This career is expected to grow 34 percent—much faster than average—through 2018.
Because medical assistants can handle both administrative and clinical duties, they are in high demand in group practices, clinics, and other health care facilities. Medical assistants work primarily in outpatient settings, which are rapidly growing in number.
Salary & Wages
In 2006, medical assistants earned an average salary of $28,300. The middle 50 percent earned $23,700 to $33,050. The highest 10 percent earned more than $39,570.Medical assistants in medical and surgical hospitals earned the highest salaries. Those in optometrists’ offices earned the least.
What is a Medical Assistant?
Medical assistants help keep medical offices running smoothly by performing either clinical or administrative tasks, or both. They should not be confused with physician assistants, who examine, diagnose, and treat patients under the direct supervision of a physician.
In their administrative roles, medical assistants update and file records, fill out insurance forms, arrange for hospital admissions and lab services, answer phones, greet patients, schedule appointments, and handle correspondence, billing and bookkeeping.
State laws dictate which clinical tasks medical assistants can perform. Common ones include taking medical histories and recording vital signs, explaining treatment procedures to patients, preparing patients for exams, and assisting physicians during exams.
In small practices, medical assistants usually report to an office manager or physician and perform a wide variety of duties. In larger practices, medical assistants typically report to a department administrator and have an area of specialization.
Education & Degree Path
Formal training in medical assisting, while preferred, is not always required. Medical assisting or office management programs usually last one year and result in a certificate or diploma.
Two-year programs result in an associate degree in healthcare or health office and medical records management. A number of differently titled certificates, diplomas and degrees can help you enter and expand in this lucrative career niche.
Medical assistants are sometimes trained on the job, but this practice is less common than in the past.
Some states allow medical assistants to perform more advanced procedures, such as giving injections, after passing a test or taking a course.
Entering the Field:
Though a certificate or diploma is preferred, and sometimes required, for many medical assistant jobs, the main criteria is competence. You should be able to put patients at ease and explain physicians’ instructions. You should understand the confidential nature of medical information and be good at organizing data and tasks.
This is an excellent career niche for anyone who has acquired general office management skills in other lower-paying industries, such as retail or manufacturing. Career changers who have experience serving the public and doing administrative tasks such as filing, bookkeeping and completing insurance forms can easily transition into healthcare as medical office managers or assistants.
Salary and growth data source is the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For more information on careers for medical assistants, salaries, and job prospects visit: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Medical Assistants.