Medical assistants in hospitals and doctors' offices perform routine chores such as taking a patient's medical history, recording vital signs, drawing blood for testing and scheduling follow-up appointments. They're typically trained on the job, though professional certification provides an objective measure of competence. Many employers offer higher pay or preferential hiring for certified assistants.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2012 reported an average wage of $14.69 per hour for medical assistants, or $30,550 a year. The lowest-earning 10 percent reported annual incomes of up to $21,080, while the top 10 percent of medical assistants earned $41,570 or more. These numbers are very close to the figures reported by the American Association of Medical Assistants in its 2011 salary survey. The average wage reported by the AAMA survey was $14.67 per hour.
Certified vs. Non-Certified
The AAMA survey separates the income of Certified Medical Assistants (CMAs) from the income of non-certified medical assistants. Respondents who identified themselves as certified reported an average wage of $14.94 per hours or $29,460 annually. Respondents who identified themselves as non-certified averaged $13.43 per hour, or $26,568 a year.
Other factors affected medical assistants' reported incomes, including location and experience. The BLS reported Alaska as the highest-paying state, at an average of $39,900 per year. Washington and Hawaii were also among the top five. Not surprisingly, the AAMA found salaries highest in its Pacific grouping, which included those three states as well as high-paying California and Oregon. The AAMA survey also analyzed pay by years of experience. Respondents reporting two years' experience or less averaged $24,882 a year. Assistants with six to nine years' experience averaged $30,123, and assistants with 16 years or more earned an average of $35,882 per year.
Certification and Career Prospects
In its salary survey, the AAMA reported over 100 inquiries per day from employers wanting to verify assistants' credentials. Certification is important to employers both as a measure of professionalism and because it's often easier to bill for the services of certified staff. Certification is available from the AAMA itself, as well as American Medical Technologists, the National Center for Competency Testing, and the National Healthcareer Association. In each case, candidates must take and pass a certification exam in order to earn the credential. Some credentials require formal training, others will accept work experience. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects strong demand for medical assistants, with a projected 31 percent increase in employment by 2020.