How to Become a Medical Assistant
Individuals interested in becoming medical assistants can pursue either of two educational and training program options. Depending on their particular plans, learners can pursue a medical assistant certificate program or an associate degree in medical assisting.
Medical Assistant Certificate Program
Medical assistant certificate programs allow degree-seekers to build their skills and knowledge in medical assisting in less time than an associate degree requires. Learners can usually complete a certificate program in one year. Students should make sure that their program holds accreditation from a regional accrediting body. They should also seek specialized accreditation from the American Medical Assistant, the American Association of Medical Assistants, the National Center for Competency Testing, or the National Healthcare Association.
Courses in medical assistant certificate programs explore topics including electronic medical record keeping and managing patient information, preparing learners for entry-level roles in the field.
Associate Degree in Medical Assisting
An associate degree in medical assisting equips students with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in medical assisting roles. Students can explore online formats, which allow learners to earn their degrees within a flexible, convenient structure. Program coursework covers topics such as pharmacology, nutrition, anatomy and physiology, medical coding, and medical billing.
In addition to preparing learners to provide proper patient care, medical assisting associate programs expose students to clinical and office tasks. Medical assisting students often specialize in clinical or administrative work, depending on their career aspirations. Administrative medical assistants work with patient intake, medical insurance information, and scheduline. Medical assistants, on the other hand, focus on clinical work, completing lab tests, helping with in-office surgeries, and sterilizing surgery equipment.
Graduates who hold associate degrees in medical assisting can explore career opportunities as medical assistants, pharmacy technicians, and health information technicians. Career paths for graduates include healthcare management, nursing, and public health.
What is Certification?
Certificate programs mirror associate degree programs in many ways, requiring learners to satisfy coursework and follow a curriculum. However, learners must complete specific educational requirements and meet other guidelines before gaining certification in a specific career area. Many employers in the medical assisting field mandate specific certifications for certain positions.
Medical assistant professionals can pursue a variety of certification opportunities, depending on their specific career goals. The certified medical assistant (CMA) credential is one of the most popular paths for students in the discipline, and it is the most widely recognized national certification available for medical assistants. CMA certification requires candidates to have graduated from a medical assisting program -- either a certificate program or an associate degree. Candidates must also pass the CMA certification exam.
Medical assisting professionals can also pursue their registered medical assistant credential through the American Medical Technologists. This credential requires candidates to complete a medical assisting program and five years of professional medical assisting experience. They should also work as an instructor in a medical assisting program and pass the certification exam.
The national certified medical assistant credential, offered through the National Center for Competency Testing, serves medical assistants who currently study in or recently graduated from a medical assistant program. It also caters to foreign physicians or registered nurses, medical assistant instructors, and others who have completed training programs in the field or who have two years of full-time work experience.
Career Advancement for Medical Assistants
Graduates who earn their medical assistant certification online can gain some work experience after completing the program. They might consider returning to college later on to pursue a bachelor's degree, or a master's or doctoral program, if they choose. Learners who advance their degrees usually multiply their career opportunities. Some such opportunities include certified nursing assistant, licensed practical nurse, nursing, registered nurse, and positions in physical therapy.