Clinical Medical Assistant Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a clinical medical assisting career? Get real job descriptions, salary info and career options to see if becoming a clinical medical assistant is right for you.
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A Clinical Medical Assisting Career: Pros and Cons

Medical assistants aid physicians with a variety of tasks to support the function of a medical facility. To determine whether this career is a good fit for you, take a look at the following pros and cons of being a clinical medical assistant.

Pros of a Clinical Medical Assistant Career
Fast job growth (29% in 2012-2022)*
Limited education/training needed (typically 2 years or less)*
Ability to work in medical specialties (podiatry, optometry, ophthalmology, etc.)*
Variety in daily tasks (assisting physicians, checking vital signs, performing tests, etc.)**
Opportunity to help others on a daily basis*

Cons of a Clinical Medical Assistant Career
Mean annual wage on the low side (about $17,000 below 2014 mean annual wage across all occupations)*
Could require evening/weekend work*
Potential exposure to pathogens*
Can be stressful working with frustrated or difficult patients*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Association of Medical Assistants

Essential Career Information

Job Description

Mostly found in physicians' offices, clinical medical assistants have duties involving direct interaction with patients. They get patients ready for examinations or procedures and record their histories. Under the supervision of physicians, assistants may give medications, perform lab tests or educate patients on how to use medical treatments.

Maintaining a sterile environment is vital in healthcare settings, and clinical medical assistants can be responsible for cleaning equipment or disposing of hazardous materials. Many of these duties allow for exposure to infectious agents, which make following safety regulations essential. Many assistants are expected to have both clinical and administrative responsibilities - particularly if they work in smaller practices. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the option to handle primarily clinical duties is more more common in hospitals or larger medical facilities (www.bls.gov).

Salary and Career Prospects

The 2014 salary survey from the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) reveals that the average salary for full-time assistants was about $27,000 for assistants without certification and $30,000 with certification (www.aama-ntl.org). Taking a closer look at the AAMA survey shows that professionals just entering the field without certification - those with 2 or less years of experience - earned around $24,000 per year on average. Those with certification earn about $26,000. With a mean annual salary of about $30,000, medical assistants with 6-9 years of experience (with and without certification) have earnings in line with the 2014 mean annual wage reported by the BLS.

As with many occupations in the healthcare industry, the medical needs of the nation's substantial elderly population play a central role in the 29% job growth in this occupation. Employers will also continue to hire assistants as a more cost-effective alternative to nurses, reports the BLS. Facilities offering primary care remain the top employer of medical assistants.

What Do Employers Look For?

Training and Additional Skills

A major pro in becoming a clinical medical assistant is the ability to do so relatively quickly. With no set requirements in most states, there are often multiple pathways into the profession. On-the-job training, which typically lasts several months, is one option. Postsecondary schools also offer formal training programs that result in a certificate, diploma or associate degree. According to the 2011 AAMA survey, 62% of respondents had a certificate or diploma while 43% had an associate degree. Regardless of the program type, all involve classroom training and a clinical practicum in a real medical setting. The coursework is heavy on the sciences, including human anatomy, physiology, biology, lab procedures and drug therapy.

Training allows clinical assistants to develop the technical skills needed to work with medical equipment and perform tests. Additionally, anyone becoming a medical assistant needs to be detail-oriented and able to multitask. Having strong communication and interpersonal skills are essential in this occupation. Working with patients, especially difficult ones, requires patience and compassion. Effective communication abilities are important for maintaining accurate records, instructing patients and interacting with other healthcare professionals.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers often look for clinical medical assistants with previous experience and certification. Solid computer skills and the ability to work with electronic medical records (EMRs) are also common expectations. For more insight into what to expect on the job hunt, review the following April 2012 job postings from real employers.

  • A Colorado practice needs a medical assistant to support clinical faculty and residents. The job involves delivering patient education in addition to assisting with medical procedures and treatments. Candidates should be certified as a medical assistant, possess basic life support certification and have experience with lab testing. Completion of an accredited program in the field is also required. The employer prefers to hire an assistant with at least a year of clinical work experience.
  • A neurology specialty clinic in Los Angeles is searching for a full-time medical assistant to set up exam rooms, interview patients and obtain vital signs. Working with EMRs and performing administrative functions is required as well. The employer expects the assistant to be a graduate of an accredited training program, have 2 years of clinical experience and possess solid computer skills. Medical assisting and basic life support certifications are needed as well.
  • A Texas pediatric practice is seeking a lead clinical medical assistant to work part-time hours. Working with EMRs is a central part of the job. Clinical duties include giving immunizations, taking vital signs and recording patient histories. The assistant will be cross-trained to handle front-office tasks, such as checking in patients and processing payments. Candidates for the position must have 2 years of experience working in a pediatric setting and with electronic medical record software. A friendly personality, strong typing skills and comfort with technology are all important as well.

How Can I Stand Out?

Get Certified

Certification is not required, but it can give you an edge and is something employers tend to look for. To obtain the AAMA's certified medical assistant (CMA) credential, you must complete an accredited formal education program and pass an examination. Maintaining CMA status requires recertifying, though continuing education or an exam, every 5 years. According to the AAMA 2011 survey, CMAs earned about $3,000 more annually than assistants without the credential.

Other organizations offering medical assisting credentials include American Medical Technologists, National Healthcareer Association and the National Center for Competency Testing. Some certifying bodies offer specialty credentials for assistants in the areas of optometry, ophthalmology and podiatry as well.

Develop Computer Skills

As the BLS reports, computer skills are becoming increasingly important in this field. Even if you choose to focus on the clinical side of medical assisting, the ability to work with electronic medical records is vital. As seen in the job postings, computer skills aren't just for those in the front office. Formal training programs typically include coursework in EMRs and administrative functions. Elective options in these programs may include computer courses for you to choose from as well.

Alternate Careers

Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurse

If you're looking for a related career option that offers a higher salary, consider becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN), also known as a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) in some states. LPNs and LVNs perform basic nursing tasks, collect samples for lab testing and monitor patients' health status. They also report their findings and observations to registered nurses and physicians. The extent of their responsibilities varies by state and their work is typically done under the supervision of physicians or registered nurses. As their job title implies, these nurses must have a state license to practice. Available most commonly in community or technical colleges, formal training takes about 1 year to complete.

With a high 2010-2020 job growth of 22% and a 2011 mean annual wage of $42,000, this can be an appealing career choice. As with most medical occupations, the potential for stress and exposure to infectious agents is present. Irregular work schedules and long shifts are typical as well.

Health Information Technician

Another higher-paying option is to enter the field of health information technology. This may be a good fit if you want to stick with the healthcare industry but decide clinical work isn't for you. Health information technicians maintain medical records for healthcare facilities. They use coding and classification systems to organize information, such as patient histories or treatment records. This information is used for insurance purposes, medical registries and quality assurance. Expect to work heavily with EMRs and spend most of the day at the computer.

Obtaining a certificate or associate degree is common for getting into this line of work. Employers often prefer hiring a tech with certification as well. The 2010-2020 job growth is high at 21%, and the growing use of EMRs is a factor. According to BLS data from 2011, health information technicians earned a mean annual wage of about $36,000.

Popular Schools

  • Campus Locations:
    1. American National University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Medical Assisting - Associate
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      • Pharmacy Technician - Diploma
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    2. Kaplan University

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      • MS in Nursing
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    3. The George Washington University

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    Master's
      • MSHS in Clinical Microbiology
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    4. South College

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Health Science - Pre-Physical Therapy
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      • Associate of Science in Medical Assisting
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      • Certificate in Medical Assisting
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    5. Colorado State University Global

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      • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration
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    6. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

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      • HS Diploma
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    7. South University

    Program Options

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      • Healthcare Administration (MBA)
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    8. College of Health Care Professions

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      • Medical Assistant-Certificate
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    9. Regent University

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    10. Fortis College

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Featured Schools

American National University

  • Medical Assisting - Associate
  • Pharmacy Technician - Diploma

What is your education level?

Kaplan University

  • MS in Nursing
  • Master of Healthcare Admin
  • Bachelor: Health Science
  • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)

Which subject are you interested in?

The George Washington University

  • MSHS in Clinical Microbiology

What is your highest level of education?

South College

  • Bachelor of Science in Health Science - Pre-Physical Therapy
  • Associate of Science in Medical Assisting
  • Certificate in Medical Assisting

What is your highest level of education completed?

Colorado State University Global

  • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration

What is your highest level of education?

Penn Foster High School

  • HS Diploma

What is your age?

South University

  • Healthcare Administration (MBA)
  • Healthcare Administration (MHA)
  • Anesthesia Science (MMSc)

What is your highest level of education completed?

College of Health Care Professions

  • Medical Assistant-Certificate
  • Physical Therapy Technician-Certificate

What is your highest level of education completed?