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Median Annual Salary
When it comes to the land of opportunity for medical assistants, California may be the place to be. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the state’s median annual salary for medical assistants is $44,650. This is slightly higher than the national median of $38,270.
Median Hourly Wage$21
|Metro area||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
|San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA||$58,630||$42,900||$76,050|
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||$55,980||$38,890||$73,630|
|Santa Rosa, CA||$55,020||$38,490||$73,250|
|Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA||$46,650||$37,360||$65,830|
|San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, CA||$45,090||$35,530||$59,370|
|San Diego-Carlsbad, CA||$43,890||$36,690||$61,550|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. Actual salaries may vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
Several factors are driving this trend, including California’s high cost of living. But other important factors in the mix include meeting the needs of the state’s high-quality healthcare system, increasing demand for highly experienced medical assistants, and major employers that encourage post-graduate education and certification in multiple fields.
Why are Salaries High in California?
California’s high cost of living is one easily identifiable factor behind the higher wages paid to medical assistants. World Population Review reports that with a cost of living index of 151.7, California is the third-most expensive state in the U.S. with notoriously high housing and transportation costs. Only Hawaii and the District of Columbia rank higher. Comparatively, the cost of living index for Texas is 91.5, and Ohio’s is 90.8.
But higher compensation for medical assistants in California isn’t just about the cost of living; it’s also about the professional environment. In California, in addition to solid experience, job postings often stipulate that medical assistants must be certified and have graduated from approved programs. When compared to some states, medical assistants in California tend to have more experience, education, training, and certifications, which tends to increase salaries. In fact, when it comes to professional development, they are at the forefront of national trends.
Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA, chief executive officer and legal counsel for the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) says employers are more aware of the professional abilities of medical assistants these days and entrust them with more responsibility. “Medical assistants are specifically trained to work in ambulatory settings, such as clinics and physicians’ offices,” Balasa says, and employers increasingly see them as key members of the medical team.
Today’s employers seek medical assistants with higher levels of education and training than in the past, Balasa says. Candidates are generally expected to have a formal post-secondary education in medical assisting, which may be a one-year certificate or diploma program, or a two-year associate degree program.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, to help ease the pressure on doctors and nurses, federal agencies and executive orders by state governors expanded medical assistants’ legal scope of practice. According to Balasa, these “government actions have changed—perhaps permanently—the knowledge, skills, and professional attributes medical assistants will be expected to have.”
In California, there are ample opportunities for those with less experience and training who learn medical assisting on-the-job. But those who join larger organizations and move into training/instruction, supervisory, and leadership positions have formal education in the field, several years of experience, multiple certifications (in medical assisting and related fields like phlebotomy, allied health instruction, etc.), and are involved in professional organizations at both the state and national level.
And California appears to have embraced the evolution of the medical assisting role with open arms. The state employs more medical assistants than any other, by a wide margin—and pays for their expertise.
Where in the State are Salaries Highest for Medical Assistants?
No matter where you’d like to live in California, you may find a medical assisting job with an annual salary above the national median, which is the midpoint between the highest and lowest salaries. An examination of the top 15 highest-paying metro areas in California reveals that whether your choice is northern California or southern California, by the sea or inland in one of the valleys, the median annual wage for all but one of these areas is above the national median of $38,270.
California Salaries for Similar Occupations
In addition to medical assistant, there are several other allied health jobs with similar educational options, training requirements, and certification options. For comparison purposes, consider the following jobs:
Earning a Certification
While not technically required, a certification (or three) may be important in demonstrating your expertise and commitment to your chosen profession and may also set you apart from other job candidates.
In California, certification as a medical assistant can impact the jobs you may hold and may lead to increases in your salary. For example, in California, those who train others tend to have higher salaries. According to Kerrie Webb, attorney for the Medical Board of California (MBC), the MBC stipulates that only “qualified” medical assistants are permitted to teach or train other medical assistants. A “qualified medical assistant” is defined as one who has been certified by an MBC-approved certifying organization. In other words, only certified medical assistants are permitted to train others, and job postings often require applicants to be certified to apply for other medical assisting positions as well.
According to Webb, there are five certifying organizations that are board-approved in California:
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