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What Are the Different Types of Medical Assistant Degrees?

Medical assistant degrees are offered at the undergraduate level. There are also non-degree postsecondary educational options in the field, as well as professional certification options. Learn more about the different opportunities for aspiring medical assistants.

Different Types of Medical Assisting Degrees

There are a few different degrees that aspiring medical assistants can earn in order to train for a career in the field. Within degree programs, students prepare for careers that include office work in medical facilities and basic patient care. The most common degree option is an associate's degree, but there are a few degree-completion programs that lead to a bachelor's degree. It is important to note that a degree is not required to get this job; an undergraduate certificate or diploma is typically the minimum educational prerequisite, although a high school diploma or GED may be sufficient when supplemented with on-the-job training.

Important Facts About Medical Assisting Degrees

School Type Community colleges, technical schools (for associate's degrees), four-year universities (for bachelor's degrees)
Online Availability Partially or fully online
Possible Careers Medical assistant, medical receptionist, medical administrative assistant, medical office manager
Continuing Education Options Bachelor's degree (for associate's degree graduates), master's degree in a medicine-related field
Median Salary (2020) $35,850 (for all medical assistants )
Job Outlook (2019-2029) 19% growth (for all medical assistants )

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Associate's Degree Programs

While most schools with associate-level medical assisting degree programs award an Associate of Applied Science, some award an Associate of Science instead. An associate's degree in the field typically requires 60-65 credit hours for completion, with a portion of those coming from general education requirements like math, science and English. Programs generally take two years to complete, though accelerated and part-time programs are available that may take more or less time. Common course topics include:

  • Medical terminology
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Disease and pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Patient care
  • Diagnostic procedures
  • Pharmacology
  • Front office basics
  • Medical office management

Bachelor's Degree Programs

Although much less common, there are degree completion programs available that award a Bachelor of Science in Health Science with a concentration in medical assistant. These programs accept students who are enrolled in or have completed a medical assistant associate's degree, and they build on the associate's-level coursework with more advanced courses in the field. Some courses are offered entirely online, and some programs award credit for supervised field experiences in healthcare facilities. Common advanced course topics include:

  • Epidemiology
  • Theories of health behavior
  • Healthcare policy
  • Regional health issues
  • Applied ethics in healthcare

Certificate and Diploma Programs

Another option is to forgo a degree and instead earn a certificate or diploma in medical assisting, since many employers only require this level of education. The major difference between an associate's degree program and a certificate or diploma program is that the latter programs, while containing many of the same field-specific courses as associate's degree programs, have no general education course requirements. You can expect to complete a diploma or certificate program in 1-2 years.

Professional Certification Options

While medical assistants are not required to be certified, certification can help boost employment prospects. Depending on the program, graduates of associate's degree programs may be prepared for some certifications. Perhaps the most common certifications are the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential from the American Association of Medical Assistants and the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) from the American Medical Technologists. Other options include the National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) from the National Center for Competency Testing and the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) from the National Healthcareer Association.

With experience, some medical assistants wish to specialize in a particular area of medical assisting. Certification options are available through organizations focused on specific medical subfields, such as the American Optometric Association and the American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants.