What is a Medical Assistant, and What do they do?

Medical Assistants are the professionals who assist doctors and physicians in various healthcare settings and are cross-trained to render both clinical and administrative duties. They are also known as clinical assistants, nursing assistants, and medical office assistants.

Duties of a Medical Assistant:

An MA performs routine administrative and clinical tasks under the supervision of doctors or other healthcare professionals. Depending on the laws of the jurisdiction, their duties may vary.

The clinical duties include:
  • Preparing patients for medical tests.
  • Measuring vital signs such as blood pressure, temperature, respiratory rate, etc.
  • Drawing blood and preparing laboratory specimens.
  • Performing basic laboratory tests.
  • Providing instructions to patients about diet and medication.
  • Taking medical histories.
  • Providing assistance to the doctors during treatment.
  • Administering medications and changing dressings.
The administrative duties include:
  • Answering telephone calls
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Maintaining the medical records of patients
  • Billing and bookkeeping
  • Filling out insurance forms
  • Maintaining the reception area and front desk
  • Maintaining office inventories
Types of Medical Assistants:

On the basis of their education and tasks they perform, medical assistants are of 4 types.

  1. Administrative Medical Assistant
  2. Administrative MAs mostly work in physicians’ offices and perform administrative tasks. They must have superb verbal and written communication skills, an understanding of medical terminology, and computer skills to deliver their duties effectively.

  3. Clinical Medical Assistant
  4. Clinical MAs work closely with patients and manage clinical tasks. An organized and multi-tasking candidate with compassion and excellent communication skills is perfect for this job role. They may find employment in hospitals, clinics, physicians’ offices, nursing homes, etc.

  5. Certified Medical Assistant
  6. Certified MAs are the nurses who possess credentials through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). These professionals have better job opportunities and earn a higher salary package than non-certified MAs.

  7. Specialized Medical Assistant
  8. The duties of specialized MAs depend on their areas of specialization, such as oncology, pediatrics, geriatrics, cardiology, endocrinology, etc. They work directly with critical patients under the supervision of physicians.

How Long does it Take to Become a Certified Medical Assistant?

To become a certified medical assistant, aspirants are required to complete their training in medical assistance and clear the certification exam conducted by the AAMA. The entire process from completing training to gaining certification may take between 9 months to 3 years.

Medical Assistant – Career Path at a Glimpse

Steps Description Duration
Step 1 High School Diploma or GED 3 months to 4 years
Step 2 Medical Assistant Training 9 months to 2 years
Step 3 Medical Assistant Certification Less than 1 year

However, if you choose an accelerated medical assistant program, you can complete your training in 6 weeks.

How Much does it Cost to Become a Medical Assistant ?

The cost to become an MA depends on various factors, such as:

  • the school/college (public or private) you enroll in,
  • the course (diploma, certification or degree) you pursue,
  • length of the program,
  • the state/region from where you are pursuing the training,
  • whether you are an in-state or out-of-state student, etc.

The cost of a 1-year certificate program through a community college may vary from $2,500 to $10,000, whereas a 2-year associate degree through a community college may cost you between $6,000 and $15,000. In addition to the tuition fees, students have to incur other costs as well, such as books and supplies, room and boarding, transportation, certification exam fee, certification renewal fee, etc.

However, qualifying students can avail financial aid to cover some of their expenses. The following financial grants are available:

  • Scholarships
  • GI Bill Assistance
  • Federal Grants
  • The Workforce Investment Act (WIA)
  • Federal Low-Interest Student Loans

Steps and Path to Become a Medical Assistant


Requirements to Become an MA

Aspirants are expected to meet specific eligibility criteria to be a medical assistant.

  • You must have a GED (General Educational Development) or a high school diploma.
  • Acquiring certification is not mandatory; however, some states and employers necessitate candidates to have a certification in order to work as a medical assistant.
  • Communication skills, interpersonal skills, pharmacology, medical terminology, and knowledge of human anatomy are a must.

Enroll in an Accredited Medical Assistant School to Complete the Training

The first step towards your journey of becoming an MA is to enroll yourself into a medical assistant school accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES), Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or any other recognized body. Aspirants must take note of the fact that they won’t be considered eligible to appear for the certification exam of medical assistance if they complete their education from a non-accredited nursing school.

An accredited medical assistant school provides you 3 choices – diploma program, certificate program, and degree program (associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degree).

Parameter Certificate Diploma Degree
Duration About 1 year About 1 year 2-4 years
Curriculum General education coursework A little more detailed than a certificate program More intensive than certificate and diploma courses
Advancement Opportunity Entry-level job More opportunities than certificate holders Lucrative opportunities for career advancement along with a higher salary
Institutions Technical and vocational schools Technical and vocational schools Community colleges and universities

You can become a medical assistant by choosing any of the following 3 training programs:

  1. On-Campus Training Program
  2. If you pick this training program, you will have to complete your entire training (classroom and laboratory sessions) during set schedules, in a traditional campus setting and well thought out learning environment. You can have face-to-face communication with your mentors.

  3. Online Training Program
  4. If you have some family commitments or you are into a full-time job, online courses are the best option for you. These programs let you study at your convenience and comfort. However, before graduation, you will have to complete an externship in a clinical setting.

  5. Hybrid Training Program
  6. This program allows you to complete the theoretical part of your studies online, but you are supposed to complete lab work on-campus. These programs need a high level of organization and dedication on the part of students. One of the benefits of hybrid training is that it reduces the time and cost associated with commuting.


Complete Your Externship

An externship provides you an exposure to real-life clinical settings and an opportunity to get hands-on clinical training under the supervision of experienced medical professionals. You can complete your externship from a medical facility or a local clinic. An externship not only develops your skills but also helps you foster and grow your professional network, which, later on, can be leveraged to get a job.


Obtain Medical Assistant Certification

A certificate is an acknowledgment of your skills and knowledge about the domain. You can get any of the following five certifications listed by the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics). All these certifications are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

Certification Accreditation
Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) Certification The American Association of Medical Assistants
Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) Certification The American Medical Technologists
Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) Certification The National Healthcareer Association
Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) Certification The National Healthcareer Association
National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) Certification The National Center for Competency Testing

For obtaining the MA certification, candidates will have to qualify for the certification exam organized by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA).


Prepare Resume and Cover Letter

In the era of fierce competition, it’s a herculean task to get your dream job. Nonetheless, an impeccable resume and cover letter can give you an edge over other job applicants.

The resume and cover letter must be short and snappy, highlighting all your qualifications and skills. Use appropriate healthcare industry terminology and keywords that grab the attention of the prospective employer. Ensure that your resume and cover letter have no spelling and grammatical errors.

Put in a little more effort and time to do research on the job you are applying for and the potential employer. Accordingly, customize your resume and cover letter to fit the job requirements. It will leave an excellent impression and showcase that you are genuinely interested in becoming a part of the organization.


Find the Right Job

Although many jobs are available for medical assistants in the USA, landing the right job being a fresher is quite tricky. Sometimes, simply applying for a job with clinics and physician’s offices won’t work; you have to expand your job search. Here are a few tips to jump-start the hunt for your first medical assistant job:

  • Stay active on professional platforms such as LinkedIn. Most of the recruiters, nowadays, post jobs opening there. You can join medical assistants groups and communities to keep an eye on recent job postings.
  • Contact people (nurses, supervisors, physicians) from your professional network (that you built during externship) to seek job opportunities in their organizations.
  • Prepare a list of organizations you want to work with. Research their websites and keep checking their “career” section regularly.
  • Be a member of your local AAMA chapter to touch base with potential employers.
  • Leverage your school’s/college’s placement services.
  • Create an account and upload your resume on employment websites such as Indeed and Monster.

Be persistent with your efforts, and keep patience while searching for the medical assistant job.


Ace the Interview

Got an interview call? Voila! You have climbed the first step to get your dream job. But keep in mind that a few less-than-perfect answers may shatter your hopes. So, prepare yourself well for the interview.

Think of all the questions that are relevant to the role you have applied for and prepare their answers. Also, ponder about the value you can bring to the table for the employer. The interviewer may ask the following questions:

  • Why do you want to pursue your career as a medical assistant?
  • Have you ever worked on medical software?
  • Do you know about HIPAA?
  • How will you handle a difficult patient?
  • How will you deal with stress?

These are some sample interview questions; you may also encounter several questions related to practice-specific, hard skills, and cultural fit. Another important thing to keep in mind while appearing for the medical assistant interview is – present yourself well.

  • Dress professionally
  • Make eye contact (do not stare) with the interviewer while answering the question
  • Speak clearly and confidently
  • Pay attention to your sitting posture
  • Ask questions to the interviewer
  • Thank the interviewer for the opportunity

Continue Education to Move Up the Career Ladder

You can broaden your horizons by pursuing advanced educational courses. It will not only add to your skills and knowledge but will also increase chances for promotion and career advancement in other medical fields.

Skills Needed to Become a Certified Medical Assistant

As a certified MA, you will have to perform both clinical and administrative tasks. That’s why; you must have the following skills to carry out your duties effectively.

  • Clerical and organizational skills
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Computer competency
  • Problem-solving and multi-tasking skills
  • Customer service skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Flexible and empathic
  • Time management skills
  • Detail-oriented
  • Active listener

Job Outlook for Medical Assistants

Job Growth and Prospects:

The job prospects for medical assistants are expected to grow by 23% from 2018 to 2028, and there will be 154,900 openings for these professionals during these 10 years. This growth is attributed to the increasing demand for aging baby-boom and their requirements for medical services.

Employment Outlook for Medical Assistants in Various Industries
Industry Employment
Continuing Care Retirement Communities and Assisted Living Facilities for the Elderly 13,050
Outpatient Care Centers 57,240
Offices of Other Health Practitioners 57,680
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals 97,600
Offices of Physicians 389,160

Source: BLS (as of May 2018)

Career Trends:

According to the above graph, the jobs for medical assistants are expected to reach 850,000 by the year 2025.

Medical Assistant Salaries

Education, certification, work experience, employer, and geographical location are some of the significant factors that affect the salary of medical assistants. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean hourly wage of medical assistants was $16.61 and mean annual salary was $34,540, as of May 2018.

Percentile Annual Wage Hourly Wage
10% $24,790 $11.92
25% $28,400 $13.65
50% $33,610 $16.16
75% $39,190 $18.84
90% $47,250 $22.72

Source: BLS

From the above table, it can be concluded that:

  • 10% of medical assistants in the USA earned less than $24,790 per annum and $11.92 per hour while the remaining 90% of MAs made more than $24,790 per annum and $11.92 per hour.
  • 25% of professionals made an average yearly and hourly income less than $28,400 and $13.65, respectively, whereas the remaining 75% of professionals earned an average annual and hourly salary of more than $28,400 and $13.65, respectively.
  • The average income of 50% of MAs was less than $33,610 per annum and $16.16 per hour, while the annual average wage of the remaining 50% of medical assistants was more than $33,610 per annum and $16.16 per hour.
  • 75% of medical assistants took home less than $39,190 per annum and $18.84 per hour, while the remaining 25% of professionals earned more than $39,190 per annum and $18.84 per hour.
  • 90% of MAs were paid less than $47,250 per year and $22.72 per hour, whereas the remaining 10% of medical assistants were paid more than $47,250 per year and $22.72 per hour.

Salary of Medical Assistants in Different Healthcare Settings

Healthcare Settings Salary
Offices of chiropractors $29,960
Offices of physicians $33,650
Hospitals; private, state and local $34,980
Outpatient care centers $35,600

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (as of May 2018)

Related Careers for Medical Assistants

After completing certification and getting exposure to various healthcare areas, MAs can advance their careers in allied health management, medical coding, nursing, etc. as transcription supervisor, healthcare administrator, medical assistant instructor, medical office manager, clinical team leader, lead medical assistant, etc.


Dental Assistant

Dental assistants are the essential members of the dental care team who assists dentists in various treatment procedures. From patient care and x-rays to scheduling appointments and recordkeeping, dental assistants perform varied tasks.


Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists work to promote optimum oral health. They formulate a patient-centered dental care plan, educate patients regarding preventive oral care and oral hygiene, and evaluate the outcome of educational strategies.


Physical Therapist Assistants

Physical therapy assistants work with physical therapists to ensure overall wellness and fitness, relieve pain, and improve mobility in patients having movement difficulties due to disease or injury. From children to elderly, they provide care for patients of all ages.


Medical Records and Health Informatics Technician

These professionals organize and manage health-related data and information in both electronic systems and paper files. They ensure the quality, accessibility, accuracy, and security of data in compliance with the legal, regulatory, and ethical requirements of the healthcare system.



Phlebotomists perform venipuncture to draw blood from a patient for transfusions, donations, or medical testing. They may work in blood donation centers, doctors’ offices, nursing homes, clinical laboratories, etc.


Occupational Therapy Assistants

These are the medical professionals who help patients suffering from disabilities, injuries, and illnesses perform routine activities. They prepare and implement treatment plans for patients and monitor their progress. They help patients do stretches, exercises, and other therapeutic activities.


Licensed Practical Nurse

Licensed practical nurses work under the supervision of doctors and registered nurses to provide primary nursing care to patients. They take vital signs, assist patients in bathing and movement, administer medications, report any change in the health condition of patients to doctors, etc.


Pharmacy Technician

Pharmacy technicians assist pharmacists in preparing and distributing medicines to patients. They may get employment in grocery stores, drugs, hospitals, and other medical settings.