How to Become a Medical Assistant:
The Definitive Guide

Are you interested in getting your start in the medical field, but don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket to start medical school?

Then, you might want to think about becoming a Medical Assistant first.

Medical Assistants work alongside physicians in order to help patients in clinical settings.

As a Medical Assistant, you’ll take on administrative and clinical duties in the workplace.

People that have a love of helping others will make the best Medical Assistants.

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What is a Medical Assistant?

We’ve all been to the doctors, and we’ve all been seen by a Medical Assistant before the doctor begins examining us.

They check our blood pressure and take our vitals, as well as administer shots or other medications necessary.

Working as a Medical Assistant can be a demanding job but helping patients and providing care is the main goal of this career.

You can find a Medical Assistant handling patient files and drawing blood, they work in clinics, doctor’s offices, hospitals, and other medical facilities to treat and care for sick patients as well as patients who need regular care.


Medical Assistants do both clinical and administrative tasks throughout the day.

These lovely people are the ones who keep patient records updated and doctor’s informed about what’s happening with every patient.

Some of the tasks that a Medical Assistant may do throughout the day include:

  • Answering phones
  • Updating medical records
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Taking medical histories
  • Preparing patients for exams
  • Assisting the doctor during exams
  • Taking EKGs
  • Removing sutures
  • Preparing and administering medications


The average salary for a Medical Assistant in the United States is around $35,000 a year.

For Medical Assistants who work in largely populated areas, the pay can be higher.

In California, for example, a Medical Assistant can make as much as $40,000 a year.

While a Medical Assistant who works in Idaho makes around $34,000 a year.

For those that are just starting out as Medical Assistants, the pay can be around $25,000 a year depending on where you work and if you have a college degree.

Most employers will not hire Medical Assistants without some type of degree.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

Annually National Average Salary: $35,720


Average Annual Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$44,530
New Hampshire$37,370
New Jersey$37,330
New Mexico$31,570
New York$38,590
North Carolina$33,380
North Dakota$37,170
Rhode Island$37,270
South Carolina$32,470
South Dakota$31,130
West Virginia$28,710
Puerto Rico$23,340
Virgin Islands$31,940

Annual Average Salary: Top 5 States

The top earning state in the field is Alaska, where the average salary is $45,630.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Alaska - $45,630
District of Columbia - $44,530
Washington - $43,760
Massachusetts - $41,780
Minnesota - $41,710
* Employment conditions in your area may vary. * Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey.
Conducted by: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor.

How to Become a Medical Assistant

Step 1Earn a Degree

In some states, it’s possible to work as a Medical Assistant straight out of high school, but most employers nowadays won’t hire a Medical Assistant without some type of degree.

On average, Medical Assistants work toward an associate’s degree in medical assisting, which can take around two years to finish.

Some medical assisting programs provide online classes, but it is important to gain hands-on experience with in-person classes and clinical’s as well.

Keep that in mind when looking for schools.

Some of the classes you might take through a medical assisting program include:

  • Introduction to Clinical Techniques
  • Clinical Lab Applications
  • Administrative Medical Assistant Practices
  • Medical Terminology
  • Medical Law and Ethics

Most schools require some sort of externship as a graduating requirement as well.

Step 2Gain Experience

Once you have earned your degree, it is time to get some experience.

You should have gotten your first stab at the job during your school program, so many people continue to work for the facility that they worked with during their externship.

However, others look for jobs outside of their college program.

It’s important to gain experience in areas like taking blood, taking blood pressure, and preparing IVs or needles for shots.

Assisting patients and working within a medical facility office will also provide you with the experience needed to continue your journey in the medical field.

While gaining experience, think about any specialties you’d like to get into and focus on those.

Some areas you may be interested include:

  • Pediatrics
  • Obstetrics
  • Geriatric

This way you’ll have more job opportunities and certification availabilities will open up.

Step 3Become Certified

Becoming certified as a Medical Assistant is not legally required, but it is something that many employers want to see on your resume.

Having a certification in Medical Assisting will show your competence in the field and your knowledge of the career.

There are two certifications for Medical Assistants.

  • Certified Medical Assistant
  • Registered Medical Assistant

Both of these require the passing of an exam to complete and will be required to reapply after five years.

You do not need any experience as a Medical Assistant to apply for the Assistant CMA certification.

You will need at least 5 years of experience within the last 7 years.

Even if your employer doesn’t require a certification, it’s important to think about all of the doors a certification could open up in the future.

Step 4Practice Your Skills

After you have gained some experience and become certified, it’s possibly time to think about other steps you can take in the medical field.

Many people believe that working as a Medical Assistant is the stepping stone to start off a career as a Registered Nurse or Doctor.

If you are interested in gaining promotions, working as a medical assistant can provide you with just the right knowledge.

Some of the careers you can look forward to including:

  • Pharmacy technician
  • Medical lab technician
  • Health info technician
  • Registered Nurse
  • Licensed Practical Nurse

Work on empathy, communication skills, and multi-tasking abilities in order to be on the top of your game as a Medical Assistant.


Even though it is not legally required to earn a degree in order to work as a Medical Assistant, it is advised because most employers won’t hire Medical Assistants without some type of degree.

An Associates degree in Medical Assisting will be enough to satisfy future employers.

It’s possible to take a Medical Assistant program online, but it is important to do all clinical’s and internships in person so that you can gain hands-on experience in the field.

Most Associates degrees take around two years to finish, but it’s possible that you may find some programs that last around 18 months.

These programs allow you to take internships or externships for the last six months of your program.

Some of the courses you can expect to take in a Medical Assistant program include:

  • Medical Terminology
  • Phlebotomy
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Patient Care
  • Basic Surgical Assisting
  • Office Administration

If you are not the type of person that wants to earn an Associate’s degree in order to work as a Medical Assistant, there are other programs to look into.

These programs do not end with a degree, but rather a certificate.

It’s possible to do these programs in person or online, and some can take as little as 9 weeks.

Some of the things that you will learn in a typical Medical Assisting program include:

  • How to great patients and answer phones
  • How to update records
  • Taking vital signs and recording them
  • Removing sutures
  • Dressing wounds
  • Scheduling procedures
  • Coding insurance forms

A Medical Assistant has many hats in the world of medicine, so it is important to gain as much knowledge in the field as possible.

No one wants to come to the doctor and feel uncomfortable with their Medical Assistant, so it is your duty to gain experience and education as it comes.

Video About The Career


After having worked as a Medical Assistant for several years, you may be in the market for a career change.

Some things that you can do in order to get the most out of your career as a Medical Assistant are to earn certifications.

There are two certifications that a Medical Assistant can earn:

  • CMA- Certified Medical Assistant
  • RMA- Registered Medical Assistant

A Medical Assistant who does not have any prior experience in the field can register to become a Certified Medical Assistant.

You’ll need to have finished a Medical Assisting program, though.

This certification can be earned by applying for an exam and passing the exam.

There are several areas that someone looking to take this exam should study:

  • Medical Terminology
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Medical Assisting
  • Phlebotomy

The exam consists of about 200 questions and is administered in 4 40 minute intervals.

This exam is only given twice a year, so please check your local program in order to find out when you can sit for it.

The other certification is for a Registered Medical Assistant.

This certification is perfect for Medical Assistants with several years of experience, but want more out of their career.

You must have at least five years of Medical Assistant experience within the last seven years to be eligible for this certification.

It’s important to study up for this exam, as it covers a wide range of information:

  • Medical Assisting knowledge
    • Such as anatomy and physiology, medical law, medical ethics, human relations, patient education
  • Administrative Medical Assisting
    • Insurance, bookkeeping, medical reception
  • Clinical Medical Assisting
    • This can include sterilization, minor surgery, vital signs, laboratory procedures

This exam is also around 200 questions and if you pass the exam you will be considered a Registered Medical Assistant.

Every three years you will need to reapply every three years.

Certification Example:

medical assistant certificate

Average Training Program Duration: 1-2 Years

The length of the training program that you attend depends on the type of program.

The typical Associate’s degree can take anywhere from 18 months to two years to finish.

However, some online programs can take as little as 9-12 weeks to finish.

Just remember, many employers want to see that you have experience and knowledge of the career, not that you finished the program in just a few short weeks.

Popular Degree Programs

Job Outlook

If a career as a Medical Assistant is something that you would like in the future, you shouldn’t worry.

This career will rise in job opportunities at least 23 percent within the next ten years.

Making this career growth much more than average in the same field.

There are many more medical facilities, practices, and clinics popping up around the country every single day.

This calls for a need for more Medical Assistants to complete administrative and clinical duties.

Most employers will likely higher Medical Assistants with some sort of degree or certification.

Medical Assistants with experience with electronic medical health records will likely gain employment faster as well.

Employment Growth Projection: 23%


That's a higher than average projected growth of 154,900 jobs.

Should You Become a Medical Assistant?

Overall Satisfaction

Overall Satisfaction: Medium

Medical Assisting is ranked number 2 of the best jobs to gain without a college degree, however, this could be changing soon.

Those that have worked as Medical Assistants think that it is wonderful to help people and work in a medical environment.

The hours can be long, but they are worth it when you are helping others.

There is not much upward mobility in this career, especially without a degree.

The stress level is about average with careers in the same field.

Average Salary

Average Salary: Low

On average, a Medical Assistant working in the United States will make around $35,000 a year.

For those just starting out with less experience, the salary can be around $25,000 a year.

With experience, education, and certification it’s possible for a Medical Assistant to make up to $45,000 a year.

Other factors that may tie into salary include the population of the city in which you work as well as the type of facility.

Medical Assistants working in places like Washington DC or New York will likely make more money than someone working in Maine or South Dakota.

Job Growth Outlook

Job Growth Outlook: Low

There will be a major rise in job opportunities for Medical Assistants within the next ten years.

This career is projected to grow around 23 percent, which is much higher than the average position in the medical field.

Those that are interested in working as a Medical Assistant should think about earning a degree, as those with a degree are more likely to be hired.

Medical Assistants who have experience with electronic medical records and have clinical experience will also gain employment faster.

Education Duration

Education Duration: 1-2 Years

On average, people who want to become Medical Assistants earn an Associate’s degree in Medical Assisting.

A typical Associates degree can take anywhere from 18 months to two years to complete.

Even though it is not legally required to earn any type of degree to become a Medical Assistant, many employers will not hire you if you don’t have one.

There are online programs and other programs available at universities that can take as little as 18 months to complete, however, these may not provide the internship or externship required for hands-on experience.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

In order to work as a Medical Assistant, it’s important that you are organized and able to multi-task.

These qualities will help you succeed in your career.

Some other qualities that you should have if you want to be a Medical Assistant are:

  • Office skills
  • Medical administrative skills
  • Empathy
  • Patience
  • Ability to prioritize problems
  • Detail-oriented
  • Ability to adapt
  • Knowledge of the medical field
  • Active listening
  • Ability to remain calm and support
  • People person
  • Good communication skills
  • Problem-solving skills

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the average salary of a Medical Assistant?

On average across the United States, a Medical Assistant can make around $35,000 a year.

When just starting out, the average salary is around $25,000 a year.

For Medical Assistants who have a lot of education, experience, and certifications, the salary is around $45,000 typically.

This means that with more education and experience, you will earn more money.

It’s also possible to earn more money in places with larger populations or higher socioeconomic statuses.

Q. How long does it take to become a Medical Assistant?

The length of your education to become a Medical Assistant is up to you.

Generally speaking, an Associate’s degree in Medical Assisting will take around two years to complete.

However, there are some online or accelerated programs that can take as little as 9-12 weeks to finish.

Keep in mind, employers look for Medical Assistants who know what they are doing and are competent in the career, so sometimes a quick education isn’t enough.

Q. What does a Medical Assistant do?

A Medical Assistant is the person you see at the doctor’s office before the doctor comes into the room.

They usually check your temperature, take your blood pressure, and ask you any questions that will help the doctor examine you.

It’s also possible that the Medical Assistant takes blood, gives shots, and provides assistance during exams and surgery.

There may be times, as well, when a Medical Assistant does office work like answering phones and greeting patients.

Q. What is the demand for Medical Assistants?

This career is one of the highest in demand in the country.

It looks as if the career of Medical Assisting will rise around 23 percent within the next decade.

This is a lot more than other careers in the medical field.

The reason for this spike is because there are a lot more facilities opening up, and also many employers are requiring at least an Associate’s degree in Medical Assisting in order to be hired.

Q. How much does it cost to become a Medical Assistant?

The price to become a Medical Assistant can change depending on where you earn a degree.

Most community colleges cost around $15,000 to $25,000 to earn an Associate’s degree.

Other universities may cost as much as $30,000 to earn an Associate’s degree.

There are online programs that may cost less, anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000 a year.

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