How to Become a Medical Assistant in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a medical assistant. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Medical Assisting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

Medical assistants help physicians with the overall treatment of patients. They perform an assortment of clerical, administrative and clinical tasks, such as maintaining patient records, filling out insurance forms, drawing blood and measuring vital signs. They may also schedule appointments. They work in physicians' offices, hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, outpatient clinics and healthcare agencies. In large hospitals, medical assistants often specialize in either clinical or administrative duties.

Learn more about this career from the table below:

Degree RequiredCertificate or associate's degree
Education Field of StudyMedical assisting
Key ResponsibilitiesInterview patients;
Measure vital signs, height and weight;
Draw blood and collect other bodily specimens;
Assist in administrative tasks
Licensure/CertificationLicensure varies by state; voluntary certification available
Job Growth (2014-2024)23%*
Median Salary (2015)$30,590*

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is Medical Assisting?

As a medical assistant, you would perform various clerical, administrative and clinical tasks, such as maintaining patient records, filling out insurance forms, drawing blood, taking vitals, administering injections and preparing patients for examinations. Though most medical assisting jobs are in physician's offices, you could also work in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, outpatient centers and healthcare agencies.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

Before seeking formal training, you need to earn your high school diploma or equivalent, focusing on science classes as well as math, health and computer courses. Because much of the work you will perform as a medical assistant involves record keeping, you will need to have good typing skills and feel comfortable working with computers.

Step 2: Attend a Training Program

Though formal training is not required to become a medical assistant, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that employers generally prefer candidates who have completed medical assisting programs. You can attend a 1-year certificate or 2-year associate's degree program and study medical terminology and healthcare basics as well as learning administrative skills. You may also have the opportunity to participate in an internship in a medical office to gain experience in the field.

Step 3: Find a Job

The BLS reported that employment for medical assistants is projected to increase by 23% in the decade from 2014 to 2024, which is much faster than average for all occupations. You could seek work in a variety of healthcare settings; however, the majority of medical assistants employed in 2015 worked in physician's offices.

Step 4: Get Certified

You can seek certification directly after completing a training program, or choose to gain some experience before taking a certification exam. The two certifying organizations for medical assisting both require that you have completed an accredited medical assisting program before you can take the certification exam. The American Association of Medical Assistants offers the Certified Medical Assistant credential, and the American Medical Technologists offers the Registered Medical Assistant designation.

Step 5: Seek State Licensure

Each state has different requirements and regulations for medical assistants, so you should check with your state's board to see what procedures you are legally permitted to perform. If you need to gain licensure to perform certain tasks, such as X-ray photography, you may choose to take the exam to further your career and improve your professional ability.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Medical records and health information technicians are similar to medical assistants in that they deal with a patient's health information data. They ensure that all information is obtained, recorded and maintained in an efficient and accurate manner. This is largely done electronically, but may also include a paper trail. They see to it that the information is secure and yet easily accessible in order to keep clinical professionals apprised of the history of the medical treatment of individuals. Using various codes and classifications, they keep all records up to date for insurance and reimbursement purposes.

Dental assistants also perform some of the same tasks as medical assistants. In many states, a dental assistant only needs a postsecondary certificate or diploma in order to go to work. In other states, on-the-job training is all that is required. The job's duties can range from appointment scheduling, billing and recordkeeping to ensuring a patient's comfort and taking x-rays. They may assist the dentist as he or she treats a patient by sterilizing equipment, providing the equipment called for and using suction to keep the patient's mouth dry.

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