If you are considering becoming a medical assistant or are currently in school studying medical assisting, you may be wondering about the current job market. One of the biggest questions prospective medical assistants have is about how much money can be made in the profession.
In this article, you’ll learn about the national and regional employment trends for medical assistants, as well as the factors that drive different pay levels and what you can do to earn the highest income possible.
National Job Outlook for Medical Assistants
You may have heard that medical assisting is a fabulous profession to enter today because of its phenomenal expected job growth. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the medical assistant profession will grow at a whopping 23 percent through the year 2o24. This puts medical assisting far ahead of predicted employment growth overall (estimated at seven percent) and even ahead of other health support jobs (estimated to grow by 19 percent).
This expected growth in the number of jobs available is largely due to the fact that physicians and healthcare organizations have realized that medical assistants are an efficient, reliable, and economical way to provide patient care and have their offices run smoothly. This is good news for salaries too, as historically when employment for medical assistants increased, so did income.
In 2015, the US BLS reported the median annual income for medical assistants was $30,590. Note that “median” means half of the medical assistants in the data pool earned more than that amount, and half earned less (versus the mathematical average of their salaries).
Although the word “salary” is often used interchangeably with “income,” most medical assistants in the United States are actually paid hourly, versus drawing a set annual salary. (Read about why this is an advantageous later in the article).
The figure quoted above is a bit less than some other healthcare support personnel, but there are numerous advantages to working as a medical assistant:
- higher predicted job growth for the next decade
- lower barrier to entry in the profession (shorter, less expensive training)
- no state requirements for education, training, certification, or licensure
- more varied job duties, in many instances
- better working hours comparatively
Medical Assistant Jobs and Salaries by Region
The Bureau of Labor Statistics data went on to analyze medical assistant employment and income by state and region. As you would imagine, geographic location plays a role in both opportunity and salary.
In terms of the number of jobs available in medical assisting, it’s not surprising that states with the highest populations also had the highest employment rate:
However, the highest wages, while sometimes tied to population, where also linked to areas with the highest demand for medical assistants:
- Washington, DC
- Washington (state)
There were urban pockets, like the District of Columbia, where medical assisting was in high demand, such as San Jose, California. There were also small cities (Des Moines, Iowa, for example) and rural areas, such as northeastern Wisconsin, where medical assistants were in demand and paid well on a national scale.
In some cases, this was because there was a large number of hospitals and healthcare facilities in the area (e.g., Boston, Massachusetts and Rochester, Minnesota). In other instances, the remote regions, like Alaska, had no choice but to pay higher wages to attract the number of medical assistants needed.
Income Compared to Other Healthcare Professionals
As mentioned above, the median income for medical assistants, according to the BLS, is slightly lower than that of some other healthcare professions (often referred to as “allied healthcare” jobs). This is a national figure, however, and may vary depending on where you live and additional factors influencing salaries.
Allied health professionals, like dental assistants, pharmacy technicians, EMTs (emergency medical technicians), and EKG technicians, for example typically make a few thousand dollars more per year. Most of these jobs, however, entail longer training periods or higher stress jobs with second and third shift hours (like EMTs who are on call for 24 hours per shift). Healthcare billers and coders also take home a slightly higher paycheck at $32,000 annually.
In contrast, certified nursing assistants (CNAs), typically make about $24,000 per year, according to the BLS, which is significantly less than the median medical assistant income. This is mainly because CNAs require less training (about 6-12 weeks) and are in less demand than medical assistants nationally.
Phlebotomists, who are only trained in blood drawing and basic blood laboratory work, also usually make less than medical assistants (about $20,000 per year), although they can make more in a supervisory capacity.
Factors That Influence Medical Assistant Salaries
In addition to geographic location, there are other factors that influence how much medical assistants get paid. The type of medical facility offering employment was one element the BLS examined. Medical assistants working in outpatient care centers had the highest incomes, followed by those working in hospitals, physicians’ offices, and other health practices (like optometry or podiatry), respectively.
Level of experience also affects salaries, as it does in most other fields. The median entry level medical assistant salary per hour was $13.00 in 2015, but more senior medical assistants were closer to $20.00 per hour.
Education can play a part in how much you make as a medical assistant, although this usually only matters for recent graduates. Sometimes employers favor those who have completed a two-year Associate’s degree program or those who already have a Bachelor’s degree over those with a one-year medical assisting diploma.
Certification also factors into income. Many healthcare facilities are now part of HMOs (health maintenance organizations) and PPOs (preferred provider organizations) that have teams of staff to analyze work flow and legal risk. Some of these companies have determined that certified medical assistants tend to be of the highest caliber when it comes to keeping offices running smoothly and on time, and certification also reduces the risk of malpractice incidents.
Finally, job duties influence pay as well. In general, the salary of an administrative medical assistant can be equal to that of a clinical medical assistant, depending on the practice where they work. Working in a specialty clinic, such as cardiology, orthopedics, OB/GYN, or oncology, can frequently bring higher wages.
These positions can be more stressful and demand a higher skill level, with additional tasks trained on the job. They also don’t necessarily offer the Monday-through-Friday, eight-to-five hours that many medical assistants in general practices enjoy.
Making Good Money as a Medical Assistant
Whether you’re just contemplating medical assisting as a profession or are already committed to it, you certainly want to make the highest income possible. The following are ways you can increase your chances of bringing in the most money:
Consider improving your education and credentials. If you are still selecting a medical assisting program, give serious thought to an Associate’s degree over a diploma. Think about adding a certification in medical coding to your resume, especially if you want to work as an administrative medical assistant.
Likewise, you could improve your typing skills to work behind the desk or earn your ACLS (advanced cardiac life support) certification to handle patient emergencies. If you have completed training but haven’t become certified yet, be sure to do so.
Work at the types of clinics that offer the highest pay. While this may vary with your location, in general, clinics that pull in the highest incomes also pay better. Consider clinics with a high percentage of out-of-pocket payers (versus insurance or Medicare), like dermatology or plastic surgery. Private clinics that don’t have to shell out a portion of their revenues to an HMO or PPO may also pay better. Think about doing your internship in a medical specialty to make connections and get experience in higher paying sectors.
Choose hourly pay over a salary. With a salary, you may be capped at what you can earn, but with hourly pay, you have the opportunity to make overtime. If you are looking at salaried jobs, ask about clear tiers of advancement, so you know in two years, with a clean performance review, you can be guaranteed a pay increase.
Gain more healthcare experience. This can be tough without that first job under your belt, but if you’re willing to volunteer, you may be able to find great material for your resume. Don’t forget to get contact information and a letter of recommendation from whomever you work with.
Work other medical assisting jobs on the side. While this can be tough, it’s a viable way to make more money, and it doesn’t necessarily mean a long-term commitment. Per diem jobs at nursing homes and immunization clinics can provide some extra cash when their regular staff go on vacation or call in sick. Register with a temporary placement agency for this type of work.
Think outside the box about your income. Some clinics offer bonuses or profit sharing to employees, while others have great benefits (insurance, retirement funds, tuition reimbursement, vacation pay, etc.). Still, others may allow you to flex your hours to minimize childcare costs or let you work remotely for certain administrative projects.
The medical assisting field is an exciting place to be right now. With a little research and knowledge in your pocket, you can have a rewarding career and make the income you desire at the same time.
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