Expanding Role of Medical Assistants


Objective: Medical assistants (MAs) are a rapidly growing segment of the health workforce and
important members of the healthcare team. Demand for MAs is driven by pressure to reduce healthcare
expenses: labor costs to employ MAs are low relative to many other healthcare occupations and MAs’
education pathway is short. High MA turnover rates, however, are a commonly reported problem. This
study’s objective was to improve understanding of MAs’ careers and factors associated with their intentions
to remain in or leave the MA profession.
Data/Setting: MAs are not licensed in any state and Washington is rare by requiring MAs to be
credentialed and by defining MAs’ scope of (delegated) practice. These factors benefit this study of
Washington’s MA-Certified (MA-C) workforce by providing a relatively consistent study population in terms
of practice and education/training characteristics, and enhancing its generalizability to other states and MA
Design/Methods: For this survey of certified MAs sampled from state credential records, invitations were
emailed to all MAs with email addresses (11,790) and sent by USPS to a random sample (2,061) with
online and paper response options. Descriptive and regression analyses were conducted at statewide and
sub-state levels.
Results: The 3,355 responses (25%) closely mirrored the age and geographic distribution of
the state’s credentialed MA-Cs. Among 2,841 respondents working in a position requiring their credential,
93% were female, 88% worked in an office/clinic; 35% worked in primary care settings; 57% had less than,
and 33% held, an associate’s degree as their highest education credential; 54% obtained MA education
from a public and 41% from a private/for-profit institution; and statewide their mean hourly wage was
$19.91 (ranging from $16.80 to $21.80 among nine health planning regions). Slightly higher percentages of
MA-Cs were Hispanic and non-White compared with the overall 2016 state population. MA-Cs’ responses
to career/job satisfaction questions were generally very positive, although 41% disagreed with “I am
satisfied with opportunities for promotion at work”. More than half agreed with “I plan to seek training and/or
employment in another healthcare occupation in the next 5 years”. Hispanic (p<.05), Black (p<.001), and
Asian (p<.001) compared with White MA-Cs were more likely to express interest in seeking training or
employment in another occupation in healthcare while older MA-Cs and those with more years of MA work
experience were significantly less likely (both p<.001). Those who agreed with “I am satisfied with
opportunities for promotion at work” were significantly less likely to express interest in pursuing another
healthcare occupation (p<.001), while agreeing with “I feel overwhelmed by the amount of work that I am
given” was significantly associated with the interest (p<.001).
Conclusions: These findings suggest the MA occupation provides an entry to healthcare careers for
diverse populations. With more than half of Washington’s MA-Cs interested in leaving that occupation
within 5 years, retention strategies are needed, particularly targeting minority MA-Cs.
This study resulted in a published paper in the Journal of Medical Care Research and Review and a full report, both can be found in the publications section of our website.
Lead Researcher: Susan M. Skillman, MS
Contact Info: skillman@uw.edu



HRSA: HWRC Allied Health






Authors Title Type Date Documents/Media
Skillman SM, Dahal A, Frogner BK, Andrilla CHA Medical Assistants in Washington State: Demographic, Education, and Work Characteristics of the State’s Medical Assistant-Certified Workforce PUBLICATION 01-01-2019
Skillman SM, Dahal A, Frogner BK, Andrilla CHA Frontline workers’ career pathways: A detailed look at Washington State’s medical assistant workforce PUBLICATION 11-01-2018 Article

Policy Brief
Skillman SM, Jopson A Medical assistants: Recent studies from the University of Washington PRESENTATION 03-08-2019
Skillman SM Medical assistants’ careers and factors affecting retention PRESENTATION 07-19-2018
Skillman SM, Dahal A, Frogner BK, Andrilla CHA Medical Assistants’ Careers and Factors Affecting Retention PRESENTATION 06-25-2018 Poster
Skillman SM, Dahal A, Frogner BK, Andrilla CHA Medical Assistants’ Careers and Factors Affecting Retention PRESENTATION 06-23-2018 Poster
Skillman SM, Dahal A, Frogner BK Medical assistants’ career pathways PRESENTATION 05-11-2018
Skillman SM Preliminary Findings: Survey of Medical Assistants in Washington PRESENTATION 10-16-2017