What Education Is Needed to Become a Medical Assistant?

Medical assistants care for patients alongside physicians, nurses and other health care professionals. They also perform administrative tasks. Continue reading to learn more about the job duties, education requirements and certifications in this field. Schools offering Medical Assisting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Job Duties

Medical assistants play an integral role in hospitals, surgical centers and physicians' offices by performing various clinical and clerical tasks. Your specific duties are determined by the size and location of the facility in which you work and the laws of your state of employment. Common administrative tasks may include:

  • Medical billing
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Filing insurance claims
  • Bookkeeping
  • Preparing exam rooms
  • Explaining medical procedures to patients
  • Taking vital signs
  • Instructing patients about medications and special diets

Education Options

The first step to becoming a medical assistant is to earn a high school diploma or pass the General Educational Development (GED) examination. Next, you may either pursue on-the-job training or complete an accredited, postsecondary program in medical assisting. While you could enter the profession with no prior training, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that professionals with some formal education will have the best job prospects (www.bls.gov). You can learn the skills you need through a 2-year associate's degree program or a 1-year certificate or diploma program available through technical, vocational or community colleges.

Postsecondary Training

As a student in a medical assisting program, you'll learn practical clinical and administrative skills. While some programs tend to focus primarily on medical assisting topics, others may also include general education topics, such as English and psychology. Most programs also include a practicum in a clinic - you'll gain first-hand experience interacting directly with patients and medical staff.

Programs of all levels typically cover the following medical assisting topics:

  • Health care administration
  • Insurance processing and billing
  • Pharmacology
  • Anatomy
  • Medical ethics
  • Medical terminology
  • Computer applications
  • Medical transcription

Other Skills

Medical assistants need to have strong analytical skills for coding medical records and understanding medical charts. You also need to be detail oriented, since medical records must be accurate. Technical skills are necessary to use the clinical instruments effectively. You should also have strong interpersonal skills and be able to remain professional in times of stress.


Though certification is not a requirement for employment, you might consider becoming certified through a national organization, such as the American Medical Technologists or American Association of Medical Assistants. Certification may demonstrate your commitment to the profession, as well as increase your appeal to employers. Becoming certified typically entails completion of an accredited training program and passage of a certification exam. Some professional organizations also offer certification in sub-specializations, such as ophthalmic, podiatric or administrative medical assistants.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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