Medical Assistant Career Path & Advancement Opportunities

Many people who want to pursue a career in healthcare start out as medical assistants. 

Medical assistants work alongside physicians and get a lot of hands-on experience working with patients. They have opportunities to learn about both clinical and administrative aspects of healthcare. 

If you are thinking of becoming a medical assistant or already are one, you may be wondering what kinds of career advancement opportunities are available after you get some medical assisting experience. 

Medical assistants often go on to become registered nurses, physicians assistants, or healthcare managers. This guide goes over those medical assistant career paths and other advance opportunities.

Medical Assistant Career Path

Becoming a medical assistant is an excellent way to start working in the medical field and earn a decent living. Most people can start working as a medical assistant in just a few weeks or months of training as there are few education requirements.

Here are the steps required to become a medical assistant:

  1. Obtain your GED or high school diploma. Before you can apply for medical assisting jobs or get started in a medical assisting certification program, you must first finish your GED or earn a high school diploma. 
  2. Decide if you want to be certified. In most states, medical assistants are not required to be certified. However, most employers prefer to hire medical assistants who have completed a certification program and passed their exam. 
  3. Choose an educational program. There are many different options available for people who want to complete a training program. You can choose to get a medical assistant certificate online or earn a degree. You can choose in person, online, or hybrid program. Stepful has a 4-month online medical assistant training program that includes an in-person externship and 100% job placement guarantee.
  4. Complete your training and education. A degree program can take up to 2 years to complete, while an online certificate program can be finished in as little as 6 weeks to 4 months. 
  5. Obtain any extra certificates you need. In addition to a medical assisting certificate, you might decide to get extra certifications in phlebotomy or EKG.
  6. Apply for jobs. There are plenty of job opportunities for medical assistants around the country. You can look on job search websites like Indeed or visit offices and clinics in person to fill out an application. 

How Medical Assistants Can Advance Their Careers

As you gain more experience and knowledge as a medical assistant, there may come a time in your career when you want to look for opportunities for advancement. 

One of the great things about working in healthcare is that there is always more to learn and there are many opportunities for growth. 

Whether it is for personal growth, higher pay, or more learning opportunities, here are some of the ways you can further your career in medical assisting: 

  • Get certified. If you are not already certified, getting a certification in medical assisting is one of the best ways that you can increase your opportunities for raises and promotions. 
  • Specialize in a field. Medical assistants can specialize in anything from OB-GYN to pediatrics to cardiology. Find an area of healthcare you are passionate about and look for opportunities in those types of offices or clinics. Some medical assisting specialties offer specialized certifications
  • Train other medical assistants. As you gain more experience and knowledge, you may want to pass that along to other new medical assistants. You could become a trainer for new employees at your clinic or become a medical assistant instructor in a certification program or college. 
  • Become an office manager. Because medical assistants handle so much of the scheduling and planning in the office, medical administrative assistants often go on to become office managers. 
  • Get more education & a new career. Many medical assistants return to school for a more advanced degree after they get some experience working with patients. For example, many students will work as a medical assistant to help them get into med school. The next section I will go over career advancement opportunities for those who want to pursue a more advanced healthcare career. 

Medical Assistant Career Advancement Opportunities

Medical assisting provides a great opportunity for people to learn the basics of healthcare. 

If you work as a medical assistant, you will be exposed to medical terminology, basic procedures, and much more. This makes medical assisting a great starting point before continuing your pursuit of a higher level healthcare career. 

Here are just a few careers that a medical assistant can transition to:

Medical Assistant to Registered Nurse

A registered nurse is a healthcare provider that can work in a hospital, nursing home, clinic, home health, operating room, and many other areas. They may work in critical care areas like intensive care units or medical transport teams, or they might work in office jobs doing cart reviews and insurance claims. 

They spend their days taking care of patients, administering medications, taking care of hygiene needs, and performing some procedures. Nurses do things Ike place IVs, perform dressing changes, assist with operations, and perform patient assessments. 

Nurses have to attend a minimum of 2 years of school after high school graduation. They must complete an accredited program and then pass a licensing examination. 

Registered nurses can continue their education to become nurse practitioners or certified registered nurse anesthetists. 

Nurses earn about $77,600 per year and job opportunities are expected to grow 6% from 2020-2030. 

  • Additional Education Required. Two years. Requires at least an associate degree
  • Salary Difference. From $37,190 (medical assistants) to $77,600 (registered nurses).
  • Job Outlook for Registered Nurses. Job opportunities for registered nurses are average, with a 6% growth rate expected between 2021-2031. 

>> Read More: How to Go From Medical Assistant to Registered Nurse

Medical Assistant to Physician Assistant

A physician assistant is similar to a doctor. They can assess, diagnose, and prescribe treatment for patients under the supervision of a medical doctor. 

Physician assistants usually work in clinics and doctors offices, but can also work in hospitals and operating rooms. Physicians assistants can assist in surgeries, perform invasive procedures, and prescribe medications. 

Becoming a physician assistant usually takes anywhere from 5 to 8 years. To become a physician assistant, you must complete a master's degree through an accredited program, and then pass a licensure exam. Most physician assistant programs require that you have some type of healthcare experience before you begin your official education. 

Physician assistant in the United States will earn $121,530 per year, on average. The job outlook for physician assistants is one of the best in healthcare, with an expected growth rate of 28% between 2020 and 2030. 

  • Additional Education Required. About 5-8 years of school to complete a Master’s Degree in Physicians Assisting. 
  • Salary Difference. From $37,190 (medical assistants) to $121,530 per year (physician assistant).
  • Job Outlook for Physician Assistants. Job opportunities for physician assistants are expected to increase 28% between 2021 and 2031.

>> Read More: How to Go From Medical Assistant to Physician Assistant

Medical Assistant to Healthcare Management

Healthcare managers organize, plan, and direct different healthcare organizations. They may manage entire hospital systems or specific healthcare teams and units. 

Healthcare managers oversee things like schedules, budgeting, and quality improvement goals for health care facilities. 

Becoming a healthcare manager requires at least a bachelor's degree and usually a masters degree. Degrees that work well for healthcare managers include both healthcare and business courses. Healthcare managers might start out as medical assistants, nurses, or social workers. 

Healthcare managers usually earn around $101,340 per year, but this can vary greatly depending on the type of facility where you work. For example, larger hospital systems usually pay much more than local clinics. 

The job outlook for healthcare managers is similar to that of a physician's assistant, with 28% job growth expected from 2020 to 2030. 

  • Additional Education Required. At least a bachelor's degree, preferably a masters degree, which requires between 4 and 6 years of schooling.
  • Salary Difference. From $37,190 (medical assistant) to $101,340 (healthcare management).
  • Job Outlook for Healthcare Management. Healthcare managers are in high demand, with 28% job growth expected between 2021 and 2031.

Medical Assistant Health Information Technologist

Medical assisting is also a great starting pace for someone who wants to advance to health information management. The skills you’ll learn as a medical assistant like medical billing and terminology can be very useful for a career in health information management. 

Health information technologists spend their days working with patient data. They organize the information and help create better systems to improve health outcomes. They get to analyze data from all over the world and may work with disease registry systems or be the first to learn about new healthcare discoveries. 

Health information technologists usually need at least an associate degree in healthcare, computer systems, or both. They should have a good understanding of medical terminology and be able to use advanced computer organization systems.

Health information technologists typically earn about $55,500 per year. Job outlook for these jobs is better than the national average, at 17%. 

  • Additional Education Required. At least an associate degree in healthcare, computer systems, or something similar.
  • Salary Difference. From $37,190 (medical assistant) to $55,500 (health information technologists).
  • Job Outlook for Health Information Technologists. This is a rapidly growing career field, with job opportunities expected to increase 17% from 2021 to 2031. 

Medical Assistant to Dental Hygienist

A dental hygienist works in a dentists or orthodontist office. They spend their days cleaning their patients teeth, giving fluoride treatments, taking x-rays, and assisting with other dental procedures. 

Dental hygienists get to work a hands-on, fast paced job in healthcare while enjoying a schedule that follows normal business hours. 

Becoming a dental hygienist requires at least an associates degree. You can earn a dental hygiene degree through a university, state college, or technical school. Most programs last between 18 months to three years. 

Dental hygienists are in high demand all over the country and earn a decent salary of about $77,800 per year. 

Some dental hygienists choose to become agency workers, where they travel around to different offices each day, but earn much more than permanent office workers. 

  • Additional Education Required. Associate or bachelors degree. Programs last between 18 months and 4 years. 
  • Salary Difference. From $37,190 (medical assistant) to $77,800 per year (dental hygienist).
  • Job Outlook for Dental Hygienist. Between 2021 and 2031, job opportunities for dental hygienists are expected to increase by 9%.

Medical Assistant to Medical Claims Examiner

A medical claims examiner is someone who works with patients and insurance companies to assess claims and determine whether a loss is covered by the insurance company. They ensure that claims are paid out fairly and that fraudulent claims are not paid out at all. 

Medical claims examiners might work for an insurance company, the government, or hospitals. Some medical claims examiners are even able to work from home or remotely, allowing them some freedom to travel while they work. 

One benefit of becoming a medical claims examiner is that it pays an average of $64,710 per year, and often only requires a high school diploma. Medical assistants who want to increase their salary without returning to school may be able to get a job as a medical claims examiner. 

Much of the training for medical claims examiners is done on the job. 

  • Additional Education Required. A high school diploma is the only educational requirement, although experience in the healthcare or insurance industry is extremely helpful. .
  • Salary Difference. From $37,190 (medical assistants) to $64,710 (medical claims examiner).
  • Job Outlook for Medical Claims Examiners. Unfortunately, medical claims examiners are expected to have a decrease in job outlook, with available opportunities expected to decrease by 6% through 2031.

Medical Assistant to Respiratory Therapist

Similar to nurses, respiratory therapists usually work in hospitals, clinics, and long term care centers. However, unlike nurses, a respiratory therapist focuses mostly on a patient's breathing and lung function. 

In a hospital, the respiratory therapist is in charge of the ventilators and other breathing machines, and can even put breathing tubes for patients in an emergency. 

Respiratory therapists are in high demand in hospitals, especially in critical care units like emergency departments and neonatal intensive care units. Respiratory therapists must earn at least an associate degree, but many employers require a bachelor’s degree. 

Respiratory therapists earn about $61,830 per year. They have a good job outlook, with 14% growth rate expected over the next 10 years.

  • Additional Education Required. Becoming a respiratory therapist requires at least an associate degree and often a bachelor's degree. 
  • Salary Difference. From $37,190 (medical assistant) to $61,830 (respiratory therapist).
  • Job Outlook for Respiratory Therapists. Job opportunities for respiratory therapists are expected to increase by 14% through 2031.

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