Thursday, June 30, 2011

Medical Assistants Have to Make a Living

The year 2010 has come and gone and 2011 is in full swing. We saw it coming and the US Department of Labor's predictions proved to be right: the health care industry is booming and medical assistants are once again needed more than ever. If you check the wanted ads in your local newspaper, or on major job sites such as Indeed or, you will find that jobs for medical assistants open and close daily just about everywhere.

Where Do Medical Assistants Work?
Metropolitan areas with the highest employment level for medical assistants:
Metropolitan areaEmployment(1)Employment per thousand jobsLocation quotient (9)Hourly mean wageAnnual mean wage (2)
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA Metropolitan Division24,1506.331.54$14.63$30,430
New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY-NJ Metropolitan Division12,7102.550.62$15.72$32,690
Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL Metropolitan Division11,1803.160.77$15.22$31,670
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX11,0404.421.07$14.46$30,080
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ8,9905.341.30$15.42$32,070
Dallas-Plano-Irving, TX Metropolitan Division8,9504.471.09$14.74$30,660
Philadelphia, PA Metropolitan Division8,7704.861.18$15.31$31,850
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA8,5403.880.94$14.42$29,990
Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, CA Metropolitan Division7,7305.631.37$15.15$31,510
San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA7,6406.161.50$15.18$31,570

Medical Assistant Pay
Monthly and annual pay rates for medical assistants vary. If you are a medical assistant in Alaska, District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, or Hawaii then you are also fortunate enough to enjoy top pay for this occupation. While hourly wags for medical assistants can range between $10 per hour for new graduates and $15 for experienced medical assistants in any State, medical assistants in Alaska earn a whopping $18 dollars, or more, closely matched by medical assistants in and around Washington, DC who earn $17 per hour, or more. That is impressive.

Top paying States for Medical Assistants:
*Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics as of 2010
StateEmployment(1)Employment per thousand jobsLocation quotient (9)Hourly mean wageAnnual mean wage (2)
District of Columbia1,5102.360.57$17.69$36,790

If you are a medical assistant wishing to cross train, or specialize in another related health care occupation then you have plenty of choices. Health care occupations range from in-home, to ambulatory and to acute and emergency care. The field is wide open and large. With additional training and experience medical assistants can land jobs in numerous medical and health care assisting positions, even as pharmacy aides and dental assistants. Some states my have specific requirements, or may require certain limited licenses for those who will be operating x-ray equipment, or be directly involved in invasive procedures, such as phlebotomy and blood specimen processing procedures, laying catheters and initiating IV lines.

Healthcare Support Occupations
United States
May 2010 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates
Wage Estimates
Occupation CodeOccupation Title (click on the occupation title to view an occupational profile)Employment(1)Median HourlyMean HourlyMean Annual(2)Mean RSE (3)
31-0000Healthcare Support Occupations3,962,930$11.90$12.94$26,9200.2 %
31-1011Home Health Aides982,840$9.89$10.46$21,7600.4 %
31-1012Nursing Aides, Orderlies, and Attendants*1,451,090$11.54$12.09$25,1400.2 %
31-1013Psychiatric Aides64,730$12.00$12.84$26,7100.7 %
31-2011Occupational Therapy Assistants27,720$24.52$24.66$51,3000.6 %
31-2012Occupational Therapy Aides7,180$13.19$14.95$31,0901.7 %
31-2021Physical Therapist Assistants65,960$23.89$23.95$49,8100.5 %
31-2022Physical Therapist Aides45,900$11.39$12.02$25,0000.6 %
31-9011Massage Therapists60,040$16.78$19.12$39,7701.3 %
31-9091Dental Assistants294,030$16.09$16.41$34,1400.4 %
31-9092Medical Assistants523,260$13.87$14.31$29,7600.3 %
31-9093Medical Equipment Preparers47,310$14.18$14.59$30,3500.4 %
31-9094Medical Transcriptionists78,780$15.82$16.12$33,5300.4 %
31-9095Pharmacy Aides49,580$10.31$10.98$22,8301.0 %
31-9096Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers70,530$10.60$11.38$23,6600.7 %
31-9799Healthcare Support Workers, All Other*193,980$14.56$15.23$31,6700.4 %
 *Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Any medical assistant wishing to enter into one of the above listed fields must research whether there are certain educational, or licensing requirements within their State of residency and the location where they will practice their skill.

**Additional information, including the hourly and annual 10th, 25th, 75th, and 90th percentile wages and the employment percent relative standard error, is available in the BLS website downloadable XLS files.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Work for a Chiropractor

Accepting a position under the employ of a chiropractor is an excellent way for anyone, including medical assistants, to make a difference within their community and brings advancement opportunities along with certain benefits and decent pay.

Chiropractic Technologist or Chiropractic Assistant

Just like their medical assistant counterparts in a medical doctor's practice, the chiropractic technologist, or chiropractic assistant works under the direct supervision of a licensed chiropractor, performing both clerical and clinical tasks. While their scope of practice may vary from office to office and state laws and regulations generally may differ from state to state, their duties are assigned based on their qualifications and training and, of course, their ability to communicate, lift, escort, and position patients. The goal is to follow and achieve progressive treatment plan outcomes as defined by a medical physician, and/or the chiropractor.

The chiropractor's office hours typically are Monday through Friday from 8:00AM to 5:00PM; no holidays and weekends, unless they keep their office open on Saturdays to accommodate patients that cannot come in during regular work-week hours.

While chiropractors run their administrative and front office similar to any other medical practice and take a medical history the same way other health care providers do, when they examine their patients they primarily look at:
  • Muscle strength versus weakness
  • Patient's posture in different positions
  • Spinal range of motion
  • Structural abnormalities

Where Will I Work?

The vast majority of chiropractors operate their own practice; others are partners in a group practice, or partnership office setting. Their daily routine includes nutritional counseling, application and removal of supports and wraps, hot and cold compresses, exercises, decompression, physical and massage therapy regimens, rehab and weight loss counseling, acupuncture and sometimes general medical services. Many recommend nutritional products and natural supplements, ointments and topicals, herbals, pillows, mattresses and orthotics to relief neck pain, back pain, stiff joints and muscle tension.

One important employment prerequisite might be to have a limited x-ray license, since radiological imaging is such a big part of the chiropractor's work. Those wishing to enter into this newly emerging career must research whether there are any specific licensing requirements in their state of residency and the location in which they will practice their skill. Read more about excellent career and specialization opportunities for medical assistants working as a chiropractic assistant.

To learn more about the medical assisting career and what a medical assistant does please visit Medical Assistant Net on the Web.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Am I Just a Cheap Nurse Substitute in a Doctor's Office?

Just the other day a certified medical assistant told us the following (with a sigh):

"I've been a certified MA for three years now and I do enjoy it. I have debated going back to school for my RN, but have changed my mind several times considering my age, duration and cost of school and ultimately the luxury of having weekends and holidays off. I've accepted the fact that I am a "cheap nurse" for a doctor's office, however these few perks seem to justify the demands of the job.  I'm in the field of pediatrics so you can imagine the chaos and "cash cow" pace of getting screaming kids in and out in a timely manner so the office owner makes his quota of  kids.  Awful, but it's a job. Sometimes I feel overworked and underpaid."

Not Enough Medical Assistant Pay?

I wish I had a dollar for every medical assistant who tells me that one of their biggest gripes is the relatively low pay they receive. They feel their pay is too low for what they do, which is frustrating to them. If a medical assistant states: "I am not happy with my pay!" I cannot help but ask: "How much do you make and could there be something that's holding you back?" Then, I suggest...

Change Your Belief, or Change Your Profession!

That my sound extreme, but as in any field the medical assistant salary is commensurate with the person's level of education, training, certification and years of experience. I cannot emphasize it enough: employers, in this case often doctors, select suitable candidates not only by their training and skill level, but also by how much (or should I say, how LITTLE) they are able to get away with in paying them.

Wages & Employment Trends

National Median wages (2008) = $13.60 hourly
Employment (2006) = 417,000 employees
Projected growth (2006-2016) = Much faster than average (21% or higher)
Projected need (2006-2016) = 199,000 additional employees

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 2008 wage data 2006-2016 employment projections
Medical assistants must realize: when it comes to your pay you are NOT helpless! Nor is the situation hopeless. Many ask: "How can I compete with the rest and prove that I am the most qualified candidate for the position during the job interview?" While you may not (yet) have years of experience under the belt, you certainly have already shown that you are serious and dedicated to your profession and future by becoming a medical assistant in the first place If you have earned a medical assistant diploma from a formal training program, then more power to you! After all, if you have solid training, hands-on experience and credentials (if you took a recognized national certification exam), so you have an advantage when it comes to wages, landing the better positions and getting promotions—simply by having distinguished yourself from the rest. Of course, you will also have a valuable tool to negotiate during the job interview.

Here are more tips how underpaid medical assistants can use their credentials and specialization to pave the way to better pay. To learn more about the medical assisting career and what a medical assistant does please visit Medical Assistant Net on the Web.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Medical Assistants Who Want to Specialize In Phlebotomy

More and more medical assistants want to specialize in the phlebotomy field. They enjoy the direct patient interaction and simply are very good at drawing blood. Medical assisting training programs typically provide extensive phlebotomy training as part of their standard curriculum. Others are trained right on the job in the art of venipuncture and finger sticks. Furthermore, workshops and sponsored 2-5 day courses are offered in many locations everywhere. If there aren't any workshops, or on the job training opportunities offered to become a phlebotomist/phlebotomy technician in your area, you might have go the route of general health care programs that lead to the desired certificate, diploma, or degree. Click here for more details and tips about becoming a phlebotomy technologist and the many training opportunities and avenues.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Medical Assistants and Medication Errors

We want to remind all practicing medical assistants that medication errors refer to errors in the processes of ordering, transcribing, dispensing, administering, or monitoring medications, irrespective of the outcome (i.e., injury to the patient). 

One example is an order written for amoxicillin without a route of administration. Other medication errors have a greater potential for patient harm and so are often designated as "serious medication errors" or "potential ADEs"—e.g., an order for amoxicillin in a patient with past anaphylaxis to penicillin.

We also want to remind medical assistants who call in prescription orders to a pharmacy, or approve prescription refills for a patient to do this ONLY upon approval from the doctor. Only call in orders that are logged in the patient's medical chart. Any prescriptions or refill orders completed and called in to the pharmacy should then also be annotated, dated and initialed by the medical assistant who made the call (you!).

  • Always legibly identify yourself by signature, or initials

  • All entries in the medical record must be signed by the author. Federal law mandates that only the author can sign his/her entries in medical records.

  • Abbreviation to Avoid Intended Meaning Misinterpretation Correction
    D/C discharge discontinue Premature discontinuation of medication (intended to mean discharge) especially when followed by a list of discharge medications. Use "discharge" and "discontinue"
    MgSO4 Magnesium sulfate Morphine sulfate
    MSO4 Morphine sulfate Magnesium sulfate
    MTX Methotrexate Mitoxantrone
    ZnSO4 Zinc sulfate Morphine sulfate
    q.d. or QD every day Mistaken as q.i.d. especially if the period after the "q" or the tail of the "q" is misunderstood as an "I". Use "daily" or "every day" If abbreviation is used, capitalize and avoid use of periods.
    q.o.d. or QOD every other day Misinterpreted as "qd"(daily) or "qid" (four times daily) if the "o" is poorly written Use "every other day". If abbreviation is used, capitalize and avoid use of periods.
    U or u units Read as zero (0) or a four (4) causing a 10-fold overdose or greater (4U seen as "40" or 4u seen as "44"). Unit has no acceptable abbreviations. Use "unit".
    IU international units Misread as IV (intravenous) Use "units"
    TIW three times a week Mistaken as "three times a day" Spell out "three times a week"

    Monday, June 06, 2011

    Drug Sales Rep Visit In a Medical Office

    This day starts with a drug sales rep brush-off: While at the optical shop where several ophthalmologists and their assistants were working diligently to serve their customers and patients, I observed one of the employees answering the ringing phone, exchanging a few brief words with the person who had just called and then hanging up with an audible "clank" as the receiver hit the phone's cradle. I thought I heard her say: "No thanks, we are all set!" as she hung up.

    The same instance she was hanging up the phone she gleefully swung herself around toward me and she declared proudly: "Boy, that felt really good!" I didn't know what she meant and so I politely asked what she meant. "Well," she said "this was one of these drug reps and I just love to tell them off. We only allow those we already know to come in." So, it was having given a drug sales rep the brush-off that had just made her day.

    Doctors Closing their Door to Drug Salesmen

    This scene instantly reminded me of an article I had come across a few years ago while I still was a medical assistant student. The article was titled "Doctors Closing their Door to Drug Salesmen". I seem to remember that the article stated that the number of drug sales reps has grown from nearly 45,000 to almost 88,000 in just two years. This would have been between 1996 and 1998 when I was still in medical assisting school.

    I recall that I used this article for an essay on pharmaceutical drugs and drug promotion. I was writing about the pharmaceutical industry and how it had spent more than $16 billion that year to persuade doctors to prescribe their company's drugs. On top of that they had invested nearly $10 billion for free samples of various drugs that were widely advertised to consumers. In my essay, I was trying to highlight any pros and cons.

    After my work was turned in, reviewed and graded, I remember a few words of wisdom provided by my instructor. As she was sharing her experiences out in the field as an RN she mentioned that she had witnessed drug representatives resorting to excessive means in an attempt to ward off competition and win over physicians and their prescription pads. Their goal was to outdo generic competition and to maximize sales of drugs protected by patents, which if they were successful, would earn them their hefty commissions.

    Accepting the Peace Pipe Offerings from Drug Reps

    Upon graduation, I worked in my role as a certified medical assistant in different medical offices, from small private practices to larger group practices and indeed drug reps were calling the office regularly to see when they could come in to promote their products. It usually was us medical assistants working up front at the reception desk who booked them and informed the doctor when they would be coming in, usually during lunch time.

    Drug Samples, Ink Pens and Scratch Pads
    Along with their heavy bags full of sample products and brochures, the pharmaceutical reps would also bring a wide variety of promotional gifts, from ink pens and scratch pads with their logo for the medical assistants, to titanium golf clubs and other extravagant gifts for the doctor, especially around Christmas. A delivery boy would already have dropped off the drug company funded lunch for the entire staff and we would set it up in our staff break and lunch room area. Once the lunch was over and the tables cleared, the drug rep would proceed to give a brief presentation, a mini lecture of sorts, to us and the doctor about the product they came to promote.

    Nice People with a Difficult Job

    Personally, I do not particularly like or dislike the drug reps and I do not doubt for a single moment that drug reps are professional, educated and nice people with a difficult job. I hope that the doctors they visit during these lunches and lectures are independent thinkers and will not sell out their patients to the drug companies and the products they promote and sometimes "push".

    Regardless, whether I like the drug reps, or not; or whether I agree, or disagree with their methods to get a moment of attention to grasp a foothold in the available territory, it is clear to me that many needy patients will benefit from the medication samples and the medical assistants will benefit from the free continued education classes they provide from time to time.

    As far as the free ink pens, scratch pads and lunches, a medical assistant colleague once said to me, that if we don't take them, someone else will. Goes to show that not everybody in a medical office objects to accepting promotional gifts from the heavily funded drug industry. Chances are, she probably had made a good point! As a medical assistant I eventually learned to value the information and education and even the pens I receive from qualified drug rep professionals.

    Medical Assistants and the Drug Rep Routine

    As a medical assistant you will face drug reps, some good, some pushy, all trying to do their job and detail a practicing doctor or clinician about new pharmaceutical products and drugs. We all appreciate a break in our job, so let's remember to give the reps a break, too. Less and less have drug samples to give out, but all have good information to share and, of course, the sticky pads of paper and ink pens with their company's logo.

    Although it may look strange to the patients and be a bit bothersome to the working medical office staff when the drug reps are standing there in their dark business suits on a busy day waiting for the doctor to take a break, or for us medical assistants to finally take them to the back office area where they can leave their samples, I was always thankful for the treats and a well spent hour leaning about new medications on the market.