Medical Assistant Career Advancement: Step by Step Guide

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Already started your journey as a medical assistant? What’s next? This pertaining confusion often brews in the minds of aspiring MAs. There are some enriching career advancement opportunities available for medical assistants, which will give your occupation a super boost, both economically and expertise-wise.

As a medical assistant, you get insights about almost all functions at a healthcare center, both medical and clinical. You learn about the varied job roles and specialization areas in the industry. Experiencing these diverse departments yourself is almost like an analysis of your suitability. You get enough first-hand experiences to decide where you would fit in best and which way forward would be most profitable for you.Thus, please observe many exciting and probably even more rewarding career advancement prospects beyond medical assisting.

Here, we shall discuss the possibilities available to MAs. Let us look at career progression options both within medical assisting and across other occupational paths.

Timeline of Your Career as a Medical Assistant

Before we plunge further, it’s essential to understand the timeline of events that usually befit the career of a medical assistant. Career-timelines can be quite personal and differ from goal to goal. We are presenting a rough chart as a reference:

 1-2 Years – Get Schooled

You may be aware that most state legislations don’t postulate formal MA training requirements. However, employers in most states look for applicants with key MA skills rendered via medical assistant specific programs. A medical assistant course from an accredited school in the USA is a must. There are vocational schools, community colleges, and universities housing top-rated MA programs. Not only theoretical knowledge but also practical externship opportunities are provided there. Hence, this step becomes crucial. You can pick between a 1-year course (diplomas and certificate programs) and a 2-year training (associate degrees).

2 Years – Get Certified

MAs in most states do not need to obtain a certificate to practice. However, a nationally recognized certification should ideally be your next step. It almost instantly solidifies your employability. It builds trust among the employers and provides you a competitive edge in the MA job market. The most valued certifications you should go after are the Certified Medical Assistant credential (CMA) by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and the Registered Medical Assistant credential (RMA) by the American Medical Technologists (AMT).

Other MA certifications are also available in various states. This step always follows your training phase, i.e., only passing a medical assistant program accredited by the CAAHEP or ABHES makes you eligible to sit for the CMA exam. The accredited medical assistant schools usually require you to take national certification exams on graduation, or students decide to pursue the certifications a little later.

1-3 Years – Get Experienced

As mentioned above, your MA programs, if accredited, would ensure externship opportunities. If starting without a formal MA degree, gather hands-on training via work experience before your first medical assistant job. Most employers demand practical working practice. Learn during this phase as much as you can.

3-4 Years – Specialize (Optional)

Via your medical assistant externship, gather insights on how medical establishments work comprehensively. Draw out know-how about the different specializations available such as podiatry, for instance. Train to become a specialized MA to stand out.

4-5 Years – Advance to Next Stage

Now that you’re an experienced MA, you will have the insights to evaluate what can come next. Do you want to become a Medical Manager? What about Nursing? What add-on training is needed? Can you work as an MA while training? Think of these considerations, evaluate where you currently stand, and research schooling options for the career upgrade. Pick a course/work placement that fits your next goal the best. Consider an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, for instance, or consider applying to another senior role with different establishments.

Why Should You Consider MA Career Advancement? 6 Key Benefits

Analyze how going uphill would benefit you in the first place. Specifically, with regards to climbing up the medical assistant career ladder, these 6 key value-additions can be capitalized on:

  1. Financial Upgrades – As you advance higher up in your career, you will, of course, be able to earn higher salary packages. If you have targeted degrees and experience, employers with matching vacancies will pay more.
  2. Employment Security – Again, the more you differentiate yourself with higher-level skills or specific specialized training, the less are your chances of being replaced as you become a valued asset to the employer. For entry-level jobs, there may be many others who share the same skill-sets as you, so there are more chances of being downsized.
  3. Varied Experiences (Cross-Departmental) – In the medical world, the experience is everything. With career advancements, after excelling at one function, you can move on to another to keep enhancing your portfolio. A diverse set of expertise across different departments readies MAs for future senior-level managerial roles.
  4. Skill Enhancement – A broad range of skills is picked up with each role in this industry (from patient care to varied technical skills). The more you tread ahead, the more you get to learn and imbibe. The competencies learned at one step apply to the next, too. For instance, the skills you master as an MA will come in handy while functioning as a nurse as well.
  5. Respect – A senior role lends much prestige to your name. Any specialized skill that you use to treat more complex cases brings much goodwill. As people from far and wide seek your services, your potential becomes increasingly recognized.
  6. Wider Professional Opportunities – Building on your skills and experience, and filling in new roles can introduce you to more career options. The range of occupational vacancies you fit across becomes broader as you advance in your career.

The Path Forward from Your MA Job: How to Proceed?

Often MAs feel stuck not knowing how to take the next plunges and advance their medical assisting career? To start with, there are two umbrella methodologies for it:

  • Keep moving on to the MA path, and advance to the leadership positions in the field, or
  • Go back to school, and train in other courses, i.e., advance in another medical department or specialize.

Follow these methods and practices to plan your career advancement ladders:

  1. Evaluate Your OptionsAssess your current job. What are your goals now? What advancements are possible?
  2. Pick the Career JumpAfter you know what advancement opportunities are on offer, you have to freeze on the best option that aligns with your goals.
  3. List the Required Up-skills What add-on competencies would you need to master? Any specific degrees/certifications required?
  4. Research on Training ProceduresYour current organization may give opportunities for the required up-skill. Identify those departments and work there. For specific skills needed for the new goal, find apt courses. From drug testing to coding, specialization programs are rendered across all streams. The key is to research and pick right.
  5. Keep Expanding your SkillsWhenever you get a chance to learn something new, grab it. As a medical assistant, you will be entrusted with a variety of tasks, like fixing the computer system, talking to the supplier, working on new EHR apparatus, etc. Comprehensive know-how will render chances of career expansion across different healthcare job roles.
  6. SpecializeDrawing deep-rooted knowledge from specializing is a great way to establish career advancement in that area. You can experience specializing in different fields such as pediatrics, radiology, or even minor surgeries while assisting your seniors.
  7. If Not Certified, Go for it NowThough one of the initial steps ideally, some pursue medical assisting without obtaining a certificate. Certifications can boost your resume and open up the bandwidth of job vacancies available to you.
  8. Learn a Foreign Language Foreign languages can make your profile very attractive. Moreover, there are language-specific requirements that are outlined in different job descriptions. All patients may not be able to speak in English, so learn Spanish, French, or maybe even Mandarin.
  9. NetworkForm strong working bonds with your colleagues and seniors. You will notice that most of the career advancement ideas and opportunities arise from your network itself.
  10.  Update your ProfileDon’t forget to update your profile regularly. Highlight your certifications, new specialized skills, and experiences on your resume, LinkedIn, and social media handles. Also, stay tuned with all major resources that publish healthcare vacancies and opportunities.

Career Advancement Options for Medical Assistants

For those ambitious to push their careers further, medical assisting credentials and experience act as a significantly strong foundation to enter into other more coveted areas of the medical field. So what advancement opportunities are possible? Let us take a look:

  1. Administration/Managerial Advancements

    1. Managerial Positions in Healthcare

      As discussed, one way to advance your career beyond your MA role is to go for supervisory, senior roles. These positions entrust you with a responsibility to lead others, organize and take charge of the end success of your department/whole establishment.

      • Job Duties:
        • Integrating new technologies
        • Human resources
        • Managing the finances
        • Ensuring the highest quality services and upholding the medical code of conduct in the department.
      • Job Titles Available:
        • Clinical Team Leader
        • Lead Medical Assistant
        • Medical Records Manager
        • Transcription Supervisor
        • Clinical Office Manager
        • Financial Manager
        • Healthcare Department Manager
        • Health Care Administrator
        • Health Insurance Manager
        • Hospital Manager
        • General Manager
        • Sales Manager
        • Health Services Manager
      • Job Outlook and Salary:BLS projects a 20% growth, i.e., around 72,000 new vacancies for medical and health industry managers. Thus, healthcare management is in great demand. They’re paid handsomely as well (BLS data postulates $98,350 as the average salary for this category in 2017).
      • Training and Experience:Usually, individuals need to document a Bachelors’s degree. However, a Masters’s degree (MBA) in Business Administration is becoming extremely popular. These degrees with a specialization in healthcare management (programs are available) would ideally set you apart from other applicants. Individuals usually start gathering much base-level and then lead-level medical experience in the clinical establishment before being promoted to a managerial position.
    2. Health Information Management

      Even though a managerial role again, these positions in the health information sector need a separate mention. The demand for this position is overgrowing because of the significant changes technology has brought along in the functioning of all healthcare facilities. For instance, organizations are investing heavily in electronic medical record-keeping now.

      • Job Duties:Two major managerial roles exist in this realm:
        • HIM Manager’s specific job roles include ensuring medical data is current, secure and accurate, up-keeping patient privacy laws, laying instructions for the staff, and devising the HIM budgets.
        • HIM Directors decide organizational goals, ensure all the applicable laws are adhered to, manage the different HIM teams, and maintain external relations with respective state and national bodies.
      • Job Titles:
        • Medical Record Administrator
        • Revenue Cycle Manager (Coding Billing)
        • Health Information Manager
        • Director of HIM (Operations)
        • Project Manager (Data Analytics)
        • Director of Clinical Informatics
        • Director of Risk Management (Compliance)
        • Data Quality Manager (IT/Infrastructure)
        • Chief Technology Officer
      • Job Outlook and Salary:The job of a Medical and Health services manager has been ranked as number 11 (2020) on the 100 best jobs list (U.S. News & World Report). It is ranked 2nd on the best business jobs list and 7th amongst all STEM jobs. HIM managers get paid $75,324 per annum on an average (as per indeed.com). More specifically, Medical Record Administrators draw $81,950, Compliance/Risk Assessment Managers $89,230, and Managers in IT $98,180 per annum.
      • Training and Experience:To become an HIM, you would need analytical issue-solving competencies. A Bachelors’s degree in Health Information Management is most befitting.
  2. Medical Technology Advancements

    1. Surgical Technologist

      Surgical Technologists are a part of operation room teams (including surgeons and anaesthesiologists).

      • Job Duties:
        • Their primary function is to prepare the chamber before an operation comprehensively
        • Sterilizing and setting up surgical apparatus
        • Arranging the required medications from the circulator
      • Training and Experience:Post-secondary education is needed, and an associate’s degree is much valued for this role. Certificates, for instance, the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) credential may also be sought. Basic life support and CPR certifications are often mandatory.
      • Job Outlook and Salary:According to BLS, growth for this occupation is projected at 7% from 2019 to 2029 (faster than average for all fields). The mean hourly wage of $24.09 and $50,110 annually (BLS 2019 estimate) are paid on an average to Surgical Technologists in the USA.
    2. Clinical Laboratory Technologist

      Clinical Lab Technologists have to perform complex diagnosis and detection tests using varied technical equipment.

      • Job Duties:
        • Working in laboratories
        • Testing patient samples
        • Assessing body fluids and blood specimens
        • Recording key test results and presenting the data forward
      • Training and Experience:A bachelor’s degree is required, which can be pursued in streams of laboratory technology or life sciences. Depending on the state you seek jobs in, specific licensure may be mandatory to qualify.
      • Job Outlook and Salary:Lab Technologists are paid $25.73 on an average per hour (as per payscale.com) and between $42,261 and $51,951 per annum (according to salary.com as of Aug 27, 2020). This package is for non-certified Technologists.
    3. Medical Records Health Information Technicians

      This job role is most popular across hospitals, followed by physician centers and offices.

      • Job Duties:
        • Documenting critical patient health information
        • Reviewing and organizing all patient records
        • Assigning clinical codes utilizing classification software and EHR procedures
        • Tracking patient outcomes for quality assessment
      • Training and Experience:Obtain a certificate (Registered Health Information Technician – RHIT) for this role. CTR, i.e., Certified Tumor Registrar certification, is also often sought by employers. Training from accredited programs may be needed for these certifications. Some employers may ask you for an Associates’s degree, as this is a highly specialized field.
      • Job Outlook and Salary:Expect annual pays of $37,936 (as of Aug 27, 2020, according to salary.com) and $15.09 per hour (as per payscale.com). BLS projects an8% growth from 2019 to 2029.
  3. Trainer-Level Advancements

    1. Medical Assistant Instructor

      Training new batches of MAs and leading them to excel can be quite a satisfying job for some. This way, you get to stick to your medical assisting passion while also advancing to a more senior role (and better pay).

      • Job Duties:
        • Instructing new hires, teach, manage, and delegate responsibilities to the MA teams in the facility
        • Ready them for all duties
      • Training and Experience:You would ideally be a certified medical assistant in the first place. Experience of relentless years of medical assisting is crucial.
      • Job Outlook and Salary:The average annual pays for MA instructors range between $33,532 and $67,138, as per salary.com.  With the growth in MA jobs, the number of openings for MA instructors also is on an uphill trajectory.
  4. Medical Office Advancements

    1. Executive Medical Office Secretary

      Medical assistants are already trained as administrative assistants. You can take this beyond as a Medical Secretary.

      • Job Duties:
        • Clerical functions in the clinical office of a physician, hospital, etc.
        • Preparing invoices and memos
        • Arranging meetings for staff and reserving conference rooms and F&B
        • Handling phone call inquiries
        • Managing mails and fax documents
        • Database management
      • Training and Experience:Training in admin-related functions either as part of your MA program or as an add-on course is needed. However, the experience is all-important here. Expertise at computers, payment procedures, and insurance is a must. Training for accurate reporting and communication competencies (both verbal and written) are also encouraged.
      • Salary:$41,361 is the average pay per annum as per salary.com.
  5. Specialization Advancements

    1. Speciality Medical Practitioners

      From oncology to transplants, the world of medicine has infinite specialization areas. Even MAs can pick a specific area or department to master and advance in. Both admin and clinical specialties are available to choose from.

      • Job Outlook and Salary:Once you specialize in any of these key roles, your pay, as well as position in the industry, is higher. Your specialized skills make it difficult for you to be replaced, hence rendering more job security.
      • Training and Experience:Depending on the specialization area, you might need to achieve an additional certificate. For instance, to specialize in Gynecology, no separate certification is sought, whereas, to specialize in Ophthalmology, an Ophthalmology medical assistance course must be pursued. As an MA, you must gain valuable work experience in your preferred specialty departments as part of your externship and even after.
      • Clinical Specialization Areas for MAs:
        • Podiatry: focus on foot-related ailments and conditions
        • EKG technicians: cardiology expert, Holter monitor, stress testing
        • Ophthalmology: eye care, treatments, diagnostic assessment
        • Gynecology: women health, Pap testing, breast examinations
        • Pediatric Medical Assistant: specializing in childhood diseases, immunizations, care
      • Administrative Specialization Areas for MAs:
        • Medical Billing: managing charge sheets, hospital, or ambulatory care coding; professional coding credentials are offered via the AAPC and the BMSC
        • Medical Administrative Assistants: specializing in medical office management, working with key managers and admin team, taking minutes of meetings, drafting spreadsheets, staff organization
  6. Non-Traditional Advancements in Health Sciences

    1. Unique Health Science Occupations

      As an MA, your varied experience with healthcare environments will let you follow your passion. Follow unique and exciting career paths in the field of health and wellness that go beyond medical assisting. You may pursue fitness and nutrition, health policy-related careers, or community health roles.

      • Training and Experience:Health Sciences is varied. Any experience you gather as an extern and entry-level MA would count valuably. Complete a bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences specifically to embark on this journey.
  7. Nursing Level Advancements

    If it is the patient care and assistance functions that are most attractive to you, nursing is a great career step to tread on. Nurses go beyond what MAs do and render care to the patients on a deeper level. Nursing professions have well-defined paths for advancement, which generate systematic salary hikes. They also have options to specialize in fields such as oncology and ambulatory care.

    So if you love serving your patients the most, and want to continue doing that while being paid more, consider the nursing path of advancement seriously. Let us study the different stages in the nursing profession and identify the different types of nursing roles:

    1. Licensed Practical or Licensed Vocational Nurse

      • Job Duties:Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs) provide primary medical care. They work under the direction of registered nurses and doctors. LPNs and LVNs across hospitals, clinics, and medical offices:
        • monitor their patient’s health
        • check vital signs, eg: blood pressure
        • aid patients with daily routine tasks (help them bathe/dress)
        • change bandages
        • discuss with patients about the treatment being rendered
        • address patient queries

        Note:State-wise differences are also present. Your state laws may restrict you as an LPN or LVN to conduct specific tasks. For instance, IV drips can be rendered by LPNs in some states, whereas in other regions, they are beyond the LPN scope of work by law.

      • Job Outlook:As per BLS, 9% growth in jobs is predicted for this occupation (much faster than average) from years 2019 to 2029. An average hourly wage of $22.30 is offered as per Payscale and $27.06 per hour as per indeed.com. Median pay on an average as per BLS is estimated at $47,480 per annum.
      • Training and Experience:You must essentially graduate from an approved nursing program (1-year diploma courses are available). Programs are schooled across technical schools, community colleges as well as hospitals. You must also mandatorily pass the NCLEX-PN exam to become licensed for practice. CPR training is also sought by employers. Certifications in specialist areas such as IV therapy are provided through professional credentialing bodies that can enhance your employability further.
    2. Registered Nurse

      • Job Duties:Registered Nurses or RNs conduct more complex and significant patient care functions than LPNs. Some of their duties include:
        • Recording patient behavior and responses
        • Administering medications
        • Physical testing and diagnostics
        • Making treatment decisions (when applicable)
        • Helping doctors decide the treatment plans
        • Instructing and managing nurse assistants, nurses, and aides
      • Job Outlook and Salary:RNs are paid considerably more than MAs, $30.97 per hour, as estimated by indeed.com and $64,020 on an average per year as per salary.com. A total of 7%  growth is projected by BLS estimates (2019-2029).
      • Training and Experience:A bachelor’s degree is highly encouraged to be completed (especially for hospitals) as most applicants now have this qualification. In some instances, however, an associate degree (ADN for 2/3 years) or diploma may also work. RNs have to practically be licensed by the state they’re practicing in. For this, they must graduate from an accredited program that makes them eligible to take theNCLEX-RN examination. Thus, RNs take longer and more training than LPNs to qualify.
    3. Nurse Practitioners (NP)

      • Job Duties:It is the highest position for the nursing occupation. NPs discharge the most complicated tasks, like:
        • determining patient health improvement procedures
        • deciding on ways to integrate health promotion strategies with patient’s lives
        • specializing in managing a specific population of patients (eg: psychiatric, pediatric health, or geriatric health).
      • Training and Experience:To become an NP, you would first have practice as an RN. Master’s of Science of Nursing or a Doctor’s degree in Nursing Practice is the next step. All in all, you may take around 6 years to reach this stage, but it is worth the while.
      • Job Outlook and Salary:According to salary.com, $110,094 on an average is paid to Nurse Practitioners per year (as of Aug 27, 2020). BLS estimates a whopping 45% growth projection for NPs (2019-2029), which is unbelievingly promising.

FAQs

Q. What add-on courses are suggested for MAs to advance their careers?

A. It entirely depends on the direction you want to take. Specific courses, like coding and pulmonary diseases, can be taken if you want to specialize in those areas. For managerial roles, human resources, MBA, and marketing programs in the realm of healthcare is ideal.

Q. Which areas are best for medical assistant career advancements?

A. Consider nursing seriously (especially RN) if you excel at the patient-centered functions of an MA. HIM is well-paying if you’re keen. Office Management is less strenuous. MA Instructors also enjoy great respect and job satisfaction. So a lot depends on your interests.

Q. How many years would I take to advance?

A. As a medical assistant, you can specialize in 2 years itself for a career-boost. To become a senior-manager, 4 years are taken on an average. You can become an MA lead within the first 2 years.

Useful Resources

From healthcare education to certifications and networking opportunities, this resource is a must to follow (especially for the billing and coding specialists).

Registering MAs since a historical lineage of 65 years, the ARMA helps promote the careers of its members.