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How to Become a Medical Assistant

Alternate Career Titles:

Certified Medical Assistant, CMA

Medical Assistant Job Description: Medical Assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks varying upon employer and specialty

Medical Assistant Salary (Annual): $34,800

Medical Assistant Salary Range: $25,820 to $48,720

How Long To Become a Medical Assistant: 1 to 2 years

Medical Assistant Requirements: Certificate

How to Become a Medical Assistant

Become a Medical Assistant

Career Description

A Medical Assistant is responsible for completing administrative and clinical tasks for healthcare facilities and providers. Additionally, these professionals take and record confidential patient information using Electronic Health Records, only discussing this information with other professionals who are helping to treat a patient.

“One of the greatest parts of entering medical assisting is that this career in healthcare can be an entry point to other nursing and patient care positions,” Erika Spalty, CMA, a Certified Medical Assistant in South Carolina, said.

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Education & Training

To become a Medical Assistant, a professional is typically required to graduate from a post-secondary education program at a community college, vocational school, technical school or university to obtain a certificate. This usually takes about 1 year to complete, but some students choose to complete a 2-year program at a college that will result in an Associate’s Degree. In some states, there are no formal educational requirements, but many employers prefer to hire Medical Assistants who have obtained certification. Learn about other careers achievable in under two years!

“Usually education requirements depend on the state, but most require at least a technical diploma,” Spalty confirmed. “Then, depending on the school you can take a test to become a Certified Medical Assistant, Certified Clinical Medical Assistant or Registered Medical Assistant. I myself did not take a test.”


“To advance in a career as a MA, a person can continue their education and learn a specialization. Alternatively an MA can advance by moving into a team leader or supervisory role” Spalty said.

So, in the field as a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA), some professionals choose to pursue additional education, perhaps earning an Associate’s Degree. Others develop specializations, such as becoming an Administrative Medical Assistant, Clinical Medical Assistant, Ophthalmic Medical Assistants or Podiatric Medical Assistant, and move into leadership roles.

Experience & Skills

To become a successful Medical Assistant, professionals should be able to use Electronic Health Records to record patient history and data, measure vital signs and help physicians perform patient examinations as needed. Medical Assistants must possess important technical skills so that they can operate basic clinical instruments such as stethoscopes, blood pressure monitors, syringes and needles. They should also be able to give patients injections or medications (as directed by a physician and as permitted by State law), schedule appointments and prepare blood samples for laboratory testing.

“To perform the necessary responsibilities, MAs need to know medical terminology, ICD 10 codes, basic pharmacology, how to draw blood and how to take vital signs,” Spalty said.


Medical Assistants should possess strong interpersonal and analytical skills, as patients need to be able to discuss personal information and problems with these professionals. They should also be detail oriented, and able to accurately record and relay patient information/data, as well as to collect data/results and code a patient’s medical records for billing.

“Empathy is the most important characteristic,” Spalty assured.


Most CMAs work full-time, and many work evenings, weekends or holidays to accommodate patients and to ensure that all shifts are covered within facilities that are constantly open.

“A Medical Assistant’s day is usually very busy. They are usually the patient’s first point of contact with the healthcare facility,” Spalty said.


There’s no better time to beginning a path toward becoming a Medical Assistant than now! With Medical Assistants having held about 634,400 positions coupled with a projected growth of 23 percent over the next decade, this profession has proven to become increasingly in demand. But why? As the baby-boom population continues to age, there has been an increase in demands for preventative healthcare services, as well as administrative and clinical duties. As Medical Assistants assume more of the basic preliminary care, Family Physicians, Physician Assistants, Registered Nurses, Nurse Practitioners, Licensed Practical Nurses and are able to tend to more patients.

With the majority working in primary care facilities, a steadily growing sector within the healthcare industry, the highest employing facilities of Medical Assistants are the offices of Physicians, state, local and private hospitals, outpatient care centers and the offices of Chiropractors. Additionally, the highest paying states of Medical Assistants include California, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and New York.

“The best ways for MAs to find employment stem from career services from their school and career search engines such as,” added Spalty.


There is great salary potential in a career as a Certified Medical. Assistant. For example, the median annual wage for someone in the role was $34,800, whereas the top 10 percent made more than $48,720. While the lowest 10 percent made less than $25,820 there exists great potential for raises and advancement.

Additionally, the highest paying employers include outpatient care centers, state, local and private hospitals, the offices of physicians and chiropractors. The highest annual wages per state were found to be awarded in Alaska, District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Washington and Minnesota.

“As a MA, professionals can expect decent pay, but they will not become rich from this salary alone,” Spalty said.

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Unions, Groups and Associations

The American Association of Medical Assistants’ mission is to provide the CMA professional with education, certification, credential acknowledgment, networking opportunities, scope-of-practice protection, and advocacy for quality patient-centered health care.

“It helps to network anywhere you can,” Spalty advised. “Facebook groups are a great place to look, as are the American Association of Medical Assistants and American Medical Technologists organizations.”

Interested in learning more? Read more about what Medical Assistants do.

Getting Started

  • Take allied health courses
  • Consider shadowing a career professional
  • Research program options

All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Meet the professional: Erika Spalty

Age: 39
Practice: Previously Virginia Oncology Associates
Location: Florence, SC

What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?

Be serious about this career choice, it is very competitive so make sure you want it.”

What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?

Not researching specifics of scope of practice as a MA. Some places are looking for clinical only, admin only, some want you to do both.”

What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?

They should ask if advancement opportunities are available.”

Why did you choose to become a Medical Assistant?

It was the first step in entering the healthcare field, and I thought it would provide a great foundation for nursing.”

If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?


Credentialing organization: American Association of Medical Assistants

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