What Education Is Needed to Become a Medical Assistant?

Medical assistants perform critical administrative and clinical duties that help keep medical facilities running. Find out how to become a medical assistant, the education and training required, medical assistant certification, and more below. Schools offering Medical Assisting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

How to Become a Medical Assistant

Medical assistants are healthcare professionals who can handle administrative and clerical tasks, such as scheduling appointments or recording patient information, and clinical tasks, such as taking vitals and preparing test samples. Expectations may vary from employer to employer, and medical assistants can specialize in one area or the other. To begin a career as a medical assistant, it is important to obtain the necessary education, and many medical assistants will be expected to perform some on-the-job training as well. Several groups offer certifications for medical assistants, and although few states require it, employers may prefer candidates who possess these credentials. Medical assistant skills translate well to other healthcare careers, such as registered nurses (RN) or physician's assistants (PA), with more education.

Medical Assistant Requirements

Since the medical assistant profession is not strictly regulated in most states, medical assistant qualifications can differ quite a bit. Employers are likely to want candidates who hold a high school diploma or equivalent, and have completed a post-secondary medical assistant program of some variety. While certification is preferred, employers may hire candidates without certification under the condition that they obtain it within a certain period of time. Background checks and drug screenings are common, both among employers and educational programs. Training in basic life support and CPR techniques is also commonly required.

Medical Assisting Training and Education

Medical assistant programs are commonly available as certificates, diplomas, and associate degrees, with the main difference between them being the inclusion of general education courses and the time required to complete. Courses that are typically a part of medical assistant programs include:

  • Medical terminology
  • Medical assisting skills
  • Administrative office procedures
  • Examination room procedures
  • Diet and nutrition

Most medical assistant programs will include some form of clinical experience, externship/internship, or other source of real world experience. Online programs in medical assisting are available, and also include these sorts of hands-on training, so students will want to ensure that a nearby facility can accommodate this training prior to enrolling. Students in online programs should also be aware of the requirements to work as a medical assistant in their state and confirm that the program meets guidelines for certification and/or licensure.

Medical Assistant Certification

There are several organizations offering medical assistant certifications. The National Healthcareer Association (NHA) offers two separate certifications that require the applicant possess a high school diploma or equivalent, has completed a medical assisting program in the last 5 years, and pass the corresponding certification exam. The credentials are as follows:

Other certifications include the following:

  • Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) from the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)
  • Registered Medical Assistant provided by the American Medical Technologists (AMT)
  • National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) offered by the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)

Medical assisting educational programs will often be designed with at least one of these certifications in mind, so take that into consideration when enrolling as well. States which require licensure, such as California, may have their own exams and requirements. Certification is still available in these states, but may function separately from licensure.

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