medical assistant schools

Medical Assistant Degrees vs. Certificates

Earning a postsecondary certificate in a medical assisting program is a popular option for individuals looking to become a medical assistant.[i]

A postsecondary certificate course is a training or job-preparation program completed after high school. Upon successful graduation from the program, students earn a certificate indicating that they have met the program requirements. 

Medical Assisting Programs - Certificates

Certificate medical assistanting programs are widely available at technical schools, junior colleges, online colleges, etc. A similar option is a diploma program – the differences between diploma and certificate programs vary from school to school, but in general, these courses cover the same topics. After earning a certificate or diploma, a student may have the option to pursue professional certification through a third-party organization like CMA.[ii]

Most medical assisting programs include both classroom learning and practical lab experiences. Subjects covered usually include anatomy, medical terminology, first aid, office procedures, and much more. You’ll typically prepare for both clinical and administrative career requirements, as employed medical assistants often handle both of these areas. However, some programs may only cover one or the other. Many programs also offer the chance to complete a practicum in an actual medical environment, such as a hospital. The goal of a diploma or certificate program is to prepare you to pursue entry-level medical assisting opportunities. 

Medical Assisting Programs - Degrees

Other medical assisting programs and options to consider is earning an associate’s degree in medical assisting, which takes an average of two years of full-time study.[ii] An associate’s degree is an undergraduate degree that often includes general educational requirements and some electives, in addition to courses in your preferred area of study. For example, medical assisting students might take courses in math, science, composition, and other subjects in addition to career preparatory courses like medical terminology and human anatomy. Certificate programs typically include courses that are specific to the course study only.

Like other medical assisting programs, associate degree programs are typically available online or at local colleges. You’ll cover the same areas of study as in a certificate program, like anatomy and medical terminology, but you’ll likely approach these subjects with more depth and over a longer period of time, having to complete more degree credit hours than certificate credit hours.

A Closer Look at Certificate vs. Degree

Whether certificate or diploma, medical assisting programs will differ from school to school, and will most likely include overlapping courses or instruction. For example, take a look at the differences in these two programs from the same university. Students enrolled in both have to take some of the same courses, but while he certificate program is only available on-campus, the associate’s degree program is available both on-campus and online.

Certificate program major courses could include[iii]:

  • Medical Law and Bioethics
  • Medical Terminology
  • Pharmacology
  • Diseases and the Human Body
  • Medical Office Management
  • Medical Coding and Insurance
  • Professionalism in Health Care
  • Clinical Competencies I and II
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology I and II
  • Medical Assisting Externship and Evaluation

Total Major Credits: 57

Total Program Credits: 57

This particular certificate program requires that 57 of the total 57 credits to be earned are major credits, meaning that all courses contribute to the major subject of this medical asssiting program.

Associate’s degree program major courses could include[iv]:

  • Introduction to Health Science
  • Medical Law and Bioethics
  • Medical Terminology
  • Pharmacology
  • Diseases of the Human Body
  • Medical Office Management
  • Medical Coding and Insurance
  • Online Professionalism in Health Care
  • Online Clinical Competencies I, II, and III
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology I and II
  • Online Medical Assisting Externship and Evaluation

Total Major Credits: 62

Total Program Credits (non-major courses not listed): 92

This associate’s degree program requires 62 major credits to be earned out of a total of 92 total program credits. In this particular medical assistanting program, the 30 non-major credits are required to be completed in core courses and elective courses. An associate’s degree might be a good option if you would prefer to earn a college degree rather than a certificate.

How to choose the program that’s perfect for you

Finding medical assisting programs that may be the right fit for you depends on your budget, time constraints, and geographic location. Students who have the time for a more comprehensive education may opt to earn an associate’s degree, whereas students who aren’t concerned with earning a degree may consider a shorter-term certificate or diploma program. Don’t overlook the possibility of earning your degree or certificate online, since many reputable online colleges and universities offer medical assisting programs. Online schools may allow the convenience of learning from home, which could be beneficial to busy, working students.

Also consider accreditation. Many medical assistant certification organizations require candidates to have graduated from accredited medical assistant programs, so make sure your school fits the bill.[ii] Most importantly, choose a program that has a good reputation of helping to prepare students for professional challenges and helping graduates to pursue the next step following program completion.

The program you choose to help you prepare for your new career as a medical assistant may be one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Check out some of the programs from our partner schools below.

[i] onetonline.org/link/summary/31-9092.00 [ii] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-4 [iii] kaplanuniversity.edu/health-sciences/medical-assistant-certificate.aspx [iv] kaplanuniversity.edu/health-sciences/medical-assisting-associate-degree.aspx

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