There are several steps required for those seeking how to become a medical assistant. First and foremost, job seekers must have a strong education, and ideally an interest in the healthcare industry. For a majority of medical assistants (or MAs as they’re commonly referred to), the assisting field is an ideal way to join the medical profession without the years of schooling and education to become a doctor or nurse.
1) Enrolling in a Medical Assistant School
When considering different medical assisting programs it’s important to find a school or program that is accredited. Students wanting to learn how to become a medical assistant will also have to choose between online and traditional programs. There are several medical assistant schools that exist solely online, allowing students to earn their certificate or degree from home.
Depending on the level of education they seek, students may also have the opportunity to enroll in specialized programs and classes. A specialized focus is ideal for students interested in becoming a medical assistant who works in laboratory or clinical settings.However, there are primarily three program options available:
Certificate or diploma programs typically last anywhere from 6 weeks to a year and are the preferred educational path of choice for those interested in how to become a medical assistant on a short time table. The curriculum is fast-paced and hyper-focused on the job expectations for new MAs. While this approach might be appealing to someone uninterested in taking other gen-ed classes, the shorter training time could mean diminished job opportunities in the future. Prospective students are advised to contact potential employers or investigate local medical assisting job descriptions to find out if their certificate or diploma is accepted.
Associates Degree programs can take up to two years to complete but offer more general education in addition to other career-specific classwork.
2) Choosing a Career Path
The specific duties of a medical assistant will vary based on their area of specialization. Within the medical assisting profession there’s what’s considered two main types of MAs. Clinical medical assistants typically assist the doctor in a more clinical fashion often times interacting directly with the patient where as administrative medical assistants handle mostly office work. For a more detailed look at the differences between this profession, please see our guide on Clinical vs. Administrative Medical Assisting.
The specific duties of clinical medical assistants are largely defined by State law. Many people learn how to become a medical assistant in a specialized area. For example, this may result in a career as a pediatric or optometric assistant. This type of work may require additional training, and at least an associates degree in medical assisting.
3) Complete a Medical Assisting Externship
Certain programs require medical assistants to complete an externship in which they gain on-the-job experience while working in a medical assisting capacity in an actual hospital or care facility. Typically externships last a few weeks and take place during the course of regular medical assisting raining program.
4) Medical Assistant Certification
One of the final steps in becoming a medical assistant is to seek some form of certification. While certification is by no means required for every job, many employers prefer medical assistants who have at least one certification. This is more common in advanced level positions in a specialized field.
The main reason for a medical assistant to become certified is to enhance their resume and skill set, increasing their chances of finding a high-paying job. There are several organizations that offer certification, including the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certification from the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) certification from the American Medical Technologists (AMT).
It’s important to note that in order to sit for a certification exam, a medical assistant will have had to have graduated from an accredited program. The typical certification process involves completing an exam and a set number of training hours.
5) Seek Employment
With proper education and training squared away, medical assistant candidates will want to begin looking for job prospects. In such a competitive field, an MA who has completed all previous steps will most assuredly have the upper-hand when negotiating salary and other job details.