How to Become a
Best Education Tracks, Key Skills, and Top Certifications
The medical field is built on a foundation of mutual help and understanding. Medical assistants are part of this vital structure. While doctors and nurses are usually considered the flag-bearers of this field, they could not succeed without assistants.
In this guide, you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about how to become a medical assistant. You will learn about the roles and responsibilities as well as common education tracks. This rewarding career is only a few steps away.
What Is a Medical Assistant?
A medical assistant is a healthcare professional who assists doctors in clinics and hospitals. Medical assistants are usually responsible for managing patients and performing preliminary tasks such as taking vital signs, recording height and weight, and more.
Medical assistants work directly with doctors. They aid the medical process by collecting a patient’s information before their appointment to save time. Even though medical assistants work with doctors, they are not qualified to give medical advice to patients.
What Type of School Should You Attend
to Become a Medical Assistant?
To become a medical assistant, you can attend a vocational school, community college, or university. Each program can teach you the vital skills you need for the role. In the next section, we take a look at these pathways in more detail.
Best Medical Assistant Education Tracks
The best medical assistant education tracks can teach you important knowledge and give you experience in the field. Listed below are some of the most common education pathways to become a medical assistant.
One of the shortest paths to becoming a medical assistant is to take up vocational training. These programs usually focus on the basics of medical assistance: medical terminology, transcription, essential procedures, and work ethics. Vocational schools, or trade schools, usually offer more hands-on training.
These programs typically take between nine months and two years to complete. You need to choose a school that is accredited by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). If it is not, it will most likely not be recognized by employers.
An associate degree is one of the best ways to become a medical assistant. These often take two years to complete and include some form of an internship or practical experience to help you get a head start. If you aim to move up to a management or administrative role later in your career, taking up an associate degree is one of the best ways to do so.
Medical Assistant Degrees
If you want to climb the ladder as a medical assistant, you should get a bachelor’s degree. It can help you expand your education and become a more well-rounded medical assistant. You can study health sciences or a similar topic to learn how to become a medical assistant.
How to Become a Medical Assistant: A Step-by-Step Guide
There are a few vital steps you need to follow to become a medical assistant. Read below to learn more about the pathway to becoming a medical assistant.
Earn a diploma or degree
The best way to begin your medical assistant career journey is to get educated. Most employers strongly prefer candidates with a good education. You can take up a shorter vocational training or a longer bachelor’s degree, depending upon how much time and resources you are willing to invest.
Gain experience with internships
Since medical assisting is patient-centric, it is essential to gain relevant experience before handling critical workloads. Most medical assistant programs offer an internship in the last phases to help you transition into the field. This step can give you a significant edge over other candidates.
If you want to succeed in the field, you should get a medical assistant certification. Two common options are the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) and the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) exams. Both of these cover important requirements. They will prove your skills and look good on your resume.
Decide where you want to work
This is an important step because there are many different environments that need medical assistants. You could work in a hospital, doctor’s office, private clinic, and more. You can use this time to decide which suits you best.
Apply to jobs
The final step in the process is to get out there and apply for medical assistant jobs. Do your research and decide where you want to work in your area. Eventually, you might want to upskill and take more courses to improve your job prospects.
Key Medical Assistant Skills
Medical assistants are the trusted aides of medical professionals like doctors and nurses. More often than not, they need to step up and help doctors by carrying out basic preliminary tasks for them. To become a successful medical assistant, you need to have a few important skills.
One of the top skills you need as a medical assistant is to help manage the office. As a medical assistant in a clinic or a hospital, you will encounter a wide range of situations daily. You need to juggle responsibilities well and ensure that you handle them while keeping the office environment organized.
As a medical assistant, your day-to-day job will include monitoring medical inventory, filtering suppliers, and ensuring quality standards. You will also handle patient appointments, lab services, reports, and more, depending on your office. You should have some practice with relevant software suites to get the job done.
Even though medical assistants are not qualified as doctors or nurses, they are still expected to provide some medical care. Typical tasks include administering medications, assessing vital signs, arranging prescription refills, and more. All in all, you need to be prepared to handle essential medical care responsibilities.
Medical Assistant Salary and Job Outlook
According to PayScale, medical assistants make an average salary of approximately $34,536. Given that the job requires no formal education, this is a good number. Further, you can climb up the career ladder to work as a certified medical assistant or a registered nurse.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a growth of 19 percent in medical assistant roles by 2029. This number is much higher than the average expected growth for all occupations. It shows that the medical assistant position is here to stay.
Entry-Level Medical Assistant Job Requirements
The most exciting part about becoming a medical assistant is that it requires no formal education. You can start working as an entry-level medical assistant with only a high school diploma if you put your best foot forward. It is an entry-level position in general, so you don’t have to worry about extensive promotions or competition.
What Does a Medical Assistant Do?
A medical assistant performs a large number of tasks to help keep a clinic or hospital running smoothly. The dynamic nature of this role brings in a wide range of responsibilities. Most medical assistants handle administrative duties and essential medical duties in their workplace.
Below are some of the everyday tasks that medical assistants usually take up as part of their day-to-day responsibilities.
Handles Basic Office Duties
One of the primary responsibilities of a medical assistant is to handle medical paperwork. You need to make appointments, maintain medical records, carry inventory, manage supply processes, and more. You should be careful because any mishap can escalate quickly in a medical environment.
Assists in Basic Medical Procedures
Apart from managing administrative tasks, a medical assistant can assist doctors and nurses in their duties. Some medical assistants help record vital signs and refill prescriptions. You might only encounter these responsibilities after a couple of years on the job.
A large part of the job as a medical assistant is interacting with a clinic’s patients. This involves scheduling appointments, preparing patients for their visits, handling queries, managing schedules, and more. This part of the job requires a lot of spontaneous decision-making and patience.
Medical Assistant Certifications
Certifications can help boost your resume as you search for medical assistant jobs. Below are a couple of top medical assistant certifications to help improve your chances of landing a job.
Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)
The Certified Medical Assistant certification is offered through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). It is one of the most popular certifications and is recognized widely by employers. If you want to become a medical assistant, this is an important certification to have.
The CMA Exam requires you to graduate from a one- or two-year medical assisting program offered by a school accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). You need to renew the certification every five years. The exam fee ranges between $125 and $250 depending on how soon you register for the exam after graduating.
Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)
The second most widely recognized certification for medical assistants, Registered Medical Assistant, is provided by the American Medical Technologists certification agency. RMA requirements are slightly more extensive than the CMA requirements. You need to be a graduate from an approved medical assistant program.
Alternatively, you can take the RMA exam if you have worked as a medical assistant for at least five years or hold another medical assisting certification from an approved organization. The exam fee for RMA is $120, but this is subject to change.
How to Prepare for Your Medical Assistant Job Interview
The best way to prepare for a medical assistant job interview is to brush up on your basics. Go through situation handling, patient management, and other topics related to the medical field. You also need to be clear on the essential medical responsibilities you might encounter on the job.
Below are a few common medical assistant job interview questions to help you ace your interview.
Medical Assistant Job Interview Practice Questions
- How would you describe your primary responsibility as a medical assistant?
- How do you plan to manage upset patients who present you with complaints?
- What is the biggest mistake you have made as a medical assistant? How did you fix it?
- If you encounter two tasks simultaneously, which one would you do first and why?
- How do you protect the rights of patients and ensure confidentiality?
How Long Does It Take to Become a Medical Assistant?
Since becoming a medical assistant does not have a compulsory education pathway, you can start soon as you gain enough experience. For some people, two months of training can be sufficient, while some may need more than half a year. You can also enter a vocational program or try getting a degree. If you’re worried about time, check out an online college.
If you aim to excel in the medical field, be prepared to spend a considerable amount of time training on the actual job. The more experience you gain, the better your chances are of increasing your income and moving higher on the career ladder.
Should You Become a Medical Assistant in 2021?
Yes, you should become a medical assistant in 2021. This year is brimming with opportunities in the medical field. If you consider the predictions of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be more job openings in the coming years.
If you work hard as a medical assistant, you will find it easy to grow in your career. You could become a registered nurse or another practitioner in the future. Therefore, becoming a medical assistant is one of the wisest career choices that you can take right now.
Medical Assistant FAQ
Can you become a medical assistant without a degree?
Yes, you can become a medical assistant without a degree. While degrees help you perform better and appear credible for the role, they are not a necessity. You will be able to pick up skills on the job.
What are the disadvantages of being a medical assistant?
Some disadvantages to being a medical assistant are the stressful workload and low pay. Medical assistants are paid considerably less than doctors and nurses.
What is the most challenging thing about being a medical assistant?
The most challenging parts of a medical assistant’s job include handling clinical emergencies and working in an environment full of people who may be sick or injured. Even though a medical assistant’s job is primarily desk-based, it can sometimes get unpredictable.
What is the difference between a medical assistant and a medical office assistant?
A medical assistant is broader and covers both clinical and administrative responsibilities. A medical office assistant’s job is limited to administrative duties.