Working under the supervision of a physician or registered nurse, medical assistants carry out a variety of clinical and administrative tasks at healthcare facilities. Diploma and certificate programs are designed to give students the skills they need to enter this profession and prepare for certification. These training programs typically take one to two years to complete and are found at community colleges, as well as at some private schools with expansive distance education offerings.
While medical assisting programs usually are not available totally online due to the hands-on nature of their training, there are a small number of fully online associate's degree programs, though they also have a clinical component. Students must learn to effectively and safely perform clinical work with patients, so campus-based instruction is vital. Schools may offer a selection of required courses totally online - including any general education coursework - or they may offer medical assisting classes in a hybrid format, which means that some level of regular on-campus attendance is required.
Additionally, students must complete on-site clinical experiences in an approved medical setting, which usually last a semester. To be eligible for a practicum or externship, students must not only make sufficient academic progress in the program but also pass a criminal background check and drug screening. They often must obtain CPR certification while in the program as well.
In online medical assisting programs, students are taught via a number of Web-based resources, including video lectures, audio recordings and interactive discussions. Distance learners log on to a virtual classroom, available through their school's website, to access course materials and communicate with instructors or classmates.
An online certificate in medical assisting prepares students to fulfill the basic administrative and clinical tasks of a medical assistant. Common areas studied include office procedures, medical terminology and human anatomy and physiology.
Some examples of course topics in an online medical assisting certificate program include:
- Clinical procedures
- Medical office administrative procedures
- Technology for medical offices
Like certificate programs in medical assisting, diploma programs aim to teach students to effectively support the overall operation of physicians' offices. Diploma programs tend to be longer and more comprehensive than certificate programs.
At the conclusion of a diploma program in medical assisting, students should be able to perform laboratory and clinical assisting procedures, create and manage clerical documents, apply legal concepts to medical situations and communicate professionally with patients, co-workers and providers.
Some examples of courses in an online diploma program in medical assisting include:
- Computers and applications
- Medical business operations
- Medical office procedures
- Medical terminology
- Medical billing and insurance procedures
- Clinical assisting
Medical assistants most frequently work in doctors' offices, though their skills also allow them to work in hospitals, long-term care facilities and outpatient clinics. The employment outlook for medical assistants is excellent. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in this field is expected to grow by 23% from 2014 to 2024.
While medical assisting programs are not normally available in a totally online format, there are a small number of programs that offer a fully online associate's program with a required clinical component. All of these programs emphasize coursework in areas such as clinical procedures, medical terminology, medical business operations and clinical assisting.