Although a formal education is not required to become a medical assistant, there are certificate and associate's degree programs available which may increase one's employability. An administrative position, most medical assistants work in offices of physicians or for other healthcare practitioners.
A medical assistant is an administrative professional who performs clerical duties in healthcare settings, such as maintaining the physician's office and interacting with patients. This career path is not to be confused with that of a physician assistant, who is allowed to practice medicine under a doctor's supervision. Medical assisting may be a good career choice for students with strong organizational and interpersonal skills and an interest in medicine. No formal education or certification is required, but those who have completed a medical assisting program and/or hold additional credentials may be afforded more employment opportunities.
|Required Education||None mandatory; certificate and associate's degree programs available|
|Certification||Voluntary through the American Association of Medical Assistants and the American Medical Technologists|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||23%*|
|Median Salary (2015)||$30,590*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Requirements for Becoming a Medical Assistant
There are no formal educational requirements for becoming a medical assistant. Some medical assistants are trained solely on the job, often by shadowing experienced employees and participating in employer-administered training programs; however, most employers prefer to hire applicants who have completed a medical assisting program.
Medical Assisting Programs
Medical assisting programs can be found at community colleges and technical schools. These programs generally take 1-2 years to complete and result in either a certificate or an associate's degree. The prerequisites for entry into medical assisting programs usually include a high school diploma or its equivalent and proof of certain immunizations. Some schools may also require a criminal background check.
Medical assisting programs provide students with an education in the basic sciences, such as anatomy and physiology. They also tend to offer courses like electronic health records, medical office clinical procedures and medical billing. Accredited programs may include a practicum or unpaid internship, which allows students to apply their newly-learned skills in healthcare settings.
Medical Assistant Certification Options
Certification is voluntary for medical assistants but may be a beneficial career move. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical assistants who hold certification may benefit from higher salaries and greater job prospects (www.bls.gov). Certification programs are available through a range of professional organizations.
American Association of Medical Assistants
The American Association of Medical Assistants offers the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential (www.aama-ntl.org). To be eligible, candidates must graduate from an accredited medical assisting program, complete a practicum and pass a written exam. CMAs must renew certification every 60 months by passing an exam or earning 60 recertification points.
American Medical Technologists
The American Medical Technologists (AMT) offers the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) certification to qualified professionals. Candidates must complete an accredited or AMT-approved training program or have been employed as a medical assistant for the past five years (www. americanmedtech.org). They must then pass a certification exam that assesses administrative, clinical and general knowledge pertaining to medical assisting.
Career and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that medical assistant employment may grow at a much faster-than-average rate of 23% in the years 2014-2024. Medical assistants earned a median annual salary of $30,590 in May 2015, according to the BLS.
Medical assistants perform clerical duties within a healthcare office. Their responsibilities often consist of handling patient inquiries, organizing electronic records, and taking care of billing. This job should not be confused with that of a physician assistant, who may practice medicine under a doctor's supervision.