EKG Technician

How to Become a Medical Assistant

Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

EKG Technician

In just about every hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office, there’s a need for versatile healthcare professionals who can do everything from measuring patients’ vital signs to performing critical administrative duties. Medical assistants are often the first person a patient interacts with after checking in, and they play an essential role in providing patients with thorough, empathetic care. If you like the idea of a job that offers something different every day—and that doesn’t require you to spend years in school—becoming a medical assistant could be your ticket to a great new career in the healthcare industry.

This career guide will teach you everything you need to know about becoming a medical assistant, including the educational requirements, certifications, day-to-day duties, and how long it generally takes to launch your new career.

Not sure if becoming a medical assistant is right for you? Click here to see our full list of the best entry-level medical jobs.

Medical Assistant Definition

What is a Medical Assistant?

Medical assistants are often the glue that holds a healthcare facility together. They are well-rounded healthcare workers who can do everything from scheduling appointments to assisting with examinations. Medical assistants perform a unique blend of hands-on patient care and behind-the-scenes administrative tasks. However, their duties may become more specialized depending on the size of the facility in which they work.

Medical Assistant: Job Description

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

Medical assistants usually work under the direction of a physician and often perform basic clinical duties like measuring a patient’s blood pressure and heart rate. They also frequently assist physicians during in-depth patient examinations. In some states, medical assistants may administer injections or medications. MAs are frequently responsible for accurately recording patient information, usually in electronic health records systems.

Medical Assistant Duties

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of medical assistants include:

  • Measuring patients’ vital signs like blood pressure and heart rate
  • Recording patients’ medical history and personal information
  • Assisting doctors with medical examinations
  • Administering injections or medications in accordance with state laws
  • Preparing blood or tissue samples for laboratory tests
  • Using electronic health records software

Medical Assistant Skills

You’ll need to be a detail-oriented person to succeed as a medical assistant. Precision is essential when measuring vital signs or recording medical information. It also helps if you have solid people skills and can be empathetic and understanding with patients who may be nervous or in pain. Medical assistants also need to be able to listen and take direction well from physicians and other colleagues and must have sufficient manual dexterity to operate basic clinical instruments like blood pressure machines or heart rate monitors.

Where Do Medical Assistants Work?

Medical assistants tend to work closely alongside physicians, which means you’ll find the majority of medical assisting jobs in physician’s offices. Other common workplaces include hospitals, outpatient care centers, or in the offices of other healthcare providers like chiropractors. Full-time, 40-hour workweeks are the norm for a career in medical assisting, and shifts may occasionally be required during nights, weekends, or holidays at medical facilities that provide care around the clock.

Medical Assistant in scrubs

Medical Assistant Schooling & Certification

How Long Does It Take to Become a Medical Assistant?

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Medical Assistant?

While a few people get lucky enough to receive on-the-job training as a medical assistant, most employers will strongly prefer to hire candidates who have earned a Medical Assisting diploma from an accredited college or university. You’ll finish your education with both theoretical knowledge and practical skills that will allow you to become a solid contributor from your first day on the job. While many medical assisting programs can take an entire year or more to complete, it’s possible to earn your diploma in as little as 34 weeks. That means that in less than a year you could be making a difference in the lives of actual patients!

Like any long-term goal, working toward a new career as a medical assistant seems much more attainable when you break it down into individual steps.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to the education, experience, and certifications you’ll need to become a medical assistant:

1. Enroll in a Medical Assisting Program

To set yourself up for a new career as a medical assistant, you’ll first need to enroll in a Medical Assisting Program from an accredited college or university. You’ll need to stay focused in school for several months, but just about anyone willing to put in the work can earn their medical assisting diploma. For example, to enroll in the Medical Assisting program at Brookline College, all it takes is a high school diploma or GED, plus a passing score on a Scholastic Level Exam.

2. Earn Your Medical Assisting Diploma

Early in your medical assisting studies, you’ll gain a foundational knowledge of the healthcare industry and learn the basics of medical office administration. Once you’ve learned a bit about how the healthcare industry works, you’ll move on to clinical skills that will prepare you to administer hands-on patient care. You’ll study pharmacology and electrocardiography and become familiar with medical laboratories. This will prepare you to administer certain drugs, properly use medical equipment, and get comfortable with some of the basic lab tasks you may be expected to perform as a medical assistant.

The final segment of your medical assisting program will consist of what’s known as a practicum. Throughout you’re practicum you’ll gain hands-on experience working with real physicians and patients. It’s a major confidence-builder to put your newly acquired skills to use in a real clinic, and it will pay dividends when it comes time to get certified and find your first job as a medical assistant.

When deciding where to earn your medical assistant diploma, you may want to consider colleges or universities that offer job-placement assistance to students after completing their diploma program. It’s not always easy to navigate a job search when you’re starting an entirely new career, so a little help getting your foot in the door with potential employers goes a long way when it comes time to take your medical assisting skills into the workforce.

3. Get Certified By One of the Major Professional Organizations

After earning your medical assisting diploma, you’ll be eligible to earn certifications from a number of widely recognized professional organizations, which can make you much more attractive to potential employers. The most common certifications for medical assistants are available from the American Association of Medical Assistants, American Medical Technologists, the National Center for Competency Testing, and the National Healthcareer Association. Each organization’s certification exam will vary slightly, but you should generally expect 100-150 questions over the course of 2-3 hours. Whichever organization you choose to earn your medical assistant certification, you’ll most likely be well-prepared for the exam after completing your diploma program.

How Much Does it Cost to Earn a Medical Assisting Diploma?

The cost of a college education has increased significantly over the last few decades. Many colleges and universities charge over $20,000 per semester in tuition alone—and that amount often won’t even cover the cost of books or other course materials, not to mention the cost of living in a college town. Fortunately, there are more options than ever for pursuing your education online, which can be a significant cost-saver since online colleges don’t have to pay for things like athletic departments and huge campuses. The Medical Assisting Program at Brookline College not only costs less per credit hour than many other colleges, but you’ll also always know exactly how much you’re spending since books, lab fees, and all other expenses are always included. Even better, over 80% of Brookline students qualify for some form of financial aid, which opens up opportunities for all types of people to get a quality education and a fresh start in their careers. Wherever you choose to earn your medical assisting diploma, make sure it’s with a school that’s fully transparent about what you can expect when the tuition bill arrives.

Notebook and pencils

Medical Assistant Salary

How Much Do Medical Assistants Make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical assistants earn an average annual salary of just under $37,000, which works out to nearly $18 per hour. However, medical assistants in the top 25% of earners average over $41,000 per year, and salaries in the top 10% will reach $50,000 and up.

Highest Paying Industries for Medical Assistants

According to the BLS, you’ll find the top-paying jobs for medical assistants in these industries:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Colleges & Universities $23.42 $48,720
Insurance Companies $21.11 $43,910
Outpatient Care Facilities $20.35 $42,330
General Hospitals $18.74 $38,970
Private Physician’s Offices $18.37 $38,200
Medical & Diagnostic Labs $17.59 $36,580

Highest Paying States for Medical Assistants

According to BLS data, medical assistants in these states earn the highest average wages:

State Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Alaska $22.41 $46,610
Washington $21.97 $45,700
Washington, D.C. $21.80 $45,340
Massachusetts $20.72 $43,090
Minnesota $20.72 $43,090

Highest Paying Cities for Medical Assistants

According to the BLS, medical assistants earn the highest average annual pay in these cities:

City Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
San Francisco, CA $25.94 $53,960
Vallejo, CA $25.80 $53,660
Santa Rosa, CA $25.25 $52,520
Seattle, WA $23.59 $49,070
San Jose, CA $23.57 $49,020
Sacramento, CA $23.37 $48,600
Olympia, WA $22.85 $47,530
Anchorage, AK $22.02 $45,790
Santa Cruz, CA $21.63 $44,980
Longview, WA $21.53 $44,780

Medical Assistant Job Outlook

What is the Job Outlook for Medical Assistants?

Overall demand for healthcare services is projected to rise in the coming years, which is a good omen for job security throughout the medical industry. Medical assistants are expected to be in exceptionally high demand, with the BLS estimating the overall number of employed medical assistants to increase a jaw-dropping 19% by the year 2029. To put that in perspective, the average growth rate for all jobs in the same time period is about 4%, which means the number of medical assistants in the workforce is projected to grow nearly five times faster than average. Statistics aside, the main point to take away is that a career as a medical assistant will give you excellent job prospects for many years to come.

Medical instructor with a class

Ready to Start Your Career as a Medical Assistant?

If you’re looking to start a rewarding new career that will give you a chance to put a smile on patients’ faces without having to spend years in school, becoming a medical assistant could be right up your alley. With outstanding long-term prospects and the opportunity to work in a variety of medical facilities, it’s one of the best entry-level medical jobs to pursue if you’re looking to launch your new career sooner than later.

Click here to learn more about the Medical Assistant program at Brookline College, and start taking steps toward your new career as a medical assistant today!