Interested in a career where you can make a difference in a medical environment without attending medical school or nursing school? You may want to become a medical assistant. Certified medical assistants can provide clerical, administrative or clinical support in a hospital, clinic, or other medical setting. Medical assistants play an important role in medical operations and demand for medical assistants is predicted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to rise 34% by 2018—that’s about triple the rate of other professions. Becoming a certified medical assistant can enable you to enjoy a steady income and a long term career.
How much money does a certified medical assistant earn each year? The median 50% of medical assistants in 2011 were making $29,100 a year. The bottom percentile of medical assistants earned $20,880, while the uppermost percentile earned $40,810. Most of the medical assistants at the lower end of the salary range probably weren’t certified though. Certification can help you to get a higher salary than medical assistants who haven’t passed the certification exam. There are also other steps you can take to earn a higher salary like get more education, complete an externship, and select a workplace which pays well.
In order to get certified as a medical assistant, you’ll have to take the official Certification/Recertification exam. Your first step though will be to sign up for an accredited medical assisting program. The program should be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accreditation Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). You will find programs offered independently, through traditional colleges, through vocational colleges and through online schools. These programs will mostly fall into one of two categories. Either they will enable you to earn a two-year Associate’s Degree, or a one-year Diploma or Certificate.
When deciding which type of program to enter, you should ask yourself what you can afford and what you have time for in your schedule. Also check whether the program you are thinking of entering has academic prerequisites, and consider how long you’re willing to study before you start in your field. Since there are three basic types of medical assistants, you’ll want to also verify that the program will be teaching you the specific areas of medical assisting that you are most interested in. Medical assistants can be clerical, administrative, or clinical. Some do all three, so you should figure out which aspect(s) you are most interested in and then work out the details of your training from there. If you are planning to learn a clinical specialty, make sure you can get the appropriate training for that specialty. For example, if you want to work in a laboratory you’ll need a special skill set which most general medical assistants don’t have.
What are some of the topics you’ll be studying? You’ll learn about medical terminology and human anatomy, record keeping, billing and accounting, medical coding, laboratory science, standard clinical procedures, pharmacology, customer service, legal aspects of medicine, and more. The best programs also offer externships (sometimes known as practicums) where you can learn and practice job skills in a professional environment. Usually this counts toward your credits; it is an unpaid position, but it looks great on your resume and can help you make professional contacts. Fulfilling an externship can help you to get a better job later.
The official exam you’ll need to take after you complete your course is called the CMA (AAMA) Certification/Recertification Examination. AAMA stands for American Association of Medical Assistants. To take the exam you’ll need to first fill out an application and also pay an enrollment fee. This can range between $125-$250 depending on whether you are an AAMA member or a CAAHEP or ABHES completing student, or recent graduate. You can pay for your exam via money order, debit or credit card, cashier’s check, certified check, or institution check.
After receipt of your payment has been acknowledged you can schedule your exam appointment at any convenient location. Then you’ll need to review the content outline of the certification exam and study using practice tests. You can also sign up for a CMA (AAMA) Exam review course.
Once you pass the exam, you’ll be a certified medical assistant. Every sixty months you should retake the exam in order to keep your credentials current. By having a current certification, you demonstrate to employers that you are on top of your game and are able to fulfill your duties in the workplace. Not all candidates take the exam or pass it, and not all candidates even take a course in medical assisting. By doing both of these things you are placing yourself ahead of that much of your competition. Not only does this make it more likely you’ll get hired, but it also makes it more likely you’ll get a good salary and be able to choose an exciting workplace.
Some workplaces pay better than others for medical assistants. If you work in a retail shop in a hospital, for example, you probably won’t make much money. If you work in a psychiatric or drug abuse clinic, though, you may be able to earn twice what a medical assistant in a retail shop would make. For more information about workplaces and how they can impact your salary, check the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You should also take note that working in an urban region can help you earn more money as well.
Medical assistants may or may not make a lot of money, but certification is one of the steps you can take to maximize your chances of being in the higher-earning percentile. Certification takes time, work, money, and dedication, but it can pay off financially in the long run. It’ll also prepare you in a practical way for your new professional role, and may give you more confidence. With that added confidence and experience you’ll be able to excel, and as the years progress you should be able to make more money as a medical assistant.