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 $42,990, while the median (midpoint) for those in the position is $39,520. This is substantially higher than the national average of $36,930 and the national median of $35,850.
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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.
States with the Highest Medical Assistant Employment
|State||Number of MAs||Average Annual Wage|
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 $36,920.
Top-Paying California Metro Areas
|Metropolitan Area||Annual Median Wage|
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara||$48,810|
|San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande||$40,710|
|Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim||$37,080|
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:
Ways to Increase Your Medical Assistant Salary
There are many factors that may impact your potential salary as a medical assistant, including your location, where you work, your experience, your skill set, and your formal education.
You can work as a medical assistant without any prior experience and learn the profession in on-the-job training. However, to enhance your ability to earn top dollar as a medical assistant, consider doing the following to gain experience and exposure:
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:
Getting a Degree
Depending on career goals, experience, and level of education, medical assistants with a diploma or certificate may benefit from earning an associate degree. If you want to go into supervisory or leadership positions or become an instructor, an associate may help you stand out from other job applicants. Additionally, a higher level of education often leads to a higher salary.
Beyond the degree or certificate of graduation, continuing education is also important for medical assistants. The medical field is always changing, and medical assistants, like others in healthcare, need to stay up to date.
According to the BLS, job growth for medical assistants nationwide is forecast to be 18% through 2030, much faster than the 4% average rate of growth for all positions nationally.
California’s Employment Development Department has even higher projections for medical assistant job growth in the state—a robust 24.5% through 2028.
The projected growth is driven by these factors:
Medical assistants have been an essential force for the delivery of high-quality health care in the state for several years—and that trend is expected to continue.
National Projected Job Growth for Similar Jobs, 2020-2030
|Healthcare Career||Projected Job Growth|
|Medical Administrative Assistant||9%|
|Dental Laboratory Technician||12%|
|Medical Records Specialist||9%|
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