Those entering medical field have many options for how they wish to best make a living. Becoming a medical assistant gives you more options than you may be aware of. Before getting into the different paths that you can take as a medical assistant you may want to know a little about the reasons behind entering this fast-growing career field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical assistants should expect a 29% growth in their industry through the year 2022. This growth percentage is much faster than average when compared to other industries. While many students are going to school to become a medical assistant, there are plenty that are unaware of the many options available within the career. Read on to learn about medical assistants, clinical medical assistants, and administrative medical assistants.
As the primary career path for most entering the industry, general medical assistants are jacks of all trades. Straddling the line between clinical and administrative duties they are able to fill in in any role their employer may need. This means that the medical assistant could work in the administrative area of office if somebody calls in sick, and spend the next day working on the clinical side of the business if there is a shortage. This level of knowledge requires more time in school in general, but depending on your goals this may not always be the case.
Expect to spend nine months to a year to earn a certificate or a diploma and 18 months to two years to earn an associate’s degree. To be clear a certificate program is not the same as becoming a certified medical assistant (you can find additional information about certification later in this article and through other research). A certification or diploma program is simply a faster program that does not require as many prerequisite courses for graduation. Earning an associate’s degree will allow you to continue your education at a later date if you so desire, but does take more time. In general, those with an associate’s degree are more likely to earn a higher income and have more job opportunities. The big consideration here is if it is worth spending twice as much time on your education when you could be spending half of that time working as a medical assistant that has already graduated. Medical assistants earn an average income of $43,000 a year as of the time of this writing.
Administrative Medical Assistants
Administrative medical assistants are students that studied the special skills needed at a deeper level to run the business side of the clinic. This is a perfect path to pursue if you prefer to sit behind a desk and focus more on paperwork, billing, scheduling, and insurance concerns. In addition you will spend time setting referral appointments, following up on bills, scheduling follow-up appointments for patients, and discussing payment options with clients.
While the specific duties that you’ll undertake vary based on state regulations most of your time will be spent behind the desk in an office setting. You can expect to spend less time in school, though depending on the level of education you pursue this may not be the case. Some programs are offered that can be completed in as little as six months but there are associate degree programs available for those that are interested. Administrative medical assistants earn an average income of $32,000-$38,000 a year as of the time of this writing.
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Clinical Medical Assistants
For those interested in working directly with patients, clinical medical assisting is likely the best option. While you will have less experience on the administrative side of the business you will have much more knowledge when it comes to working in the clinic. This is a perfect position for those who are interested in helping improve the health of their patients on a more personal level and working directly with doctors. The range of your duties will vary based on state regulations but expect the following; taking test samples, administration of medicine (through shots or orally), sterilization of medical tools, sterilization of patient rooms, working directly with doctors, and discussing health goals with patients.
Your education will generally take anywhere from nine months to two years depending on the level of education you wish to pursue. You can earn a certificate or diploma, or an associate’s degree. This particular specialty is much more hands-on and much more focused on the patients. An associate’s degree may be your best course of action as this a great way to start working towards a higher level degree (such as nursing). This may not be the goal of everyone that enters the clinical medical assisting filled but if you’re able to pursue the degree it is a great way to ensure that your future is open to whatever you may wish to do. As of the time of this writing clinical medical assistants earn an average of $42,000 a year.
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Certifications and Registrations
Before you start enrolling in classes you should think about the likelihood of your desire to earn a certificate or registration upon graduation. In the eyes of employer certifications and registrations are essentially the same. Certification and registration primarily differ by the granting association. The American Association of Medical Assistants offers the CMA (AAMA) which is likely the most popular form of certification. The American Registry of Medical Assistants offers the RMA examination. While both require time and a small financial investment in general you should expect better job opportunities and an income increase averaging $8,000-$10,000 per year.
As you start to speak with potential educators discuss your plans if you think you may want to pursue one of these designations. Many schools offer programs that will help you prepare specifically for the exams which you will be required to take. The requirements for the exams often require a letter of recommendation from an employer or your educator so look for a college or trade school that is well-versed in all that is required as you move towards taking your chosen exam.
Education and Experience
As a final note, it is key to understand how important education and experience are when combined. While education is key to teaching you the skills that are required to be successful in your future career, experience is also extremely important. Finding an employer with an entry-level position that will help you as you pursue your education will make it much easier for you to transition into the workforce upon graduation. The extra experience will also likely increase your income expectations. Spend time talking to local employers to find out who has entry-level positions available, even if they are only internships.
You may be concerned about balancing your education and your workload, but through an online education you will be able to earn your degree without the time constraints impacting your current job. Online educations are offered throughout the country, with the only technical requirements being a word processor and access to the Internet. Most will allow you to study whenever you like with due dates guiding you through your graded assignments and exams. This freedom allows you to work a full-time job while taking as many hours as you are comfortable with in school. Continue your research and speaking with schools and local employers and you will be in the career that you desire in no time at all.