The Pros and Cons of Being a Certified Medical Assistant
Medical assistants (MAs) perform both clinical and administrative duties and are often the professionals responsible for keeping the offices of physicians and other health practitioners running smoothly. Certification as a CMA is offered through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). Find the pros and cons of being a CMA to decide if this career is the right fit for you.
|PROS of Being a Certified Medical Assistant|
|Faster-than-average employment growth (29% between 2012 and 2022 for all medical assistants)*|
|Can work in various medical settings*|
|CONS of Being a Certified Medical Assistant|
|Low salary (average salary of around $29,600 in 2014)**|
|Work hours may include evenings, weekends and holidays*|
|Often have to handle several responsibilities at once*|
|May require additional training to advance to managerial positions*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Association of Medical Assistants
Essential Career Info
Certified medical assistants work in physician offices, clinics and hospitals, performing clinical or administrative duties or both. A medical assistant's duties may vary by both the size and location of the office or facility. In a small office, the MA typically does a variety of tasks, from filing medical reports and greeting patients to assisting the physician during the examinations. In a large office, the MA may have specialized duties. While medical assistants and physician assistants both assist the physician, they're professions should not be confused. Physician assistants can examine, diagnose and treat patients under the doctor's supervision, but medical assistants assist and help the doctor or nurse with medical procedures.
Administrative medical assistants may greet patients; handle billing, bookkeeping and routine correspondence; schedule appointments; update and file patient medical records; answer telephones; and use computer applications. Although this may vary by state regulations, clinical medical assistants may perform tasks such as taking medical histories, preparing patients for examinations and explaining procedures, performing basic lab tests, authorizing prescription refills, collecting lab specimens, changing dressings, removing sutures and preparing and administering medications under the supervision of the physician.
Job Growth and Salary
According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of all medical assistants was projected to grow 29% between 2012 and 2022. The much-faster-than-average growth is attributed to the aging population and the increase in number of new medical tests performed. Physician's offices employed the highest number of medical assistants. According to a salary survey conducted by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), the average salary of Certified Medical Assistants with 0-2 years of experience was $25,936, compared to $24,438 for medical assistants with comparable experience but no AAMA certification (www.aama-ntl.org).
Education and Training Requirements
Training programs for medical assistants typically don't require many prerequisites, although they do have some requirements applicants must meet for admission. Usually, applicants must have high school diplomas or GEDs and some experience working in a medical setting. They must also prove proficiency in math, reading and spelling. Candidates must also submit to drug screenings and criminal background checks.
Top Skills for Certified Medical Assistants
Completing training or a training program may be the first step towards a career as a medical assistant. However, there are other qualities and skills you should possess to be successful in your career.
- Courteous and polite manner
- Good communication skills
- Willingness to work as part of a team
- Ability to handle several tasks at one time
- Ability to cope under stress
- Knowledge of grammar, spelling and punctuation
What Employers Are Looking for
Although some medical assistants have only a high school diploma and on-the-job training, others have completed formal training programs. Medical assistant programs are found at technical schools and community colleges and usually result in diploma, certificates or associate's degrees. The curriculum includes coursework, lab studies and supervised internships or externships in medical settings to give students hands-on training. Courses may include phlebotomy, vital signs, health and diseases, medication administration, medical laws and ethics, medical terminology and pharmacology.
Job Postings From Real Employers
- A naval medical center in California advertised for a CMA with at least six months work experience. Applicant must have a high school diploma, current basic life support certification and certification from the AAMA.
- A healthcare service provider in Oregon is seeking a certified MA with at least one year of MA work experience, preferably working in family practice. Candidate should have experience working in the ER and knowledge of EKG, SVN and IPPB machines. Successful applicant will be able to multitask and perform various medical procedures.
- A staffing company is seeking a certified medical assistant to work for a Texas healthcare provider. Candidate will perform back-end duties, such as taking vitals rooming patients, giving injections and taking blood. Applicant must have experience with EMR and knowledge of medical terminology. In addition to having at least two years experience, applicants must pass background check and drug screening.
How to Stand Out
If you want your resume to give you an edge in the workforce, you may consider becoming certified. Licensure is not required, but some states may require MAs to pass certification tests before they can perform certain medical procedures. Additionally, many employers prefer to hire certified medical assistants. The American Medical Technologists (AMT) and the AAMA are two organizations that offer certification to eligible medical assistants.
Medical assistants often have better employment opportunities when they're specialized in more than one area of healthcare. You may want to consider training to become an optometric medical assistant, an ophthalmic medical assistant or a podiatric medical assistant. Although this varies by organization, some organizations will certify you in a specialty.
Alternative Career Paths
Medical Records and Health Information Technician
Medical records and health information technician may be an ideal career choice if you know you want to work in the medical field but prefer a job with less or no hands-on patient care. Aspiring medical records technicians typically enroll in associate's degree programs. Workers in this profession earn a median wage of around $33,000. Employment in this field is expected to grow 22% between 2010 and 2020.
Physical Therapy Assistant
If you're looking for a career that's in the medical field but pays a higher wage than being an CMA, you might consider being a physical therapy assistant (PTA). PTAs help physical therapists provide care and rehabilitation to patients with injuries and disabilities. Interested individuals must complete at least an associate's degree program and obtain licensure or certification. Physical therapy assistants were projected to experience an employment growth of 45% between 2010-2020 - a much faster-than-average growth. As of 2011, physical therapy assistants earned a median wage of near $51,000.