higher in urban areas than rural areas as well (usually), but so is the cost of living, so there is a tradeoff.

Becoming a certified medical assistant doesn’t take long. Two years can get you an Associate’s degree, and if you don’t have that much time to invest you can get a Diploma or Certificate in just one year. You can study through a vocational school, online university, or independent study program. Whatever route you pursue, keep in mind that your choices now can impact your earnings in the long run. Prospects are good for this profession, so have your advancement in mind from day one; by making yourself competitive and standing out amongst your peers, you should excel.