Learn More About Medical Assisting: Resources & Information For Future MAs
- Why ABHES and CAAHEP Accreditation Matter
- What Kind of Degree Should a Medical Assistant Have?
- How to Pick a Medical Assistant Program
- 10 Reasons to Get Certified in Medical Assisting
- Acing the CMA (Certified Medical Assistant) Exam
- What to Expect as a Medical Assistant
- 5 Things Medical Assistants Learn on the Job
How To Use Our Site & Connect With Medical Assistant Schools
We want to make sure you have a great experience when you visit our site. After all, if you don’t find it helpful and easy to use, what’s the point? No matter what page you visit, you’ll find a search tool for locating medical assisting training options in your area.
Our focus is on medical assisting first and foremost, but we understand that when you’re in the early stages of exploring career paths in the allied health fields, it’s important to consider all your options. That’s exactly why we don’t stop at providing information on medical assisting exclusively, but instead offer up answers to all the big questions about other allied health careers with similar education requirements.
We know you’re serious about getting started in your career, and that you’re actively considering all your education options. We recommend a simple, three-step approach to make the process as quick and easy as possible…
Step One: Develop your plan of action
To get actionable information that will get you into a quality education program and out into the field quickly, it’s always important to be asking the right questions. We’ve been doing this a long time so we have a good sense of the big questions people in your exact position frequently have, and the information they need in response to those questions.
Here’s the five questions we recommend you start with…
- What kinds of medical assistant jobs and specializations are out there?
- How do I choose a medical assisting program?
- What’s certification all about, and is that something I need to be thinking about now?
- What exactly can I expect when I start working in the field, and am I cut out for it?
- What can I expect to earn once I land a medical assisting job?
Those are the exact questions we answer for you here in this simple three-step guide.
Understanding Your Career Options is a Good Place to Start Your Educational Planning
Medical assistants are found in just about every healthcare setting… hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices, and more. While 57 percent reported working in doctor’s offices as of 2020, a significant proportion – 15 percent – work in state and local hospitals or private facilities such as those that provide geriatric care. About eight percent staff outpatient care centers while another four percent work in the offices of chiropractors.
It’s a diverse field with a lot of options, and we help to break down some of the differences in those practice settings for you.
Even with all this diversity in the profession, in the most fundamental sense, there are two primary roles that MAs fill in any of those settings– clinical and administrative.
Not every role is exclusively in one realm or the other. Part of the appeal of having medical assistants on staff is the fact that they have a multi-faceted skillset, allowing them to work with patients directly one day, and take on organizational and administrative work the next – or take on both roles in the same day, for that matter. Though it’s common for employers to blend the roles, in some cases doctor’s offices and other employers really need specialized MAs on staff with more focused expertise in either the clinical or administrative side of the practice.
The dual role nature of the job is relevant to your early career planning too, even as you choose your training program. Though most training programs are generalist in nature, covering both the clinical and administrative sides of the profession, you will also find options specifically geared to one or the other. The same holds true of certification, allowing you to earn a credential that lines right up with your particular specialty, if you make the decision to specialize. There continues to be a huge demand for medical assistants that can manage both sides of the practice too, and most certifications are aimed at that sort of generalist role.
The basic job description for each of the two roles would look something like this:
Clinical Medical Assistant
These roles are heavy on patient contact and clinical know-how. If you like the idea of putting on a set of scrubs every day and working in close contact with patients directly under the attending physician in the exam room or other clinical settings, this is the right path for you. This is the rubber-meets-the road role for medical assistants, and involves participating directly in the medical services patients go to the doctor for in the first place.
The tasks that clinical medical assistants routinely perform include:
- Prepping and supplying exam rooms
- Checking in patients and escorting them to exam rooms
- Completing patient questionnaires as a preliminary assessment
- Performing blood draws (with additional phlebotomy certification) and blood pressure checks
- Performing routine laboratory tests
- Administering medications prescribed by a physician
- Delivering and explaining patient education literature on home care, including everything from dietary recommendations to wound dressing
Administrative Medical Assistant
Administrative medical assistants put their skills to use in both the back office and at front desk, tending to both the business and customer service side of medical practices. They keep it all organized and ensure important information gets to both patients and clinical staff when they need it. Administrative assistants are the nuts-and-bolts of the medical practice, but they still interact with patients in the waiting room and on the phone. In fact, the role typically involves being the face of the medical practice since administrative assistants manning the front desk are typically the first person patients see when they walk in the door.
The common tasks these positions involve include:
- Patient admissions and check-in
- Scheduling and coordinating appointments in-house and with specialists patients are referred to
- Coordinating patient services documentation and lab results between the attending physician and outside specialists
- Answering phones and fielding patient questions
- Updating and maintaining patient records and charts
- Medical service coding for insurance billing
- Ordering supplies and tracking inventory
Step Two: Compare your options for medical assistant training and professional certification
While historically a lot of the training medical assistants received was on the job, most positions today will require you to come to the interview with the right kind of formal education already. That means plenty of hands-on training and even some experience gained through an internship.
The good news is that you can expect to get every bit of that and more when you enroll in an accredited training program.
Accredited medical assistant programs come in two basic varieties: You have the generally more career focused certificate and diploma programs with a curriculum that deals almost exclusively with the exact knowledge and skills you need for the job… and the associate’s degree programs that are full-on college degrees with a curriculum that includes all that same career-focused knowledge and skills along with some general college coursework.
Diploma and Certificate Programs
Diploma and certificate programs have a tight focus around the basic skills required for medical assistants and can get you the right kind of vocational training quickly and without breaking the bank. Most programs of this type last between 9 and 18 months depending on whether they’re offered full- or part-time, and can cost a third as much as a college degree. They are often available at community colleges and vocational training schools, offered right alongside the MA associate degrees the school offers. In these situations, the only difference is that you won’t be joining your classmates in the general college-level education courses covering topics like math, English and the humanities. You can also find these shorter course programs offered at teaching hospitals where more advanced medical professionals get their training.
There is no official difference between a certificate and diploma program; they’re simply different names for the same type of non-degree training program. And if you’re new to all this, it’s also worth mentioning that an academic certificate of completion that you get from a training program like this is not at all the same as getting professionally certified through a third-party professional certification agency. The similarity is in name alone. Professional certification is voluntary and comes after getting your education and training. It involves demonstrating through an exam process that you’ve mastered the skills.
Since earning a certificate or diploma isn’t quite the same as earning a full two-year degree, these programs don’t always make it easy to build on the training with more formal education later on. Although you would usually be able to go on to complete an associate’s at the same school if you choose to, credits earned in a certificate or diploma program are generally not transferable, so they don’t make it any easier to go on to earn a bachelor’s later.
Associate Degree Programs
Associate’s programs, on the other hand, are often seen as the first two years of a four-year bachelor’s degree. You’ll get the same type of highly focused medical assistant education you’d get from a certificate or diploma program, including hands-on training labs and an internship that puts you into the field for some real-world education and training. On top of all that, you’ll also be hitting the books in a more traditional sense with all the additional college-level undergraduate courses that are typical in the first two years of college.
There are real benefits that come with that kind of well-rounded college education that will have a material influence on how you perform your job. With an English and writing course or two you’ll be far better at communicating, while college math courses will make you that much more comfortable doing the books for the business. And, if you get a semester of a foreign language in there, you’ll be able to better serve certain patients with limited English skills. These are all things you can’t expect to get from a shorter diploma or certificate program.
Associate’s programs are offered as either associate of science (AS) or associate of applied science (AAS) degrees. The main difference between the two is simply that AS degrees are considered transfer degrees by definition, allowing you to easily apply the credits to a bachelor’s degree at any point down the road. In fact, many schools with AS degrees offer bachelor’s in health science and other fields specifically designed to accommodate their AS graduates, or otherwise have transfer agreements in place with other four-year schools in the area. Applied science degrees tend to have a more vocational focus and aren’t always strictly designed to be transferred. This isn’t to say you won’t find a four-year school perfectly happy to accept the credits you earned in an AAS, but the options may be a bit more limited and it may take a bit more wrangling with your transcripts to get them through the admissions committee’s review process.
Becoming Certified: Understanding Medical Assistant Certification Options
Earning your exam-based professional certification is something you do either before you go to your first job interview, or in some cases after you get hired on if you’re already a strong enough candidate without it. If you happen to be lucky enough to land a job before becoming certified, your employer will likely still insist on you earning it soon after since it can reduce liabilities for the medical practice, and in turn, actually reduce the insurance rates the practice pays. In all cases though, becoming certified comes after completing your education, whether through a diploma or certificate program, or an associate’s degree program. It’s the final step in your career preparation, and gives you the prestige that comes with a universally recognized credentials after your name, like CMA (Certified Medical Assistant) or RMA (Registered Medical Assistant)
There are several different certifications available, all offered by third-party organizations that are in the business of doing nothing but setting standards for professional knowledge and skills, developing exams around those standards, and finally granting certification to qualified professionals who demonstrate they have mastered that professional skillset with a passing score.
The most popular and widely recognized options are generalist certifications, but options are available for administrative and clinical roles specifically too. There are even a few options available for medical assistants working in specialty clinics, though these would typically come after landing a job and often after holding one of the other general certifications.
The most popular professional certification options are…
Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) from the Association of Medical Assistants
Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) from the American Medical Technologists
Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) from the National Healthcareer Association
Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) from the National Healthcareer Association
National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) from the National Center for Competency Testing
Each certification has its own costs and procedures for application, not to mention ongoing recertification requirements, all of which you can learn about here on the site. The requirements to become certified, however, are actually pretty similar and always involve completing either a diploma or certificate program or associate’s degree in medical assisting.
No one certification is right for everybody, or even better than the other options. All of these options are widely recognized and highly respected, though certain employers in different parts of the country may be more familiar with one in particular. Though we can’t really recommend one over another, what we can recommend is that you check out job listings for medical practices and hospitals in your area and find our which ones are frequently mentioned.
The program you attend can take some of the decision-making out of the process for you too since they will be very tuned in to what local employers are looking for, and often even include a test-prep course for one of the popular certifications built right into the curriculum
Step Three: Connect with schools for medical assistant training
Once you feel like you’re ready to contact schools to get information on a specific program’s admissions processes and tuition costs, just choose your state and click the ‘find schools near you’ button to get going.
Accreditation of Medical Assistant Programs
Going with a properly accredited option not only comes with the assurance that the program has already gone through a quality screening to make sure it has the exact curriculum components, hands-on training, and field experiences you need to step into the job with confidence, it will also make your life easier when it comes time to apply for your certification exam.
That’s because all the major certification agencies accept accredited programs as meeting the education requirement to take the exam without any further review. This makes for a streamlined application process that will give you more time to prepare for the exam with less time spent simply proving that your education was up to standard.
The two agencies responsible for setting curriculum guidelines and education quality standards for medical assistants, and enforcing those standards by granting accreditation to qualified programs are:
- CAAHEP (Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs)
- ABHES (Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools)
In a field where the quality and completeness of the training professionals receives has a direct effect on how they perform their jobs and serve patients, we have come to believe in accreditation and see it as something that should be considered a baseline standard. That’s exactly why every single program that we list on this site is fully accredited by one of those two national agencies.
Choosing Online or Traditional Medical Assistant Programs
As you’ll see as you dig into the options we list here, in addition to traditional on-site programs, a lot of the programs are offered online. There’s a lot of curriculum that can be delivered online very effectively through live streaming classes, interactive modules, pre-recorded lectures; and multi-user video conferencing platforms are absolutely perfect for team-based projects with classmates.
Online programs can deliver a high-quality, fully-accredited course of training while allowing you to continue to hold down any job you already have, or keep you in your hometown if you can’t quite swing moving to be close to the right school.
At the same time, all MA programs have some form of hands-on training, the better to hone your clinical abilities, so you’ll have to expect some work at a local hospital or clinic to fully master your skills before graduation.
Learn About Medical Assistant Salaries Across the Country
You already know that MAs are in great demand nationwide, but we’ll also help you figure out exactly what you can expect to make after you enter the industry.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the median salary in 2020 was $35,850 per year, or about $17.23 per hour. But there is range of salaries that are offered in the industry, anywhere between $26,930 for the lowest ten percent, on up to more than $50,580 for the top 10 percent.
And different practice settings can come with different salaries too. Those working in outpatient care earned a median salary of $38,860 in 2020, while those working in hospitals earned $37,050 that year. In physician’s offices, medical assistants reported earning a median salary of $35,870, while among the group that reported working in chiropractic offices, the median was $31,470.
Salary and job market data for medical assistants reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2020. Figures are based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed June 2021.