Medical Assistant Salary, Career Forecast, Trends, and Training

Health care careers are generally a good bet in an uncertain economy. And of all the health care jobs that offer good employment opportunities, medical assistants are one of the top-rated occupations in terms of employment growth. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for medical assistants should grow 34 percent from 2008 to 2018, making it one of the fastest growing occupations in the country.

Medical Assistant Job Profile

A medical assistant's job responsibilities vary depending on the employer, but generally medical assistants perform both administrative and clinical functions. Common administrative tasks include:

  • Updating and filing medical records
  • Greeting patients
  • Filling out insurance forms
  • Arranging for hospital admissions and laboratory services

Clinical duties vary depending on state regulations; some states allow medical assistants to perform more clinical functions than others. Duties may include:

  • Preparing patients for examination
  • Performing basic laboratory tests
  • Drawing blood
  • Explaining medications, special diets, and treatment procedures to patients

Because medical assistants work directly with patients, they need to have good communication and interpersonal skills. Furthermore, medical assistants need to be able to multi-task and follow a physician's instructions.

The majority of medical assistants--62 percent--work in physicians' offices. Jobs are also available in hospitals and offices of other health practitioners, such as chiropractors.

Medical Assistant Salary: 2009 Reports

According to the BLS, the mean annual medical assistant salary (2009 data) was $29,450, with the top 10 percent earning more than $39,970. Salary.com reports similar numbers, with the median salary at $29,840 and the top 10 percent earning $35,020. When benefits are factored in, Salary.com places the total average compensation at $32,165.

Certain industries offer a particularly high medical assistant salary. 2009 mean salaries for top-paying industries included:

  • Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals: $46,430
  • Dentists' offices: $35,920
  • Scientific research and development services: $33,810

States that offered the highest wages included the District of Columbia ($37,790), Alaska ($36,400), and Massachusetts ($34,490). Highest-paying metropolitan areas were Vallejo-Fairfield, CA ($43,010), Salinas, CA ($40,970), and Barnstable Town, MA ($40,690).

Of course, salaries tend to be highest in places where the cost of living is also high. The following states have a moderate cost of living and offered higher-than-average salaries:

  • Illinois: $30,340
  • Wisconsin: $30,310
  • Arizona: $30,070

Similarly, some reasonably affordable metropolitan areas paid top dollar. Consider the following locations for your medical assistant career:

  • Rochester, MN: $38,090
  • Winchester, VA: $35,060
  • Burlington, NC: $33,170

Medical Assistant Training: Online Opportunities

While there are no official training requirements for medical assistants, most practitioners complete a one- or two-year program. Thanks to the boom in distance learning, many programs are available online. Medical assistant training online can lead to a variety of degrees, including a diploma and associate's degree. In general, you may be better able to specialize (and qualify for top-paying positions) if you enroll in a longer degree program. Future medical assistants may also want to consider obtaining professional certification, such as that offered through the American Association of Medical Assistants and Association of Medical technologists.