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California Medical Assistant Salaries

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Home » Blog » California Medical Assistant Salaries
sheila mickool

Written and reported by:
Sheila Mickool
Contributing writer

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 average annual salary for medical assistants is $44,780, while the median (midpoint) for those in the position is $38,780. This is substantially higher than the national average of $38,190 and the national median of $37,190.

Medical Assistant Salary in CaliforniaAnnual Salary
Lowest 10 percent$30,210
25th percentile$36,690
Median 50 percent$38,780
75th percentile$48,770
Highest 10 percent$61,800

In this Article

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.

Today’s employers seek medical assistants with higher levels of education and training than in the past.

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 average of $37,190.

Top-Paying California Metro Areas

Metro Area Median Annual Salary
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA $60,080
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA $55,650
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA $54,920
Santa Rosa, CA $48,810
Napa, CA $48,510
Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, CA $48,380

Which States Pay Medical Assistants More Than California?

For the curious at heart: Yes, there are states that pay more than California. In District of Columbia, for example, the BLS says the annual wage is $46,690, but there are only 1,960 medical assistant jobs in the state. In contrast, California’s annual wage is $44,780, with 97,640 medical assistant jobs.

Other states that pay medical assistants well include:

  • Washington state: $47,320 (17,360 medical assistants)
  • District of Columbia: $46,690 (1,960 medical assistants)
  • Massachusetts: $44,200 (13,730 medical assistants)
  • Alaska: $46,390 (1,700 medical assistants)

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:

Dental Laboratory Technician


What they do: Construct and repair dentures and dental appliances

California average annual salary: $46,730

Medical Administrative Assistant


What they do: Handle clerical and administrative duties in a healthcare environment

California average annual salary: $46,400

Medical Records Specialist


What they do: Compile, process, and maintain medical records of healthcare patients

California average annual salary: $57,950

Pharmacy Technician


What they do: Prepare prescription medication and interact with patients

California average annual salary: $49,990

Phlebotomist


What they do: Draw blood for tests, transfusions, research, and blood donations

California average annual salary: $48,070

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:

  • American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)
  • American Medical Certification Association (AMCA)
  • American Medical Technologists (AMT)
  • California Certifying Board of Medical Assistants (CCBMA)
  • Multiskilled Medical Certification Institute (MMCI)
donald balasa

With professional insight from:
Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
Chief Executive Officer and Legal Counsel, American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)

author default image

With professional insight from:
Kerrie Webb
Attorney III, Medical Board of California, Executive Office