How to Become a Medical Assistant
Updated: Wednesday, November 7, 2018 @ 10:09am
Do you enjoy the idea of working in the growing healthcare field? Becoming a medical assistant may be a good place to start — or even finish.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment for medical assistants will increase 29% from 2016 to 2026. That’s much faster than the average for all occupations.
Of course, if you want to become a medical assistant, you need to meet certain requirements. We’ve compiled a comprehensive guide on how to become a medical assistant in 2018.
Let’s jump in!
What Exactly Are Medical Assistants?
These professionals are typically some of the first faces patients meet at a medical facility.
They often complete clinical and administrative tasks at outpatient clinics, hospitals, and doctor’s offices.
However, the specific duties that medical assistants perform in this field vary based on the practice’s size, location, and specialty.
The median wage for these healthcare workers in 2017 was a little over $32,000. That means roughly half of the workers in this field earned more, and half earned less.
Medical assisting is a promising career field. After all, the aging baby boomer population will keep driving increased demand for preventative health care.
The more medical assistants a clinic can hire, the more patients it can see, which can benefit its ability to provide good patient care.
How to Become a Medical Assistant: Get an Education First
A high school diploma or equivalency is typically needed to become a medical assistant. In addition, many employers require post secondary education. They may also require certification, although certification is not a requirement in most states.
A wide variety of medical assistant training programs are available in the United States, many at vocational schools and community colleges. You have a couple of training options: a diploma/certificate program or an associate degree program.
You can typically complete a certificate or diploma program in a year or less, whereas you can expect to complete an associate degree program in around two years (both of these time periods depend on the pace of the individual student).
A good certificate or diploma program can prepare you for a medical assisting career and make you a competitive candidate. An associate degree program can offer additional general education and equip you with useful soft skills.
A well-rounded certificate or diploma program focuses on providing the training needed to handle front-office duties, including billing and other administrative tasks. It also offers education and training in performing laboratory testing, measuring a patient’s vital signs, and collecting specimens, for example.
Let’s take a deeper dive into medical assisting associate degree, certificate, and diploma programs.
Diploma and Certificate Programs
In a certificate or diploma program, you’ll typically learn about the American medical industry, medical law, medical terminology, and the anatomy of the human body.
Additionally, you’ll learn how to complete basic patient care procedures and tasks as well as process insurance and medical forms.
Then, you’ll apply this information and these skills in a real-world setting as part of a clinical externship or internship.
Some aspiring medical assistants prefer these types of programs because they can typically complete them more quickly than they would an associate degree program. As a result, it can be a good option for career training.
Associate Degree Program
In an associate degree program, you’re likely to learn the same content you’d cover in a certificate or diploma program.
However, associate degree programs typically offer general education courses.For instance, in addition to taking courses related to medical assisting, you may also take courses in humanities, math, and writing.
Classes in writing, psychology, and critical thinking might not seem relevant to a medical assisting career on the surface. But they can provide a helpful educational foundation to go with your core education in medical assisting, which can be a major benefit in the medical assistant role.
The possible disadvantage of a two-year program? It typically takes longer to complete. It may also cost more than a certificate or diploma program depending on the school.
Look for an Accredited School
Whether you decide to complete an associate degree, diploma, or certificate program, make sure that it’s accredited.
The majority of employers only hire medical assistants with diplomas, certificates, or degrees from accredited programs, so be sure to look into the accreditation of the schools you’re considering.
Develop Hands-on Experience
Getting a solid education in medical assisting is just one step toward becoming a medical assistant. It’s also helpful to have real-world experience, which is why completing an externship or internship can be so valuable.
Even if your training program doesn’t require you to complete an externship or internship, it’s a good idea for you to do it on your own—although programs typically do have externship requirements.
It’s important to embrace opportunities to apply your in-class training in real-world settings.
The more job-related tasks you complete during your externship/internship, the more valuable information you can include on your resume.
This experience can help you find a job following your externship/internship. You may even get hired at your externship/internship site, depending on their openings and employment needs.
So, what specific types of skills should you focus on developing as an aspiring medical assistant?
For one, you need to develop a great bedside manner with people, since you’ll be interacting with patients constantly.
You’ll also need to hone your multi-tasking skills. This is important since you’ll likely be working in an ever-changing and fast-paced environment.
In addition, you can brush up on your verbal communications skills. After all, you might be responsible for instructing a patient on how to move or take medication correctly.
Also be prepared to communicate with doctors and other medical professionals on a regular basis.
In addition to developing clinical skills, you’ll need to learn a variety of technical skills to succeed in a medical assisting role.
For instance, you’ll need to learn how to use electronic health records. Other technical skills you’ll need to develop include operating an autoclave. An autoclave is a piece of equipment used to sterilize medical instruments.
You may need to learn how to run an X-ray machine and an electrocardiogram machine, as well. Understanding how to use a blood pressure monitor and a hemoglobin machine can be beneficial, as well.
Finally, you may have to become certified to work as a medical assistant in certain states. And even if certification may not be a requirement in your state, it can make you a more competitive candidate.
That’s because certification demonstrates that you have a minimum level of knowledge of the field.
Generally, you must complete accredited medical assistant training and then pass a credentialing organization’s examination to become certified.
Certifications are available through a few organizations.
The National Healthcareer Association (NHA) and American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) offer the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) and Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) exams, respectively, each with 200 questions.
The American Medical Technologists (AMT) offers a Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) registration exam with 200 questions. It is generally available for those who have worked as a medical assistant full-time for a minimum of five years.
Finally, the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) offers a Medical Assistant (NCMA) exam with 150 questions. This exam is available to any current student, graduate, or professional who has worked for two years or more as a full-time assistant.
All of these organizations’ exam questions are multiple choice.
How We Can Help
Our Medical Assistant program offered at our campus in Clearwater, FL will teach you how to assist healthcare providers.
As a medical assistant student in our program, you learn how to take and test blood. You also learn how to set up instruments for minor surgeries and perform electrocardiograms.
You’ll have the opportunity to complete an unpaid, 220-hour externship under supervision, as well. It’s a useful way to gain practical skills that will help you to succeed in a medical assistant role.
UMA’s Medical Assistant program prepares students to sit for the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) exam. Although certification isn’t required by every state or employer, successfully passing the exam and earning certification can help you become a stronger job candidate. Eligibility requirements may apply and are set by the certification body.
Get in touch with us to find out more about how to become a medical assistant and take advantage of this growing career field in 2018 and beyond.