Medical Assistant Programs and Certification in Washington State
When it comes to medical assisting, Washington is an unusual state. It has a statewide licensing program for medical assistants. It has also amassed quite a bit of information about its medical assistant workforce.
Accredited Medical Assistant Programs in Washington State
Spokane Community College offers the option of an associate’s degree or certificate. The program holds continuing CAAHEP accreditation and posts very solid job placement rates. Students complete a 198-hour externship.
Peninsula College in Port Angeles, a program with initial CAAHEP accreditation, attracted some attention soon after its launch. Students achieved some very high examination scores – among the highest in the nation.
Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood, also CAAHEP-accredited, offers an Associate of Applied Technology (AAT) program that can be completed in five quarters. Students in the Lakewood program recently had the opportunity to host cultural exchange students from Japan.
Medical Assistant Educational Background
54.6% of Washington’s medical assistants received their training in a public college or technical program. Another 41.6% received their training in private/ for profit colleges and technical schools. More than half have a certificate as their highest degree or academic credential. About a third have associate degrees.
Washington State Medical Assistant Certification
Washington State medical assistants are credentialed by the Washington State Department of Health.
The highest credential is Medical Assistant-Certified. This authorizes a broad range of duties and is not setting- or practitioner-specific.
Medical assistants can meet training requirements by completing a program at a school that holds accreditation through the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or a program at a regionally or nationally accredited school that meets minimum requirements; the program must be at least 720 hours and must include at least 160 hours of internship. They can also meet eligibility requirements through completion of a registered apprenticeship offered by a Washington department.
The candidate will need to take an examination offered by an agency that is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). There are multiple certifying bodies that meet this standard.
The Medical Assistant-Registered credential is a more limited authorization. It authorizes practice only for a particular practitioner, clinic, or practice. It requires attestation by a practitioner that the medical assistant can perform the particular duties noted. In order for the credential to remain valid, the person must maintain continual employment under the same practitioner (or at the same clinic or practice).
Washington issued two additional credentials that authorize practice of a limited set of duties: Medical Assistant-Phlebotomist and Medical Assistant-Hemodialysis Technician.
Certifications held by Washington Medical Assistants
More than 73% of Washington’s MA-Cs report holding national certification (https://depts.washington.edu/fammed/chws/publications/medical-assistants-in-washington-state-demographic-education-and-work-characteristics-of-the-states-medical-assistant-certified-workforce/). Of these, more than half are certified through the American Association of Medical Assistants. The next most common certifying body is the National Center for Competency Testing; the NCCT credential is held by just over 31%. Other relatively common credentials are the American Medical Technologists (AMT) Registered Medical Assistant certification (8.1%) and the National Healthcareers Association (NHA) Certified Clinical Medical Assistant certification (5%).
Top Washington Employers
The largest percentage of Washington State medical assistants work in healthcare offices that are affiliated with hospitals or health systems. The next largest group work in private practitioner offices. Community clinics, including Federally Qualified Health Centers, are the next most common setting. This is followed by urgent care settings.
The following are among the state’s major employers: MultiCare Health System, Swedish Medical Center, CHI Franciscan Medical Group, Sea Mar Community Health, the University of Washington, and UW Community Clinics.
Medical assistants work in specialty settings. However, the most common is family practice.
Medical Assistant Scope of Practice and Work Duties
Washington law specifies the duties that properly credentialed medical assistants may perform (https://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=18.360.050). Among them are the following: taking vital signs, collecting specimens, recording patient histories, sterilizing equipment, assisting with sterile procedures in non-hospital settings, assisting with minor surgeries that are performed in office settings, performing some types of diagnostic test (e.g. electrocardiography and respiratory testing), and administering some types of medication; duties may include injection and blood draw.
The Washington workforce survey asked medical assistants about the duties they performed more and less frequently. Among the most commonly reported were rooming patients, taking vital signs, preparing treatment areas, and charting.
Under Washington State code, medical assistants can be supervised by professionals with varying credentials, including registered nurses. According to the recently published medical assistant survey, a majority of the state’s medical assistants were either under physician-only supervision or had multiple supervisors, at least one of whom was a physician.
Washington State Medical Assistant Salary and Career Outlook
Washington medical assistants average $19.92 an hour, according to the Center for Health Workforce Studies. The average is a little higher in the Western part of the state than the Eastern part.
The average work week was just under 38 hours. Most Washington medical assistants reported that they did indeed receive overtime pay when they worked past set hours.Medical assistants who live just North of, or just South of, King County are the most likely to be commuting to another Accountable Community of Health (ACH) for work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, shows the greatest concentration of medical assistant jobs in the Wenatchee and Yakima areas.
Peninsula College stated that, as of late 2019, local employers typically started employees at $16 to $19. Most offered benefits like insurance, and some had additional incentives like tuition reimbursement.
Medical assistant may be a stage along the way of a longer healthcare career. Many of Washington’s medical assistants were credentialed in another capacity before they became medical assistants; the most common is nursing assistant. Many aspire to other careers, like nursing.
The Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University of Washington has published multiple reports pertaining to the expanding role of medical assistants (https://depts.washington.edu/fammed/chws/studies/expanding-role-of-medical-assistants/).
The Washington State Society of Medical Assistants is the state professional association. There are chapters throughout the state (http://wssma.org/).
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