If you are thinking of becoming a medical assistant, you probably want to know, “How much money does a medical assistant make?” The answer to that question will depend on where the medical assistant works and his or her level of skill and experience.
The job of medical assistant is one of the fastest growing fields in the US. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the profession will grow as much as 34% by 2018. Technological medical advances and the increasing elderly population are factors fueling this explosion of growth. Additional medical technology requires newly training assistants. In addition, the elderly require more care than younger patients do.
How Much Does a Medical Assistant Make?
The lowest paid medical assistants only earn about $20,000 per year for 40 hours work. The best-paid assistants can make almost $40,000. For the most part, median earnings run from $25,000 to $30,000 per year. For instance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says the mean income for medical assistants at hospitals is $29,720. Those who work at colleges and universities, physicians’ offices and outpatient care facilities all make about $28,700. Those who work for other healthcare practitioners, like chiropractors and podiatrists, make about $25,000 per year.
Most medical assistants also gain good benefits with the job. These can include health insurance, vision coverage, dental insurance, medical discounts, paid vacation and sick time, long-term disability coverage, a pension plan, a matching 401K and tuition reimbursement for continuing education.
What It’s Like to be a Medical Assistant
Medical assistants also must perform administrative duties alongside their regular clinical tasks. They help doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals keep the office running smoothly. The professional duties of the medical assistant can vary by location, depending on the type of medical practice.
A medical assistant at an elderly housing facility will have a great deal of hands-on clinical work. A medical assistant in a general practitioners office will spend a lot of time behind a desk taking copayments, making phone calls and filing medical records. They will also spend a few minutes with patients, checking vitals and taking a medical history, before the physician sees the patient.
The level of clinical duties left to a medical assistant will depend on the restrictions imposed by local state laws. Most medical assistants are limited to tasks such as taking vital signs, taking a medical history, explaining a procedure or treatment, prepping patients for an exam or helping a doctor perform an exam. Medical assistants can also gather specimens for lab tests. They may be directed by doctors to advise patients on medications and treatments, call in drug refills, remove sutures or similar medical duties. Medical assistants cannot prescribe drugs independently.
Some medical assistants work in fields like ophthalmology, optometry, or podiatry. Such medical assistants usually work more closely with physicians than other medical assistants. They help the physician through every step of the examination, equipment use and care, and treatments. They often receive less pay than those working in a general practitioner’s office.
Other medical assistants work in specialty fields like obstetrics & gynecology, cardiology, hematology, or orthopedic surgery. These medical assistants often earn better pay because the specialist physicians who employ them are paid at higher rates by insurance companies.
The Difference Between a Medical Assistant and a CNA
A medical assistant is not the same thing as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). The jobs are similar, but the CNA works with the patient and nurse, rather than the patient and physician. A CNA is not likely to spend time on administrative duties, collecting copayments, filing medical records or billing.
A CNA may perform bedside care in a hospital. This is not a task given the medical assistants. CNAs also must perform some activities that a medical assistant is not qualified to do. These can include caring for the patient’s hygiene or adding to medical records.
The biggest difference between the two vocations is that a medical assistant cannot work in any facility where a doctor is not present. In addition, a medical assistant is not required to engage in continuing education to maintain certification unless he or she is a certified medical assistant.
How to Become a Medical Assistant
Medical assistant training is sometimes done on the job, but most assistants will complete one or two years of schooling before they can get a job in this field. It is rare for a medical assistant to get a job without having a high school diploma, even though there is no formal requirement for one.
To become a medical assistant, you are most likely to be hired if you go through a program at a vocational-technical high school, postsecondary school, or at a community or junior college. One-year programs will give you a certificate or diploma, while two-year programs will give you an associate degree. Certification is not required to begin work as a medical assistant.
Courses of Study
Medical assistants must study many of the same courses that nurses and nurse’s assistants take. These include anatomy & physiology, medical terminology, medical transcription, keyboarding, accounting and insurance claims processing. They are taught laboratory methods, procedures for clinical and diagnostic work, the principles of pharmacology, how to administer medicine and emergency care. Other courses include administrative office duties, patient /customer relations, medical law and medical ethics.
Accreditation and Continuing Education
Two accrediting bodies are available for those who wish to become accredited. Such accreditation requires hands-on experience through an internship, but can result in higher starting pay. In addition, certified medical assistants often have more opportunities open to them, standing out among other applicants who only have a one or two-year degree and no certification.