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Becoming a Certified Medical Assistant: Salary and Job Growth

Updated on September 10, 2010

Becoming a certified medical assistant is appealing to many people for a number of reasons. It takes less time than nursing school and costs less while still having direct patient contact and providing patient care. Job opportunities are vast and include physician's offices, patient care centers, hospitals, and surgical centers. But before you decide to enroll in school, because it is costly, there are several things to consider like salary, job prospects, and health and safety risks.

Job Growth Outlook is Excellent:

According to the US Department of Labor, medical assistants are expected to be one of the fastest growing occupations from 2008-2018, by a projected job growth rate of about 34%.

photo courtesy of The National Guard; Flickr
photo courtesy of The National Guard; Flickr


The salary for a medical assistant can vary depending on the location of employment and experience. Sixty two percent of medical assistants work in physician’s offices. The highest paid medical assistants work in a medical/surgical hospital setting, while the lowest paid medical assistants work in a healthcare setting other than a physician’s office, like outpatient and residential care facilities.

The median income of a medical assistant is $28,300 annually. The middle 50 percent make $23,700-$33,050. The top 10% of medical assistants make over $39,570, while the bottom 10% make less than $20,600.

States With Highest Concentration of CMAs

Hourly Mean Wage 
Annual Mean Wage
Data obtained from US Department of Labor, May 2009

Top Paying States

Hourly Mean Wage 
Annual Mean Wage 
District of Columbia
Data obtained from US Department of Labor, May 2009

Education and Certification:

Though medical assistants can be trained on the job through an employer, this doesn’t provide certification from completing an accredited course through a vocational high school (ROP, and often tuition free), a post-secondary vocational school, or a community college.

A high school diploma or GED will be required for students wishing to enroll in a certification program, and a program can last between 1-2 years.

Course study includes medical terminology, anatomy, physiology, basic insurance processing, patient scheduling, and basic pharmacology.

Back office training consists of learning how to give injections, drawing blood, sterilization processes, diagnostic testing like EKGs, and minor laboratory testing like microscopic urinalysis.

Is It a Job Match?

The ideal candidate for a medical assistant should be personable, since dealing with patients on a regular basis will be required.

If you are squeamish around needles, blood, urine, and feces, this job is not for you.

Since a physician often requires a medical assistant to be present at all times in order to assist with patient care and exams, it is not unusual that overtime is a requirement of the job. Often, doctors run behind schedule and unscheduled, urgent patients are seen on a daily basis.

Another thing to consider is health and safety risks. Patients that frequent physician’s offices are often sick with colds and flu; however, employment with a specialist’s office like orthopedic surgery or allergy would limit contact with contagious patients.

Another thing to keep in mind is the medical assistant’s risk of needle sticks which increases the risk of HIV, hepatitis B, and other diseases and infections transmitted via blood.

If you are bothered by the health and safety risks you may want to consider a career as a veterinarian’s assistant where all you have to worry about are dog bites, in which case you are allowed to put a muzzle on the patient.

A positive aspect of becoming a medical assistant is that you are more valuable in a physician’s office, capable of handling back office duties as well as front office duties. And if, after employment, you decide that patient care is not up your alley, changing your career to the administrative side of the medical field is not difficult, and often, is valuable to employers because you have clinical experience and understand medical procedures. It will be easy to transition a career from the clinical side to the administrative side and find employment with an insurance company or billing office.


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    • Deni Edwards profile image

      Deni Edwards 5 years ago from california

      An accredited course would have grants available, but it won't be enough to pay for the entire course. You may want to look in your area for an ROP course--there is no fee for tuition. You would need to pay for your books and lab supplies.

      Good luck!

    • JasonL99 profile image

      JasonL99 5 years ago

      Do you know if it's possible to get scholarships or grants for certification courses?