If you’re wondering how to pursue a career as a medical assistant, you’re in the right place. Medical assistants are an essential part of the healthcare field, and a career in medical assisting is relatively quick to prepare for. [i]
Step 1: Learn what it means to be a Medical Assistant
Medical assistants play a vital role in the healthcare industry by supporting physicians and other health professionals, usually in a clinical setting. Medical assisting is a challenging career that often involves interacting with patients, managing office records, preparing blood work, recording vital signs, taking medical histories, preparing patients for examination, or administering medication as directed by a physician. [ii]
Deciding that you want to have a medical assisting career is one thing. Figuring out what type of Medical Assistant you want to pursue becoming is another.
Clinical vs Administrative Medical Assistant
Depending on your interests, you could pursue a career as a Clinical or Administrative Medical Assistant. You can also become Certified or Registered. Below is more information about different types of Medical Assisting careers.
As a Clinical Medical Assistant, you could have varying responsibilities depending on your work environment. Generally, you will sterilize medical instruments, talk to patients about their medications, and draw blood. Your work tends to be hands-on.
As an Administrative Medical Assistant, you will focus more on the business side of the healthcare office. Administrative Medical Assistants code patients’ medical information, fill out insurance forms, buy office supplies, and answer phones.
Step 2: Learn About the Educational Requirements for becoming a Medical Assistant[i]
You've taken the first step and decided this is the career path you'd like to pursue. But do you need a degree to become a medical assistant? The simple answer is NO - you do not need a degree or certification to become a medical assistant. Some medical assistants have earned only a high school diploma or equivalent and learn their specific duties on the job. However, there are several things you should be aware of when making a choice about pursuing a medical assistant degree or certification and whether or not you choose to become certified.
First, the steps necessary for pursuing a career as a medical assistant may vary depending on where you live. In most states, there are no formal educational requirements for this career path, and you may be able to get started with just a high school diploma or GED. In some circumstances, an employer may provide on-the-job training to familiarize new hires with commonly-used instruments, terminology, and other important knowledge that would otherwise be learned through a medical assisting program.
However - it is very typical that medical assistants graduate from one sort of postsecondary education program or another, and employers may prefer to hire assistants who have completed some sort of medical assistant program or degree.[i] Furthermore, some states have stricter rules for medical assistants who perform duties like administering injections and taking x-rays.[i]
If you opt to pursue formal career education, most medical assisting programs may be completed in about a year of full-time study. Alternatively, you could opt to earn an associate’s degree in medical assisting, which typically takes around two years. You may expect your program to include both classroom and lab work, and you’ll explore topics like human anatomy, medical terminology, first aid, billing and coding, and much more.
It's also important to keep in mind that a medical assistant degree is not the only way to go. You could also choose to earn a certificate or diploma in medical assisting, which may take less time than an associate’s degree in medical assisting. [i]
Step 3: Medical Assistant Certification: Why it's important to become a Certified Medical Assistant[i]
Certification indicates you have completed steps to prove you are knowledgeable in your field, like graduating from an accredited medical assisting program and/or passing an exam.[i] Keep in mind that various employers will have different criteria when it comes to seeking candidates. Medical assistants hoping to be more competitive for employment opportunities may wish to consider every means of distinguishing themselves in the field, and certification is just one possible step.
Though it may be not be required by the particular state in which you live, certification is preferred by employers and you may want to consider this as your next step following graduation from a medical assisting program. Your instructors may steer you towards the certification option preferred by your school. In most cases, you’ll need to pass an exam. Common certifications include Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) from the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) or Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) from the National Healthcareer Association. Obtaining certification may enhance your future medical assisting career. Two types of Medical Assistant certificates are Registered Medical Assistants (RMAs) and Certified Medical Assistants (CMAs).
Registered Medical Assistants (RMAs) obtain their certification from a nonprofit agency called the American Medical Technologists (AMT). You must have at least five years of experience as a Medical Assistant prior to taking the exam. A membership charge may be included as well as a testing fee. The exam covers similar categories as the CMA exam like physiology, anatomy, medical laws, medical ethics, insurance, finance, and clinical medical assisting. While the CMA may be better known among some states, most employers will consider either the RMA or CMA credential. Check with your state regarding regulations prior to earning your certificatio for your medical assisting career.
Certified Medical Assistants (CMAs) are licensed through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). Certification must be renewed every five years to ensure that CMAs state up to date on the latest skills. The CMA exam requires a fee which may vary, depending on if you are a member of an accrediting organization. Exam subject areas include clinical and administrative procedures, anatomy and physiology, legal regulations, lab procedures, and medical terminology and prepares you fully for any medical assisting career. Other than the AAMA, there are other organizations that also offer medical assistant certification. Most of the time, applicants must be at least 18 years old prior to applying for certification.[i] There are three different forms of CMA certification[vi]:
- Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) - from the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) - from the National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
- National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) - from the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT
Step 4: Keep learning!
Every employer is different, and medical assisting job requirements could range from basic office skills to bilingualism, depending on the needs of the hospital or medical center. While you cannot be sure what employers in your area will be looking for at the time you are ready to pursue job opportunities, earning good grades in your medical assisting program, gaining experience through volunteering in a healthcare setting, and joining one or more professional associations related to medical assisting are just a few ideas for enhancing your career preparation.
If you’re interested in a medical assisting career, learning as much as you can before pursuing opportunities in this field should serve you well. Consider volunteering in a hospital to get a sense of the work environment you’ll be experiencing. If you know any healthcare workers, don’t be afraid to ask, “How do I pursue a career as a medical assistant?” Many medical assistants who love what they do are happy to give advice and recommendations.
And don’t stop seeking knowledge. Medical and technological advances ensure that this field is always changing for the better. Whether you earn a medical assisting certificate, pursue your associate’s degree, or learn on the job, you can be sure that a career in medical assisting is a lifelong education.