Health care jobs have been on the rise since the Affordable Care Act, which has fundamentally altered health care business models, providing consumers with greater choices in the marketplace. The demand for health care further is driven by an improving economy and an aging population. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows good news for health care workers. Medical assistants in particular may benefit from the market changes, recovering economy and increasing demand for services.
Medical assisting job description
Medical assistants generally provide a variety of patient care (under physician direction) in different health care settings such as the following:
- Skilled nursing facilities
- Ambulatory care centers
- Rehabilitation facilities
- Private physician offices
- Surgical centers
In those settings, medical assistants are critical members of the team, responsible for carrying out a range of tasks, including interviewing and taking patient histories, scheduling appointments, preparing patient examination rooms, recording patient vital signs, managing medical equipment and -- in some cases -- assisting with medical billing.
Medical assistant specializations
A broad field, medical assisting covers a range of roles and responsibilities. However, medical assistants may also choose to specialize, working in specific fields such as pediatrics, podiatry or ophthalmology. Beyond the specialized fields, there are two types of expansive medical assisting:
- Administrative medical assistant: Administrative medical assistants blend both medical and clerical duties, handling a spectrum of responsibilities, from rooming patients to taking patient histories, scheduling medical tests to updating patient information.
- Clerical medical assistant: Clerical medical assistants help with the daily operation of a medical facility or office. Duties may range from handling phone calls to scheduling appointments, assisting physicians with paperwork to filing medical records.
Medical assistant schools and education requirements
There are multiple educational avenues for becoming a medical assistant, including:
- Diploma of medical assisting - Requirements vary by program. For example, the medical assisting diploma program at Midwest Technical Institute requires students to complete 26 semester credits across a 36-week program, which includes 225 externship hours and 135 additional outside clock hours of clinical practice.
- Associate of Applied Science in medical assisting (A.A.S.) - An associate degree program at Arizona College takes approximately 60 weeks to complete and includes a five-week externship program with 200 hours of clinical practice.
Depending on specific requirements, diploma programs can be completed in as little as a year, while associate degree programs could take two or more years of study to complete. Students in medical assisting educational programs are generally required to complete both classroom-based study, as well as an externship that focuses on real-world clinical practice.
Medical assistant certifications
Upon completion of either an associate degree or diploma program, students may choose to pursue several types of formal certification. Although there are no federal requirements for certification, potential employers may require graduates of medical assistant programs to hold one or more certifications for employment. Several professional medical assisting certifications exist, including the following:
- Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) - Sponsored by American Medical Technologists
- Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) - Sponsored by the American Association of Medical Assistants
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) - Sponsored by National Healthcareer Association
Each certification has its own set of requirements, including education, clinical hours and examination. Individuals interested in certification after graduation should contact each certifying organization to receive an up-to-date list of certification requirements.
Salary for medical assistants
As noted above, medical assistants are expected to be increasingly in demand. Nationally, employment openings for the career field are projected to reach 29 percent between 2012 and 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's nearly 163,000 positions across the country. Top medical assisting employers include physician offices (337,690), general medical and surgical hospitals (79,190) and outpatient care centers (36,190)
On the earnings front, medical assistants earned a national average salary of $30,780 in 2013, with the top 10 percent of earners taking home at least $41,910 in 2013 (BLS.gov). The best paying states in 2013 included Alaska ($39,610), Massachusetts ($37,460), Washington ($35,600) and Connecticut ($34,260).
Medical assisting state associations
Graduates of medical assisting educational programs may also look to their state for additional professional support. Most states have membership-focused medical assisting organizations and associations. Examples include the following:
- California Medical Assistants Association
- Florida Society of Medical Assistants
- New York State Society of Medical Assistants
- Ohio State Society of Medical Assistants
- Iowa Society of Medical Assistants
In the end, by completing an education through an accredited medical assisting program, earning subsequent certifications and joining a state-wide association could open the door to a number of career opportunities in the health care industry.
- Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools, http://www.abhes.org/
- American Association of Medical Assistants, http://www.aama-ntl.org/
- American Medical Technologists, http://www.americanmedtech.org/default.aspx
- American Registry of Medical Assistants, http://arma-cert.org/
- American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants, http://www.aspma.org/
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, OES, Medical Assistants, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes319092.htm
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, OOH, Medical Assistants, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm
- California Medical Assistants Association, http://www.cmaa-ca.org/
- Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, http://www.caahep.org/