Let’s face it—given the current job market, it can be a challenge to find employment. With high unemployment, new students entering the work force need to make sure they are taking the right path. Everyone I know who is familiar with the field believes that a healthcare career should lead to steady employment.

The best jobs and chances for advancement within the field will likely be reserved for certified medical assistants (CMAs).

A CMA is an assistant who has graduated from an accredited program and passed a certification exam. The exam may be taken as soon as you graduate and will really help in the long run. Employers prefer to hire medical assistants who have proven their skills and qualifications by earning CMA certification.

One of the biggest advantages for employers hiring medical assistants is their flexibility and training in multiple areas. Why hire two people – one to answer the phones and one to admit patients – when it’s more cost effect to hire one person who can do both tasks. For this reason, medical assistants bring more skills and versatility to the table compared to other healthcare workers.

As a medical assistant, you may compete with other highly qualified health care providers for jobs. As an RN, some nurses have applied for jobs in physicians’ offices, only to be told that they were not qualified to do the job because they didn’t have the cross training. Doctors want clerical staff in addition to medical staff, so medical assistants often bring more to the table

Salary ranges for assisting jobs will vary depending on where you live. Usually, average salary range between $23,000 and $39,000 per year. That’s a big range. Your salary will likely mostly depend on your certification status, specialized training, experience, and cost of living.

Right now there are just over 450,000 CMAs in the U.S. The government projects that there will be almost 700,000 by 2018. Becoming a CMA is a great idea if you are considering a job in the medical field and just want to get your feet wet. Maybe you aren’t sure if you want to be up to your elbows in bodily fluids everyday or perhaps your CMA is a stepping stone to a degree in nursing or health information management. Because medical assistants have the opportunity to do a lot of different jobs, it may be a good way to decide if healthcare is the right field for you.

Medical Assistant Career Interview Advice

Interviews can be scary. As you sit on one side of a big oak desk, people stare back at you from the other side. Pencils scratching away on paper as you answer question after question. I always wondered what they were writing. An interview is especially hard when you are just out of school and you don’t have much experience to discuss.

So how do you land a medical assisting job and how do you find one that is a good fit for you? It can take some work. Thankfully, because you chose a career in the medical field, there are steady jobs out there. To find a good one, I would probably start with your college, or wherever you received your training. Most schools have some form of job placement assistance. My college even had a “suit fund” for students–$500 each for a brand new suit or appropriate clothing for professional interviews.

Your school may not have a suit fund, but at the very least they should be able to give you some job leads. If you have graduated from an accredited program there is a better chance of finding work because employers prefer students from accredited programs. These employers may contact the career development office at your school when they have an opening.

After college, you may choose to search online databases like Indeed, Career Builder, or Monster. You may also go old school and print out your resume and take it door-to-door dropping them off with clinics around your area. Be patient and remember that you may need several weeks to find work, so make sure to submit applications to several places.

You may want to call some offices before dropping by with an application—get a contact name and ask if it would be okay to drop off a resume. When you do, ask for that contact person, and give your resume directly to them. Remember to dress professionally and thank them for their time.

Make sure that your resume is free from errors and that it highlights the best of who you are. Did you graduate with honors? Make sure your GPA is listed. If you were granted other awards or recognition, don’t forget to include that as well. Make sure your contact information is current, and have your references with you (printed on resume paper as well) but don’t submit those with your application. Hang on to them until a potential employer asks for them.

Once you are granted an interview, you may want to sit down and think about some things they may ask. What are your weaknesses? What are your strengths? Those two have always stumped me. So, I try to think through them and have some form of an answer in my head before I go in. You may want to video tape yourself—you will find you have lots of habits you didn’t even know about.

Have someone ask you questions and then you answer. I did this in college and found that I talk with my hands so much it was nearly impossible to hear anything I was saying. I have to hold a folder on my lap to keep from flopping around like a bird.

When you sit for an interview, remember to dress professionally, don’t chew gum and turn off your cell phone. Be personable and smile, but try not to be overly chatty. Answer questions directly and if you need a minute to think, ask for it. It’s okay to say “may I have a moment?” before you answer.
There is so much more I could say, but overall remember that you are a professional now—be confident in what skills you bring to the table and you will land a great job.

Preparing for the CMA exam

Once you finish an accredited medical assisting program, you may be ready to take your certification exam. If you pass this exam, you will be a CMA. CMAs have proven that they have a solid background and knowledge of their field and most employers will pay a bit more per hour for this credential.

You can only take the CMA exam if you have completed an accredited medical assistant program. While there are medical assisting programs available everywhere, I hope for your sake that you have chosen and accredited program. Accredited programs will not push you through in a few months and throw you out to work. You will probably pay a bit more for an accredited program too. But after all, you get what you pay for and career training is not cheap.

Even though you may take the test as soon as you graduate, it’s really up to you when you do it. The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) oversees the exam registration and will provide all the details necessary to complete the application.

You will have to pay to take the exam – that’s just how it is in the professional world. New graduates currently pay $125 and everyone else forks over $250. I recently forked over $300 for a professional exam and I was sweating every minute. The fear of throwing away hundreds of dollars pushed me on to study and work hard so that I didn’t fail.

Keep in mind that if you don’t pass the exam, the fee is NOT refundable. Also, fees can’t be transferred to any other testing organization and if you don’t show up for the exam you can’t reschedule without paying an additional fee. If for some reason you see that you will need to reschedule, most organizations will allow you to do that one time before they charge you more money.

Their may be other fees if you don’t complete the application correctly. Forgot to completely fill out the application? Fee. Forgot to send the money with the application? Fee. Don’t bring the proper documentation on test day? Fee. You get the idea.

Schedule your exam several weeks in advance to give yourself time to study. Follow the company’s directions to the letter and you will be fine. Most testing groups will send you a packet with every detail when you register. Read it thoroughly and don’t wait until the night before the test to pull the necessary information for test day. Two forms of ID (one with a picture) must be presented when you arrive on test day, along with some information from your packet.

Some items will not be allowed in the testing site. No cell phones, PDA’s, or fancy calculators. Purses must be left locked in a locker or your car. You will be video-taped during the test so just get used to being watched. Bring along a jacket or sweater to put on as needed to keep you comfortable. The room will be very quiet, but if you think you might be distracted by other test takers clicking their keyboard, ask for ear plugs.

Nancy: Medical Assistant

My name is Nancy Smith and in 2007 at the age of 46 I went back to school to be a medical assistant. My location was Skokie, Il.

Why were you interested in medical assistant training?
I was interested in this program due to health care positions rising in the employment field and have always had an interest in healthcare. At my age I decided this was a fairly quick way to get into health care. The program would teach me not only health care procedures but administrative duties as well.

How did you choose the medical assistant program you attended?
I choose the school first based on an ad on television and then through visiting the campus in person. I also did some internet research as well.

What did you like about the program?
I enjoyed the hands on contact with the class. The class was small enough for our instructor to always give hands on experience too. Class was provided in a short enough time to not be overwhelmed with school for a long period of time. It took just 7 months to complete with one additional month for externship.

What did you not like about the program?
I would say the thing i disliked was the computer class. It was not very well organized and run – possibly just the instructor we had. It seemed that everyone obtained a passing grade whether they understood what they were doing or not. Towards the end of my program the school did recognize and changed the way it ran. Our actual classroom instructors were put into the computer class as our instructor for the computer class too.

What types of jobs did you and your fellow classmates get after completing the training? How much did these jobs pay?
Most of my class mates and myself did get jobs as MA’s right away. The school had a good externship program that provided great leads and contacts. Average pay for entry level was approximately $14 per hour.

What was the total cost of your medical assistant program?
The total cost was $14,000.

How did you pay for your medical assistant program?
I actually paid $2,800 during the class ($400.00 per month while there) and obtained a loan for the balance of $6,000. I was allowed a grant for approx. $5,700 so my total cost was about $9,000.

What advice would you give to students regarding paying for their medical assistant training?
I would make sure they meet with the office and obtain all the grants and aid that is available to them. Some of the students did not do this.

What things should a student look for when choosing a medical assistant program?
The best things to look for are small enough classes that you get hands on learning. It must be an accredited school as well. Future employers are adamant about that.

Stephan Shinsako Interview

I am 33 year-old male with a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology and a minor in coaching. I am a certified IHSA coach, USATF coach level 1 and a certified medical assistant through the AAMA. I held jobs as an exercise physiologist before pursuing medical assisting.

Why were you interested in medical assistant training?
I am interested in medical assisting because I am considering a move into the nursing field.

What did you like and not like about your training program?
I completed my medical assistant training program in Burr Ridge, IL. It was good because it focused only on medical assisting. I didn’t have to take any other classes. But at the same time, I did not think it was initially challenging enough. I say this because the material was structured like a study guide for the CMA exam. I did mention this to the head of the program and the president who has started to make the necessary changes to make the program a bit more challenging.

What types of jobs did you and your fellow classmates get after completing the training?
I had a job as a medical assistant at a family clinic, which I ended up leaving as I did not feel comfortable with children as I thought I would.

What was the total cost for your medical assistant program?
My total cost for the program was $14,000. I have over $5,500 of student loans.

What advice would you give to students regarding paying for their medical assistant training?
My advice for paying for their medical assistant training is grants or loans.

What things should a student look for when choosing a medical assistant program?
They should look for a program that offers an associates degree. I say this because it will give a better background for potential employers. Employers will feel more comfortable with a person who has an associate from a college over a person with a diploma (before certification) from a trade school.

The Top Medical Assistant Career Organizations

There are literally thousands of job search websites on the Internet. But, where should you look for medical assisting jobs?
The first step is to identify the type of website for which you are looking:

  • Healthcare Jobs Websites: Websites that list healthcare jobs.
  • General Jobs Websites: Popular general-use websites on which companies post their job openings and which provide information on employment and salary trends and give advice on how to hunt for and apply to your dream job.
  • Professional Organizations: Websites for organizations that provide medical assisting professional information and training and development opportunities.
  • Government Agencies: Websites setup by the government to help workers find jobs, including medical assisting jobs.
  • Top Employers: Websites that list jobs available at organizations that employ medical assistants.

The next step is to start looking!

Healthcare Websites

MedicalAssistant.net provides targeted information for those seeking employment in medical assisting careers. It is a good resource for helpful articles about the profession, including information on jobs, salary and career training.
Create job alerts tailored to your specific requirements so you’ll be alerted when a new job is posted that matches your criteria. To find jobs close to home, search using a city or zip code. Once you have applied to those jobs closest to you, you can gradually expand your search radius.
Jobs in Health Care
This site lists medical assistant positions found on company career pages, other job boards, newspapers and associations. Search for a new job by a specific location or search jobs by keyword and type.
Health Care Jobsis a good resource for both employment opportunities and important articles about the medical assisting profession. It offers a wide variety of career, jobs, and networking possibilities.
Allied Health Careers
Allied Health Careers is a useful resource for medical assistants and other healthcare workers so users can search for jobs by region and keyword as well as post a resume, find a career coach and browse frequently asked questions.
Health Direction
Health Direction is a comprehensive healthcare resource that allows you to complete a profile so employers can contact you directly or you can search by category or state. Plus, you can research industry trends in the private and public healthcare sectors.
Medical Workers.com
This comprehensive site offers nationwide health care jobs listings for all health care occupations, including medical assistants. Well-organized, it offers a free online resume builder and search for jobs and view details about employers, apply for jobs online, and post your resume.
While there are just a few dozen open positions for medical assistants, the site is well-organized and allows you to refine your search in a variety of ways, including specialty, location, career level, and date posted.
Modern Healthcare
Modern Healthcare is a good place to go for the latest in industry news, and the career section offers a number of medical assisting positions.

Professional Organizations

Black Collegiate Services
This is a college and career site for African-American college students that allows you to search all jobs by post date, location, company and relevancy. Just type in “medical assistant” in the search engine and if you’d like, you can always save your search for later.

Government Agencies

USA Jobs
The U.S. Government is the largest employer in the United States and includes over 208,000 medical and health care workers, including medical assistants at military bases and veteran’s hospitals around the country. Refine your results by salary, posting date, and work schedule.

Top Employers (hospitals, insurance companies, etc)

Ardent Health
Ardent Health owns and operates about sixteen psychiatric hospitals, a rehabilitation hospital, a multi-specialty physician group, a 220,000 member health plan, retail pharmacies and a medical lab. Medical assisting positions are available in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Warm Springs
This website posts medical assisting openings for positions in Pennsylvania and Texas at the Post Acute Medical and its subsidiaries Warm Springs Hospital System and Northshore Specialty Hospital. The centers are for patients with longterm illnesses, injuries or disabilities.
Beverly Enterprises Inc.
Beverly Enterprises is one of the largest post-acute health providers, including 16 free-standing assisted living centers, hospice centers and home health care agencies in Arkansas. The career page highlights numerous healthcare positions, including medical assisting.
HCR Manor Care
If you are interested in becoming a medical assistant for a long term health care company, Manor Care site’s offers hundreds of opportunities. The site offers information about benefits, culture and an opportunity to sign up for email alerts for positions at more than 500 skilled nursing and rehabilitation centers across the country.
Kindred Healthcare
This website represents Kindred’s 100 hospitals, long-term care centers, rehabilitation centers, hospice and home health care agencies. This site provides information and an online application for medical assistants and other health care professionals.
Select Medical Corporation
Select Medical Corporation owns and operates about 79 acute care hospitals in Pennsylvania. If you want to become a medical assistant at one of the hospitals or outpatient sites, apply online.
Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA)
Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) offers career opportunities in medical assisting in hospitals in suburban Chicago, Philadelphia, Tulsa, and suburban Phoenix. To focus your medical assistant career on comprehensive cancer treatment, apply online.

General Jobs Sites

Career Builder
The medical assisting section of CareerBuilder.com has thousands of medical assisting jobs across the country. Use the search feature to narrow your search by location and specialty. Upload your resume and then submit it easily online. Update your resume regularly, as many employers only look at resumes that have posted in the previous few weeks.
Monster.com has an active medical assisting section with thousands of jobs in the field. Search by location and specialty, then upload your resume. More than 80% of all employers who use Monster.com search using keywords, so make sure your resume includes relevant keywords.
Get e-mail updates, upload your resume and search hundreds of medical assisting job postings at Indeed.com. Even though you are communicating electronically, make sure your communications are as professional as they would be if you were mailing a paper resume and cover letter.
With over two million job listings and several thousand job opportunities targeting medical assistants, you won’t want to overlook the site, though it has an outdated feel. Hospitals, doctor’s offices and staffing agencies all post jobs, so pay attention to what kind of company you’re applying to.
Simply Hired is a different online job search site in that it compiles postings from a variety of other job sites, as well as individual company’s sites. That means you’ll probably have to weed through some duplicates, but you can easily search and then save medical assisting jobs that catch your eye.
If you are looking for a no-frills approach to the medical assistant job search, jobs.com is an easy-to-use, straight-forward site. Type in keyword, location and enter and you’re ready to find your dream job. You can also get helpful career tools and advice, and an advanced search option if you need it.
Craigslist.org has plenty of job listings for medical assisting positions in major metropolitan areas. Find medical assisting jobs in any city that you are interested in. Protect yourself against identity theft by creating a separate email address for job queries alone.
NationJob Network
The site has sections on healthcare and hundreds of listing for medical assistants. Personalized job scouts send emails to you complete with job titles, company names, locations, and links to apply online.
IMT Institute
IMT Institute for Advanced Studies (Mahee Ferlini – Executive and Deputy Administrative Director)