The Most Affordable Paths & Career Potential in Medical Assisting
Medical assistants work closely with other medical personnel, patients, and clients to provide fundamental support and administrative services. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 29% growth in the medical assistant field from 2016 through 2026, making it a marketable, lucrative occupation.
Medical assistants with their associate degree develop practical knowledge of basic patient care while training for managerial and clerical tasks. A medical assisting associate degree online prepares students to pursue a bachelor’s degree in healthcare or a related field. With comprehensive knowledge of how a medical office or organization works, medical assistants poise themselves for future positions in healthcare administration, nursing, and human and social services.
What Will You Learn in an Online Associate Medical Assisting Program?
An online associate medical assisting program prepares learners to work in several healthcare capacities. Medical assistants learn to take medical histories, explain procedures and treatments, and conduct tests while simultaneously building skills to process insurance paperwork, triage patients, schedule and greet patients, and file and retrieve medical records. Medical assistants may also use computer software for recording patient information.
Individual states determine the extent to which medical assistants require supervision by a nurse or doctor. Medical assistants often take vital signs, administer medications, and give injections. They may work in hospitals and other clinical settings or in healthcare and community organizations.
Common Classes and Coursework
ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY
Coursework in anatomy and physiology provides learners with information on the basic functions and structures of the human body. Students explore bodily systems, learn to identify the structures and functions of each, and develop familiarity with anatomical terminology. Anatomy and physiology coursework also teaches students how body systems interact with one another, how they differ, and how they relate to homeostasis.
Medical terminology classes emphasize language and concepts used in anatomy and physiology as they relate to disease, illness, diagnostics, and procedures. Students also learn surgical, treatment, and pharmacological terminology, all applicable to work in medical or healthcare settings.
MEDICAL OFFICE TECHNOLOGY
Medical office technology coursework introduces students to software systems used in clinical settings. Classes train students to use electronic health record systems while simultaneously building competencies in office-related computer programs for accounting, communication, scheduling, and billing. Courses also prepare learners to support, maintain, and update office technologies.
Interpersonal communication classes assess communication theories and explore effective communication practices within human relationships. Students learn about verbal and nonverbal communication, listening techniques, conflict, and empathy. Interpersonal communication coursework also includes information on cultural aspects and gender differences as they relate to communication.
MEDICAL DOCUMENTATION FUNDAMENTALS
Classes in medical documentation incorporate information on language and coding while teaching students about policies, laws, and regulations related to medical documentation. Students learn different types of documentation formats and processes, with attention paid to privacy and medical documentation ethics.
Skills You Will Gain
A medical assisting associate degree online builds medical and administrative skills alike. Learners study foundational information about the human body, medical processes, and healthcare in anticipation of working in clinical roles. Clinical medical assistants serve as intermediaries among doctors, nurses, and patients, often carrying out basic medical services such as taking vital signs, changing bandages, and administering medication. Clinical medical assistants may also stock exam rooms, sterilize medical equipment, and prepare patients for treatment.
Administrative tasks carried out by medical assistants vary by setting and location. Medical assistants often answer phones, handle emails, and schedule patient appointments. They also communicate with insurance companies and access medical records as needed. Medical assistants often use medical office technologies, including electronic record systems.
Medical assistant associate degrees offer holistic curricula to help students determine the medical office or setting in which they want to work. Programs also prepare students for continued study. Associate degrees in medical assisting that emphasize coding, terminology, and transcription may encourage students to pursue bachelor’s degrees in healthcare administration or a related field.
Similarly, medical assisting coursework in lab and diagnostic procedures, clinical processes, and anatomy and physiology may qualify students to pursue bachelor’s degrees in health science, nursing, or a similar discipline.
Average Degree Length
Online programs provide a convenient, flexible option for working professionals to complete their degrees while continuing to work. Most associate degrees in medical assisting include 60 credit hours, which full-time students complete in two years.
Learners often take classes in an accelerated format, earning their degrees in 12 to 16 months, while part-time students take one class at a time and extend the program by one or two years. Some associate degrees award transfer credit for prior military or professional training, further shortening the program. Schools with classes lasting 5-10 weeks allow learners to earn their degrees in less time than semester programs.
Full-time and accelerated format learners can pay per-semester tuition, which provides them with an affordable option for taking as many classes as possible. Per-credit tuition benefits part-time students, who can only take one or two classes at a time.
Career Opportunities With an Associate Degree in Medical Assisting
Associate degrees in medical assisting prepare students for careers in a variety of healthcare and medical settings. Learners may work in hospitals, in general practitioner offices, or with specialists such as chiropractors, podiatrists, and opthamologists. Medical assistants gain the knowledge and skills to work at outpatient clinics, surgical centers, and community health centers. Many programs offer enough flexibility for students to work in more administrative contexts within insurance companies or private organizations.
Potential Careers and Salaries
With the ability to work in the public and private sectors alike, medical assistants access careers in a variety of settings. Medical assistants work in hospitals, physician offices, primary care facilities, and outpatient clinics. With medical and administrative knowledge and skills, they serve as medical receptionists, admission clerks, and intake professionals. They may also work at outpatient treatment centers and nursing homes, providing comparable services.
Medical assistants gain the skills to handle, organize, and process medical records and paperwork, plus technological and billing competencies that extend to positions in insurance, health information, and medical research and publishing.
Clinical Medical Assistant
Clinical medical assistants work alongside doctors and nurses to provide basic patient care. They may take vital signs, administer medications, or prepare patients for treatment. Additional duties may include drawing blood, changing bandages, and supervised laboratory tests.
Average Annual Salary: $33,610
Administrative Medical Assistant
Administrative medical assistants work with medical documents and records, often coding diagnostic and treatment data and entering clinical data into an electronic medical record management system. Administrative medical assistants also handle scheduling, set up patient appointments, answer phones, and serve as an intermediary between medical personnel and patients.
Average Annual Salary: $33,610
Medical Records and Health Information Technicians
Medical records and health information technicians specialize in organizing and inputting health information data. They manage patient records, using classification systems to categorize and code diagnostic and treatment information. Medical records and health information technicians interact with insurance company representatives to facilitate billing. They reconcile medical records with billing statements to ensure completeness, accuracy, and timeliness.
Average Annual Salary: $40,350
Medical transcriptionists transfer medical voice recordings into written form. They prepare medical reports, edit them for accuracy, and translate medical terminology and abbreviations as needed. They use medical record and word-processing software, often simultaneously, to create reports. Medical transcriptionists may work in hospitals, in-patient care clinics, outpatient facilities, or be self-employed.
Average Annual Salary: $34,770
Home Health Aides and Personal Care Aides
Home health aides and personal care aides assist individuals with physical illnesses, disabilities, and developmental disorders. They often work with older populations, making scheduled visits to administer care. They may give medications, keep records, schedule appointments, and work with medical professionals directly. Home health aides and personal care aides who work with certified health and hospice agencies that receive government funding must adhere to professional guidelines, functioning under the supervision of a medical professional.
Average Annual Salary: $24,060
5 Medical Assisting Scholarships to Apply For
Medical assisting associate degree students can receive funding assistance from professional organizations, government agencies, and private funders. Many scholarships exist exclusively for students in medical fields, and general financial aid options provide support, as well.
- Who Can Apply: Recipients of the AMT Outstanding Student Award are nominated by a program director or instructor. Students demonstrate academic dedication, excellence, and effort in the classroom alongside strong communication skills and initiative. Candidates must be enrolled in an accredited program.
- Amount: $250
- Who Can Apply: Students enrolled in an accredited program that leads to a career in medical technology may apply for the AMT scholarship. Learners must demonstrate financial need. Applicants submit transcripts, two letters of reference, a statement of career goals, and tax information for consideration.
- Amount: $500
- Who Can Apply: OSHPD provides scholarships for students enrolled in allied healthcare, vocational nursing, and healthcare practice programs. Application requirements vary, but students submit requisite materials to the Health Professions Education Foundation for consideration.
- Amount: Varies
- Who Can Apply: Available to students enrolled in medical assisting programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, students must demonstrate a minimum 3.0 GPA for consideration. Only CAAHEP program directors may submit application materials.
- Amount: $1,000
- Who Can Apply: Applicants must enroll in an ASAHP-accredited program to apply. Candidates can enroll in any health-related disciplines, including medical assisting, at all academic levels. Additional requirements include completion of one academic term, nomination and endorsement by a program representative, a current resume, and a statement of career goals.
- Amount: $1,000
Educational Advancement in Medical Assisting
An associate degree in medical assisting prepares students for education advancement in the field. Learners gain the fundamental knowledge and foundational skills to earn bachelor’s degrees in healthcare, medical, and health science disciplines. With the wide array of competencies contained within the medical assisting curriculum, students enjoy the opportunity to pursue educational pathways and apply their prior education.
Learners must understand the transfer process and its limitations and opportunities to identify the program that best fits their professional and personal needs.
Should You Transfer to a Four-Year Degree Program?
Earning a four-year degree creates employment opportunities and higher earning potential for medical assistants. With associate degrees in medical assisting, learners can transfer to a college or university, often benefiting from established articulation agreements. Schools without articulation agreements may not accept all transfer credits, however, which could extend the program length.
When choosing a bachelor’s degree, students should discuss transfer options with the academic advisors and admission representatives at potential schools to understand all requirements.
What Degree Paths Should You Consider?
An associate degree in medical assisting prepares students for bachelor’s degrees in healthcare and health science disciplines. With knowledge of medical terminology, anatomy, and basic patient care, students can apply their medical assisting knowledge to a nursing program, as well. The managerial, technical, and clerical aspects of a medical assisting program prepare learners for bachelor’s degrees in business, informatics, and office administration.
Healthcare administration programs prepare students for careers in the business operations aspects of medical facilities. Learners study business fundamentals such as finance, management, and human resources while learning about how hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, and similar facilities function.
Health informatics and health information management programs train students to use, design, and support technology used for patient and medical data. Students learn about health technology programs while exploring practices, ethics, and regulations related to patient and medical data. Health informatics bachelor’s degrees emphasize healthcare data integrity, protection, and recovery, as well.
The basic medical training in a medical assistant program prepares students to pursue bachelor’s degrees in nursing. With a clear understanding and knowledge of anatomy and physiology, diagnostic theories and practices, treatment processes, and medical terminology, learners can continue to advanced coursework in patient care and nursing practice.
Professional Organizations and Resources
Members of professional organizations enjoy access to networks of medical assisting professionals. Professional associations also provide career information, mentorship opportunities, continuing education programs, and additional resources useful to medical assistants. Resources from governmental agencies, healthcare organizations, and nonprofit institutions also offer valuable information on credentialing, compliance, and career options.
With nearly 200,000 members, the American Academy of Professional Coders trains, certifies, and unites healthcare professionals to advance the business of healthcare. The AAPC offers webinars, professional development courses, networking opportunities, and discounts on software and medical coding materials.
The American Association of Medical Assistants provides certification exams, continuing education programs, and field updates to medical assisting professionals. Members receive exam discounts, networking and volunteer opportunities, access to career information, and industry publications.
Founded in 1928, the American Health Information Management Association holds distinction as the leading authority for health information management knowledge in the country. AHIMA offers certification programs, trainings and continuing education opportunities, and access to conferences and events. Students and health information management professionals benefit from AHIMA’s career center and advocacy resources, as well.
The American Medical Billing Association unites medical billing professionals through webinars, regional and local events, and its annual national conference. Billing and coding certifications, continuing education, and business guidance accompany information on finance options, medical billing startups, and industry-related partnerships.
Established in 1939, American Medical Technologists serves as a global certification agency. AMT offers certifications and continuing education opportunities to support, promote, and enhance the skills and expertise of medical technology students and professionals. AMT offers certification exams to those working in laboratories, medical and dental offices, and health education.
Modern Healthcare serves as a leader in healthcare business news, resources, research, and data. Modern Healthcare provides information on subsets of the healthcare industry such as patient care, operations, payment, and care delivery. Content on awards and events accompany career advice, newsletters, and updates on best practices.
NCCT provides certification programs for medical assistants, medical office assistants, insurance and coding specialists, and patient care technicians alongside opportunities for recertification, proctoring services, and employment verification.
The National Healthcareer Association fosters excellence within healthcare through programs and certifications that develop, advance, and advocate for healthcare workers. The NHA offers professional development programs alongside initial certifications, with study materials, career resources, and an accompanying industry advocacy toolkit.
The National Healthcare Workers Association promotes excellence in the healthcare industry through certification programs, workshops, and continuing education opportunities. Tasked with linking the healthcare community with healthcare professionals, the NHCWA also provides a healthcare job registry for employers and job-seekers alike.
The Professional Association of Healthcare Coding Specialists promotes healthcare coding compliance, documentation, and reimbursement excellence by building communication networks among coding professionals. The PAHCS offers newsletters with industry updates and benefit its members with access to continuing education and specialty certification programs