As with most health related positions, salaries and stable employment opportunities for Medical Assistants are on the rise across the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Labor and its Bureau of Labor Statistics, employer demand for these paraprofessionals grows by a full 29 percent each and every year. This is faster growth than for most jobs in the country. Median salary in the United States in 2012 for Medical Assistants is $29,370 per year or $14.12 per hour. The Labor Department predicts the growth trend for Medical Assistants to continue indefinitely.
What does the position of Medical Assistant entail in terms of duties, education and salary and benefits breakdown?
Medical Assistant Duties
Duties can be clinical, involving hands on patient contact, administrative, involving the electronic and/or paperwork details of keeping a medical office running well, or a combination of the two. The combining of the two kinds of Medical Assistant duties is the most common scenario in the workplace today. This does not necessarily affect salary.
Always supervised by and reporting to a Physician, Physician’s Assistant, Nurse Practitioner or Registered Nurse, the Medical Assistant helps with the examination and treatment of patients in a doctor’s office, hospital, industry or other ambulatory health care facility such as a free standing urgent care office. Most positions are full-time, with many being day shift. However, with 24/7 facilities such as hospitals or urgent care clinics, positions involving evening and weekends do exist.
The Medical Assistant can take and record patient medical histories, vital signs (blood pressure, pulse, respiration, temperature) and other important data such as height, weight and body mass index (BMI). In addition, the Medical Assistant may draw blood, sterilize medical equipment, prepare laboratory specimens such as throat cultures and urine collections, order and stock medical supplies and prepare/clean up the patient examination room. On the administrative end, the Medical Assistant may fill out insurance forms, answer phones and correspondence, set appointments and update patient records, which may be the traditional paper kind, electronic (EHRs) or some melding of the two kinds of records.
The duties of a Medical Assistant are first and foremost people-oriented. As such, the individual must be comfortable interacting with patients in various levels of physical, emotional and mental health, providing for their safety and direct care. In addition, the job involves a recording and transcription of medical record details and accurate use of medical equipment. As such, the Medical Assistant must have the literacy level, diligence and competence appropriate for those kinds of tasks. The medical assistant salary or job prospects are important considerations when going into the field, but they are not the only important factors.
Medical Assistant Education
Educational credentials for this health care career vary, with some areas (and doctors) requiring no more than a high school diploma and extensive on the job training. However, the more common and probably preferred path is certification through completion of an accredited certificate or associates degree program at a community college. It may be inferred that more education will lead to a better salary.
The 18- to 24-month programs always involve the expected classroom lectures, testing and homework, but beyond that, students are expected to complete laboratory practicums, internships at various health care sites and Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) certification. In most areas of the United States, a certified Medical Assistant must be 18 years of age or older.
Medical Assistant Salaries
The Medical Assistant earns a salary commensurate with the current job market, with the demand for people to fill the positions that are available and with the area of the country where the particular position is located. Some areas of the country pay somewhat higher salaries than others.
Salary By State
In particular, the median annual salary for a Medical Assistant is $29,370. A median is a statistical measure, which means that 50 percent of salaries are above this dollar amount, and 50 percent of the salaries fall below it. In other words, the 2012 median salary of $29,370 falls right in the middle of the lowest and highest salaries. This annual salary equates to an hourly wage of $14.12.
Also according Bureau of Labor Statistics, the lowest paid 10 percent of Medical Assistants receive an annual salary of $21.080 ($10.14 per hour), and the highest paid 10 percent earn $41,570 ($19.99 per hour). Much depends on the area of the country in which the Medical Assistant is employed. According to U.S. News & World Report, the highest salaries are in Vallejo, California, Fairbanks, Alaska, San Francisco, California, Danbury, Connecticut and Santa Rosa, California. Anyone seeking employment as a Medical Assistant, or any other job for that matter, must carefully research the cost of living (food, housing, medical care, transportation, etc.) in any area of the country as this impacts how far a salary will go to cover the expenses of an individual or family.
Another important consideration is the fringe benefits offered to the prospective Medical Assistant. Most of the time, the salary for a Medical Assistant will have 30 percent or more added by way of items such as Social Security, 401K for retirement, disability, health care insurance, pension contributions and holidays, vacation, sick time and other days off. For example, a base salary of $32,000 could have a total compensation package of more than $49,000, depending on what the employer offers.
Again, demand for Medical Assistants continues to grow probably due to expanded health care needs of an aging American population with many chronic health issues and due to more rigorous government regulations. Most of the health care salaries states that the highest paying employers for Medical Assistants are psychiatric and substance abuse facilities, insurance companies, research and development companies, dental offices and personal care agencies. These areas are also projected to continue to grow in demand as well.
With increasing demand and salaries on the rise, the job of Medical Assistant projects as a solid choice for entry level paraprofessionals in the medical field.