One career which you may be hearing a lot about is the role of medical assistant. More and more people are becoming aware of this profession because it is projected to rise in demand so rapidly over the coming years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that by 2018 demand for medical assistants will have increased by 34%, which is triple the rate of most other professions. In these troubled times many people are looking for a career which offers some job security, and a high-demand career like this can be very enticing. How much do medical assistants make though? Will you be able to make a good living on a medical assistant salary?
The salary range for medical assistants is actually quite wide, so you could make very little or a fair amount, depending on many things. Your hourly wage according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) could range anywhere from $10.01 to $19.32. You could make as little as $20,810 a year or as much as $40,190. If you are in the median 50% of medical assistants you will make around $28,860. These numbers were recorded from data which was retrieved in 2008, in the middle of the economic recession. Does that mean that they’ll slip downward in the years to come? Probably not, since the BLS also projects that demand for medical assistants is going to increase 34% by 2018. This is about three times the estimate which BLS makes for the majority of professions.
You’re probably wondering why the salary range is so wide and what factors can influence the money which medical assistants can make. How do you become one of the top earners and pull in around $40,000 a year? Your income will depend on two main factors. The first is you—your experience and training. The second is your location.
Why does location matter? By working in an urban locale you will probably make more money than you would out in the country. Equally important is what type of work environment you decide to place yourself in. On average, medical assistants who choose to work in outpatient care centers, offices of physicians and health practitioners, general medical and surgical hospitals or retail shops in hospitals make the least amount of money. To earn higher paychecks it’s better to work in psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals, dentist offices, scientific research and development labs, or insurance companies. Keep in mind that these recommendations are based off of statistical averages and do not guarantee a higher salary.
Your training, education and work experience are all relevant as well and may impact your earnings. There are a lot of medical assistants who don’t have any training except what they received on the job. You may be able to compete for a higher salary than these assistants by getting training in the position through an accredited program. Programs may be one year or two years in length and are accredited through the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accreditation Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).
You may want to think about acquiring a specialty if you are planning to become a clinical medical assistant. There are three main types of medical assistant: clinical, clerical, and administrative. Many medical assistants are all three. Administrative assistants mostly handle office work while clerical assistants answer phones and greet customers at the front desk. Clinical assistants help with examinations and sometimes perform actual medical tasks like drawing blood or preparing instruments for surgery. Clinical assistants can specialize in a particular field of medicine in order to excel and sometimes get a higher rate of pay. Another specialty role is that of a clinical laboratory assistant. Clinical lab assistants work in laboratories as their title implies; they help technicians to record results and may perform other roles in the lab as well.
Having a higher level of education could correlate to a higher salary as well. Some medical assistants go straight to work without any education after high school. This is an option if you can’t afford any training, but if you can you may be able to get a higher salary afterward. A one year Diploma or Certificate program can propel you to a higher salary, and a two year Associate’s Degree may advance you further yet amongst your peers.
Completing an externship in a clinic or hospital or other work environment is another way to make yourself more competitive. You will learn hands-on skills, and employers who see the externship on your resume will know you have actual work experience through your externship, even if you are still in school. They are probably more likely to consider you over another candidate who has none. Sometimes externships can lead to full-time positions after training is complete too, removing the need to conduct a work search immediately after school as well. In this economy that can be a huge benefit.
One other way you can make yourself stand out from the competition is to become certified by taking the official Certification exam. By getting certified you prove that you have a sound foundation of skills which is up to date and which qualifies you for a position as a medical assistant. Certification may help you to land a job with a higher salary.
Getting a job as a medical assistant doesn’t guarantee a high salary; that is something you will have to work toward. By choosing a workplace which pays highly and perhaps a high-paying specialty, you can earn a better salary than some of your peers. One thing which does make this job very attractive however are the prospects. It is common sense that medical assistants will always be needed; since the BLS projects this role is not only already in high demand but that demand is rising rapidly, that means that there will soon be more positions than ever to fill. That could lead to higher salaries for medical assistants in the coming years.