Medical assistants are N.H.’s fastest growing occupation

New Hampshire’s fastest-growing occupation does not involve sitting in front of a computer or at the boardroom table but at the bedside.

Positions for medical assistants are expected to grow at a rate of 68 percent through 2012 — more than any other occupation —according to a recent report by the New Hampshire Employment Security’s Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau.

In a publication released in June, “Medical Assistants in New Hampshire,” the bureau found that the occupation should grow four times faster than the statewide average for all occupations.

By comparison, openings for medical records technicians are expected to grow at 62 percent, for network systems analysts at 61 percent and for computer software engineers at just under 57 percent.

“One possible reason for the growth is that medical assistants can do both clinical and administrative functions. There is no need to hire a separate secretary,” said Elisabeth Picard, a labor market analyst for the bureau. “The aging population is another reason.”

Medical assistants today do perform many of the procedures that used to be performed by nurses and medical technologists, such as taking medical histories, recording vital signs, drawing blood and giving injections.

Training for medical assistants follows one of two tracks, a diploma program or an associate degree program.

According to Cindy Feldhousen, department chair and professor of the medical assistant program at the New Hampshire Community Technical College-Manchester, about 100 students are currently enrolled in the school’s diploma and degree programs.

NHCTC’s diploma program can be completed in 10 months, while the associate degree program takes two academic years.

“Often associate degree students use their degree as a springboard to study nursing,” said Feldhousen.

Several other New Hampshire schools have medical assistant programs, including Hesser College, Health Career Training Associates in Manchester, McIntosh College in Dover and Seacoast Career Schools in Manchester.

Certification opportunities

To demonstrate proficiency, medical assistants also may become certified through several organizations, such as the American Association of Medical Assistants, the National Healthcareer Association and the Registered Medical Assistants of American Medical Technologists.

To become a medical assistant, students must complete an accredited program, one in which the quality of the educational program has been assessed and approved standards have been met. Some exams require the applicant to work as a medical assistant for at least a year in order to be eligible.

Two agencies are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for accrediting medical assistant programs — the Accreditation Bureau of Health Education Schools and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, or CAAHEP.

NHCTC in Manchester and Claremont, and Hesser College have the only medical assistant programs in the state to be accredited by CAAHEP.

While medical assistants do not have to be certified in order to practice, many employers are requiring certification, primarily because of liability issues.

Currently, medical assistants can earn an average of $12.73 per hour in New Hampshire or about $25,000 per year. Certified medical assistants with one year of experience can earn about $27,000 a year.

For the full study, visit elmi.

Expected growth of N.H. occupations with at least 500 employees

Occupation Expected growth thru 2012 Hourly salary
Medical assistants 67.7% $12.73
Medical records techs 62.2% $13.35
Network system analysts 61.3% $27.12
Computer software engineers 56.5% $37.11
Social/human svcs. assistants 56.1% $9.94
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