While there are lots of things that medical assistants are not, there’s still so much that they are. Medical assistants are essential to keeping a doctor’s or other medical staff’s day smooth and without snags (as much as possible). I know a few doctors, and until you work with them, you have no idea what a challenging task it can be to make a day “snag free”.

Medical assistants may be asked to perform the following services:

  • Blood draws (also known as venipuncture)
  • Specimen collection and processing
  • Sterile technique
  • Immunizations (like TB skin tests)
  • EKG and respiratory testing
  • Obtain vital signs

When choosing a career path, there’s no doubt that you will have a lot of questions. It’s normal to want to know all the little details of what may be ahead. After sorting through dozens of websites with generic information, you may still have more questions than answers. If you are considering a job as a medical assistant, understanding the big picture is the best way to ensure that there won’t be any surprises down the road.

Medical assistants are required to balance a variety of duties. As the go-to resource for many physician’s offices and clinics, assistants are trained to conduct clerical duties—like answering phones, filing paperwork, billing, and records maintenance.

Accredited Medical Assistant Schools

The pace of a medical assistant program, and the depth of the curriculum are two things you should consider when weighing these two options. Diploma programs can be very fast-paced due to their short timeframe. Although many programs are offered online for working students, you will need to be sure you can handle the expected workload and deadlines. An associate’s program will allow you an extended timeline for completing your degree. However, the coursework is more in-depth, and will require plenty of study time.

View the importance of accredited medical assistant programs

Medical Assistant Degree vs. Medical Assistant Diploma

One question you are probably asking yourself as you consider medical assisting as a career: What is the difference between a medical assistant degree and a medical assistant diploma?

That’s a great question, because there are both types of programs available to prospective students. In general, if you want to get started as quickly as possible, you can earn a medical assistant diploma in about a year. Many diploma programs are designed to help graduates become qualified to start working in the field.

Diploma Medical Assistant Programs

Diploma and degree programs can both offer students a chance to complete an internship at a real facility. This can be a good way to transition into a first job or learn about the difference between working in various environments. Plus, diploma programs can often be starting points for associate’s degree students, which of course can lead to higher level degrees.

Associates Medical Assistant Programs

Associate’s programs generally require around 30 more credits and can take an additional year to complete. However, you can be prepared for a bachelor’s program in several areas, such as nursing, when you complete your associate’s.

Even though employers recognize diplomas and associate’s degrees as credible qualifications, earning your associate’s will carry more weight with employers. Earning your associate’s gives more of an appearance that you are going to continue your education and want a long-term career in healthcare. Having a degree in medical assisting vs a diploma can also give you a higher starting salary in some facilities.

Which is the Best Medical Assistant Program?

It really depends on your scenario and career goals, not to mention availability in your area or online. Certain factors matter more to certain people. If you are more worried about cost and finding a job quickly, then you might want to start with a diploma program. They don’t cost as much to complete as an associate’s and you can qualify to work in half the time, in many cases. It would be good to talk with human resources personnel at employers you might want to work for before choosing a program. They can tell you the best educational approach for their medical assistant hiring practices.

Both types of programs should prepare medical assistants with the basic skills to work in the field. This includes basic computer skills, health privacy topics, anatomy and physiology, medical terms, lab procedures, and other foundational skills. Earning your associate’s degree may give you more knowledge and skills in more specialized areas, such as electrocardiography, phlebotomy, pharmacology, and others.

To make sure you choose the right type of program, contact schools in your area today to learn more about the salary, career outlook, and education that’s right for you!

Medical Assistant Salary

Medical assisting can be a good way to start your professional career in the healthcare industry. While medical assisting itself may provide you the satisfaction, salary and lifestyle you desire, this career can prepare you for several possibilities in the short and long-term. As you’ve probably heard, the field of healthcare is expanding without hiccups in an economy that is sputtering in other industries.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical assistants can expect to earn a mean annual wage of $31,910, according to May 2015 data. However, this salary can be affected by your location, type of facility, and other factors (source).

Let’s take a look at more specific medical assisting salaries broken down by industries that medical assistants can work in:
The annual mean wage for those who work in offices of physicians is $31,960 per year. Outpatient care centers have the highest average pay of $33,500 annually. General medical and surgical hospitals pay on average $33,140 per year. Those who work in the offices of other health practitioners, such as chiropractors, optometrists, mental health practitioners and physical therapists earn an average wage of $28,810 annually.

The 5 top paying states for medical assistants are: District of Columbia, Alaska, Massachusetts, Washington, and Minnesota. In D.C., medical assistants can expect to earn an annual mean wage of $39,780. Minnesota, which sits at the bottom of the 5, is not far behind, with an annual mean wage of $36,200.

Medical Assistant Job Outlook

If you are looking for a career with faster than average growth potential, you should definitely consider medical assisting. The BLS, the field of medical assisting is expected to grow at a rate of 23% between the years 2014-24. That is over three times the national job growth average of 7% for all other industries combined. This growth is likely to spread out evenly across the U.S. population because it is fueled mostly by the growth of the aging baby boomer generation. This will make medical assisting a relevant career choice in healthcare for years to come.

The five highest states with the highest employment levels for medical assistants are: California, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, and New York. In California, at the top of the list, medical assistants can expect to earn an annual mean wage of $35,440. Texas, which is at the bottom of the top 5, has an annual mean wage of $29,180.

Medical assistants will continue to perform a mix of administrative and clinical duties as the field progresses. Physicians are expected to continue hiring more medical assistants to help manage this growing population that needs more continual care than the younger generations.

If you really want to get a good gauge of the salary and career outlook for medical assistants in your area, it’s best to speak with schools that offer programs about your potential.

Choosing the Right Medical Assistant Program

– By Rachel Ballard, RNC, BSN

On the other end of the spectrum, you will be working directly with patients. Medical assistants can expect to do everything from collecting histories and taking vital signs, to helping the physician with procedures, to collecting specimens, and giving injections. There’s never a dull day for a medical assistant which makes it a great job for those who get bored easily and always want something different. Like me.

You can expect to spend a year or two in school. Make sure to find a reputable, accredited program that will offer you the best quality for the money. If you don’t graduate from an accredited program, you will not be eligible to take the certification exam to become a CMA and you could lose out on job opportunities and higher pay as a result.

When you begin searching, pick a school that has a program that meets your needs. Consider cost, location, and faculty experience of the school and narrow your search to just a couple of schools, then research those thoroughly. I can’t stress enough the importance of helpful admissions, financial and program staff. If they are rude or unhelpful, that is only the beginning of your troubles and I would steer clear of that program.

Salary ranges can be a downfall of the job. Depending on where you live, salary ranges can be anywhere from $20,000 a year to $39,000. Of course, you will make more if you have your certification as a CMA, or experience in a specialized field. Despite how hard you will work, hourly pay averages around $9. On the up side though, many medical assistants are afforded the luxury of regular, Monday through Friday hours without weekends or holidays. So you may be willing to make a bit less pay to always know that you have free weekends and time for some fun.

Overall, medical assisting is a steady, solid job. Choosing a career that gives you the flexibility to work in many different roles makes you marketable to future employers. Virtually every job in the health care field is expected to grow dramatically over the next several years and medical assisting is included. Good luck with your decision—and I wish you the best as a medical assistant.

Choosing the Right Medical Assistant Program

– By Rachel Ballard, RNC, BSN

You should consider personal factors when you make a choice. The first consideration for many is cost. How much is the program start to finish? If one school is more expensive, but is twice the drive, you may want to step back and look at the bigger picture. What about classroom time? If any of the classes are online it may fit your schedule better. If you work a full-time job, can you take classes at night or on weekends? If you aren’t into crowds you may want to look at smaller community colleges or technical schools instead of larger universities.

One of the best aspects of becoming as a medical assistant is in the flexibility of training. Because medical assistants have a solid career ahead, many colleges and universities offer MA programs. Typically, it can be as easy as a Google search for “medical assisting classes in (your state)” and up will pop a list of as many schools as you would want to consider. Offering one of two graduating titles, you can opt for a diploma, or associate degree. Associate degrees will take longer to complete and may offer a few topics in a more in-depth way than the diploma program, but both should cover the same materials.

Training and clinical time will also need to be considered. Be wary of “online” degrees from virtual universities. How will you be properly trained to draw blood and take vital signs without any hands-on training? Make sure that your program has a great lab on site for you to visit regularly and practice. You should also be placed into a “job shadowing” situation where you will be required to perform a certain number of specific tasks (like 20 blood draws, or assist with 10 EKG’s,etc.). This hands-on time is the most important part of your entire training and you should never overlook it for the convenience of a quick and dirty degree.

In my first weeks as a nurse, I learned more than I did in my entire four years in school. Thrown into the job, there were so many skills that I wished I would have had the time to master before I had to do them on my own. Clinical time is invaluable to the medical field—whether you’re a nurse, a medical assistant, or a doctor.

When considering a medical assistant program, make an appointment to chat with the director of the program. Call the school’s admissions department as well with any questions. Someone should always be willing and happy to talk with you—if they aren’t, find another program. Grumpy people may be an indicator of struggles within the program that could make your time in school harder than it needs to be. Don’t be afraid to shop around and find the class that is the right fit for you. You’ll be more likely to complete the program and move on to success if you do.