Growth Trends for Related Jobs
Enter the Healthcare Field Fast as a Medical Assistant
If you enjoy helping people, making them comfortable and helping to ensure their well-being, you've probably thought about working in the healthcare field. Instead of spending multiple years in school, you'd rather get to work, make a difference and start earning an income. Yet you don't want to work for minimum wage in an unskilled job. To become a medical assistant, you can go to school for a short time or learn on the job to be a valued member of a healthcare team.
As a medical assistant, you might do clinical or administrative tasks or both. Examples of clinical responsibilities are taking patients' blood pressure and temperature, drawing blood, discussing diet or specifics about their medication, taking electrocardiograms, changing dressings, removing stitches and preparing patients for exams, X-rays and other tests. Administrative medical assistants might greet patients, fill out insurance forms, assign the proper codes to treatments and diagnoses, handle correspondence, schedule appointments and hospital admissions, update medical records in the computer and answer phones.
In small medical offices, a medical assistant can wear many hats and perform many functions done in both administrative and clinical roles. In larger medical offices, clinics or hospitals, which employ numerous medical assistants, you'll be more likely to specialize in either a clinical or administrative position. If you work in a specialist's office, you'll also learn to perform skills that are unique to that specialty. For example, in a podiatrist's office, you might make castings of feet and assist in surgery. A pediatric medical assistant might administer vaccinations ordered by the pediatrician and record information in the patient's chart such as the vaccine's lot number and the location on the patient where the vaccination was given.
Most people become medical assistants by enrolling in an educational program after high school. Programs that take about one year to complete are offered through vocational and technical schools, community colleges and universities. Some community colleges also offer associate degrees in medical assisting that take about two years to finish. Whichever type of program you choose, you'll have both classroom instruction and lab experience, plus an unpaid internship, called a practicum, where you'll get valuable experience in an actual medical setting such as a physician's office.
It's also possible to become a medical assistant through online programs. This is especially helpful if you have a job or responsibilities at home that make it difficult to attend classes in person. Instead of having classes on set days and times, you can study online around your schedule. You'll still have to complete an in-person practicum, however, and sometimes in-person lab work too.
In most states, you're not required to complete a formal education to become a medical assistant. Armed with a high school diploma or GED, you can learn on the job if you can find a physician willing to train you. However, when a physician trains you, you'll learn only the tasks that medical assistants do in that office and the methods that office uses, which might vary from what you'd be taught in school. This could make it difficult to switch jobs later because you'll be compared against applicants who have a formal education in all aspects of a medical assistant's role.
Check with your state board of medicine to see if it requires medical assistants to have a formal education and/or to be certified. In any case, employers are increasingly looking to hire medical assistants who have been certified by one of five organizations:
- Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) by the American Association of Medical Assistants
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) by the National Healthcareer Association
- Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) by the National Healthcareer Association
- National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) by the National Center for Competency Testing
- Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) by American Medical Technologists
Certification shows that you've taken and passed a test that covers all areas of medical assisting. The CMA certification is the most well known. To become certified, you must have graduated from a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Before you enroll in any medical assisting educational program, ask if it is accredited by either of these organizations. After becoming a CMA, you must recertify every 60 months, either by taking a recertification test or by taking continuing education courses. There are fees for taking the certification/recertification tests and continuing education courses.
Medical assistants earned a median salary of $31,540 in May 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A median salary is the midpoint, meaning that half earned more and half earned less. Medical assistant salaries vary depending upon the industry in which they work.
Medical assistants work in physicians' offices, outpatient care centers and hospitals. Those employed in physicians' offices earned median salaries of $31,710 in May 2016. Wages varied depending on the type of physician, however. For example, chiropractors paid medical assistants median salaries of $28,210. Medical assistants in outpatient care centers earned median salaries of $33,560, and those working in hospitals earned median salaries of $32,620.
Years of Experience
Medical assistants are not required to have any work experience to begin their careers. As you gain experience and shed that newbie label, you might specialize as either a clinical or administrative medical assistant. You can expect to receive salary increases as you become more experienced and perform your job well. Some medical assistants continue their medical education while working, taking courses to become licensed practical nurses (LPNs) or registered nurses (RNs) and earn higher salaries.
Job Growth Trend
The need for medical assistants is expected to grow 29 percent from 2016 to 2026. As the population ages, people will need more medical care. Physicians, hospitals and other healthcare facilities will hire more medical assistants to provide increased care at affordable rates.
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Barbara Bean-Mellinger is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area who has written about careers and education for work.chron.com, workingmother.com, classroom.synonym.com and more. Barbara holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh and has won numerous awards for her writing.