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How to Become a Medical Assistant?

A Deep Dive into the Medical Assisting Profession

Smiling health professional in a hallway

Whether you decide to pursue your doctorate, or you’re looking to enter the healthcare field as soon as possible, there are several options for you to make a career out of caring.

One of the most vital roles in the healthcare system is the medical assistant. Without their help, many of the essential tasks and procedures of a medical office could grind to a halt.

For anyone who’s interested in becoming a medical assistant we developed this comprehensive career guide to provide you with everything you need to know about this noble profession.

Continue reading to learn how to become a Medical Assistant, as well as the duties, requirements, and benefits of this esteemed profession.

Medical Assistant Definition

What Is a Medical Assistant?

Medical assistants (MA) are health professionals who support nurses, physicians, and other healthcare professionals while carrying out their responsibilities in a variety of healthcare settings, including outpatient and ambulatory care facilities, (such as medical offices and clinics).

Medical Assistant: Job Description

What Does a Medical assistant Do?

Two female health professionals

Medical assistants perform administrative and clinical duties in the offices of physicians, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities. Their duties vary depending on the location, specialty, and size of the practice. MAs should not be confused with physician assistants, who examine and treat patients directly under a physician’s supervision.

Medical Assistant: Day-to-Day Responsibilities

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of a medical assistant include:

  • Recording patient vital signs and medical histories
  • Preparing patients for medical examinations
  • Assisting physicians during examinations
  • Administering topical, oral, or intramuscular medications
  • Explaining medical procedures to patients and their families
  • Preparing blood samples for laboratory tests
  • Schedule patient appointments
  • Entering patient information into medical records

Medical Assistant Jobs

Where Does a Medical Assistant Work?

Medical assistants can work in a variety of healthcare settings. Most medical assistants are employed by the following institutions:

  • Physicians’ offices
  • Hospitals at the state, local, and private level
  • Outpatient care centers
  • Offices of chiropractors
  • Colleges and universities
  • Medical research centers
  • Insurance carriers

Not only is medical assisting a great way to launch a career in healthcare, it can lead you to several other job opportunities as well. These other jobs may include EKG technician, phlebotomy technician, or even medical claims examiner. Click here to learn more about some of the best alternative jobs for medical assistants.

Medical Assistant: Schooling & Certification

How Long Does it Take to Become a Medical Assistant?

What Degree Do You Need to Become a Medical Assistant?

The amount of time it takes to become a medical assistant depends on the type of program you choose. On average, a medical assistant diploma can be earned in 9-12 months, depending on the program. These programs are often designed for busy working adults who can’t attend school full-time. On the other hand, an associate degree in medical assisting takes about two years to complete.

Most medical assistants are required to complete an externship before graduation. Once you have completed a medical assisting program and externship, you may want to take one of several certification exams available to MAs (depending on your career goals).

Steps to Becoming a Medical Assistant

Here are the steps required to become a Medical Assistant:

1. Enroll in a Medical Assistant Program

The first step to becoming a medical assistant is to choose a school and program. You’ll want to make sure that the program is accredited because you won’t be able to take professional certification exams without accreditation.

You can either pursue a medical assisting diploma or associate degree, depending on your career goals and the amount of time you dedicate to school. If you desire to enter the workforce as soon as possible, earning a diploma may be the best route for you. Furthermore, if you intend to extend your healthcare education down the road, then an associate degree is often a great option.

2. Complete an Externship

As previously mentioned, most medical assistant programs do require you to complete an externship. An externship allows you to gain clinical experience before entering the workforce. Throughout the externship, you will likely work alongside certified medical assistants in a real-life clinical setting. Most schools will connect you with a local clinic or medical facility to complete this externship.

3. (Optional) Become Certified as a Medical Assistant

While it’s technically not required to become certified before entering the workforce, many employers do prefer it. For future employers, these credentials will demonstrate your medical assisting knowledge and qualifications and provide them with the additional confidence they might need to either hire you or grant you additional responsibilities while on the job.

The good news is there are five different medical assisting exams you can choose from to become certified, upon completion of your MA program and externship.

  1. The Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certification is offered through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA).
  2. The Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) certification is offered through American Medical Technologists (AMT).
  3. The National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) certification is offered through the National Center for Competency Testing (NCTT).
  4. The Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) certification is offered through the National Healthcare Association.
  5. The Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) certification is offered through the National Healthcare Association

Medical Assistant Salary

How Much Does a Medical Assistant Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical assistants make an average annual salary* of $35,540. For hourly wage earners, the average is $16.61.

The lowest paid medical assistants (lowest 10th percentile) can earn less than $25,000 a year, while the highest paid medical assistants (top 10th percentile) can earn more $48,000.

Your pay as a medical assistant can vary depending on several factors, including but not limited to your location, employer, and level of experience.

For example, here are some of the top paying industries for medical assistants:

Industry Average Hourly Wage Average Salary
Junior Colleges $21.00 $43,670
Insurance Carriers $19.00 $39,530
Medical & Diagnostic Labs $18.36 $38,190
Outpatient Care Centers $17.95 $37,340
Hospitals $17.34 $36,070
Physician’s Office $16.50 $34,320

Geography can also play a major role in your compensation.

Highest Paying States for Medical Assistants

State Average Hourly Wage Average Salary
Alaska $21.87 $45,490
Washington, DC $20.20 $42,010
Washington $19.88 $41,340
Minnesota $19.38 $40,320
Massachusetts $19.36 $40,270

Highest Paying Cities for Medical Assistants

City Average Hourly Wage Average Salary
Fairfield, CA $22.20 $46,170
San Francisco, CA $21.94 $45,640
Anchorage, AK $21.69 $45,110
Seattle, WA $21.35 $44,410
Barnstable Town, MA $21.30 $44,300
Santa Cruz, CA $21.14 $43,960
Santa Jose, CA $21.09 $43,870
Santa Rosa, CA $20.94 $43,560

To learn more click here to explore the highest medical assistant salaries across the United States.

Medical Assisting Career Outlook

What Is the Job Outlook for a Medical Assistant?

The BLS reports that employment of medical assistants is projected to grow 19 percent from 2019 to 2029, which is much faster than the average for all occupations (4%).

The growth of the aging baby-boom population will continue to increase the demand for preventive medical services, leading to the hiring of more medical assistants to perform routine administrative and clinical duties.

Medical Assistant Career

Are you ready to start your career as a Medical Assistant?

Smiling health professional at a desk

Earning your diploma or associates degree in medical assisting can be one of the quickest and most gratifying ways to enter the healthcare field. It can also serve as the foundation for a fulfilling career as a Nurse, MSN, or even a Doctor. By working as a medical assistant, you will realize how fulfilling it is to make a career out of caring.

If you’re ready to take the next step towards becoming a Medical Assistant, you can earn your MA diploma in as little as 9 months at Eagle Gate College.

Click here to learn more about our Medical Assisting program.