Oncology Assistant Overview
Medical assistants work in health clinics, private practices, and hospitals. They typically keep track of patient records, schedule appointments, record patient histories, measure patients' vital signs, and draw blood. They also might escort patients to and from exam rooms and maintain the cleanliness of exam rooms and equipment. Oncology assistants work specifically with patients seeking cancer care.
Medical assistants usually work full-time. For those employed by 24-hour care centers, evening and weekend hours may be required; those employed by private practices typically are scheduled during normal business hours. Oncology assistants, in particular, may have a difficult time coping with the loss of cancer patients, but the career is very rewarding since assistants can play an important role in saving patients' lives.
|Degree Level||Certificate or associate's degree preferred|
|Degree Field||Medical assisting|
|Certification||Certification is optional, but recommended; most medical assistants need to maintain CPR certification|
|Key Skills||Detail-oriented; ability to get along with all patients; ability to understand medical charts and diagnoses; comfortable using electronic health records; skilled with hypodermic needles and blood pressure equipment|
|Salary||$31,910 (mean annual salary for all medical assistants as of May 2015)*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job listings from Careerbuilder.com (October 2012)
Oncology assistants must be detail-oriented and able to get along with all patients. They must understand medical charts and diagnoses and be comfortable using electronic health records. Additionally, they must be skilled with hypodermic needles and blood pressure equipment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, all medical assistants, including oncology assistants, earned a mean annual salary of $31,910 as of May 2015.
Let's explore the step-by-step process to become an oncology assistant.
Step 1: Complete a Medical Assistant Education Program
It might be possible to become a medical assistant with only a high school diploma, but employers often prefer individuals who've completed a certificate or associate's degree program in medical assisting. These programs typically consist of coursework in anatomy, medical terminology, and pharmacology. Other topics might include medical law, first aid, clinical procedures, and medical insurance. Toward the end of these programs, students often complete an internship or practicum at a local medical practice.
Students should choose a program that's accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Completion of an accredited program is often a prerequisite for earning certification.
Step 2: Become Certified
Certification is optional, but employers often prefer hiring medical assistants who hold professional credentials. A few organizations offer certification in this field, including the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), American Medical Technologists, National Center for Competency Testing, and National Healthcareer Association. The AAMA requires candidates to be graduates of an approved education program; the other programs accept either graduates of an approved education program or individuals with a specified number of years of experience in medical assisting.
All of these organizations require candidates to pass a certification exam. These tests are typically in multiple-choice format, and they cover anatomy, medical terminology, clinical and administrative procedures, healthcare regulations, medical record management, communication with patients, and first aid. Certifying organizations usually offer exam outlines and may recommend study materials for certification candidates. Practice tests are often available as well.
Step 3: Gain Employment in an Oncology Practice
After becoming certified, professionals may gain experience in oncology by obtaining a position at a cancer clinic or in the cancer wing of a hospital. Oncology medical assistants take cancer patients' vital signs, maintain medical records, and perform other administrative tasks.
Step 4: Meet Continuing Education and Recertification Requirements
Professional certification is generally only valid for 1-5 years, depending on the type of certification held. Recertification usually requires paying a fee and submitting documented continuing education units (CEUs). Some organizations grant CEUs for attending sponsored conferences or completing online and continuing education classes. Applicants may also have the option to take a recertification exam in lieu of earning CEUs. Most medical assistants also need to maintain CPR certification and any other first aid certifications required by their jobs.
Step 5: Consider Earning a Bachelor's Degree
Medical assistants who earn a bachelor's degree in a related healthcare field, like nursing or healthcare administration, might transition to more advanced careers and potentially increase their pay.
In summary, an aspiring oncology assistant needs to complete a medical assistant education program. Many employers prefer candidates with voluntary certification.