Medical Assistant Diploma and Certificate Programs
Medical assistants are valued members of healthcare teams, working alongside physicians to provide patient care and administrative assistance. This rewarding career has a number of advantages, including a wide variety of career paths and excellent job prospects. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that medical assistant jobs are projected to grow 28% by 2026, a rate that is much faster than average.
To become a medical assistant, you only need a diploma or certificate. Although some people go on to get an associate degree in medical assisting, it is not usually required. There are many certificate and diploma programs available, both on campus and online.
This page will discuss types of programs, how to choose a program, salary expectations, and how to boost your career by obtaining certification (not to be confused with a certificate program).
What Is the Difference Between a Diploma Program and a Certificate Program?
The terms diploma and certificate are often used interchangeably, by both schools and informational sites alike; and, indeed, there are many similarities. Both are non-degree programs that can prepare you to join the workforce faster. Both programs prepare you for optional certification exams and provide clinical experiences.
However, in general diploma programs are more comprehensive than certificate programs. Each program can usually be completed in under two years, but while a certificate program may take between 30 to 40 credit hours, a diploma program often takes 40 to 60 credit hours.
Although we will use the term certificate on this page, keep in mind that it is important to find out which is offered by the schools you are exploring.
How to Choose a Medical Assistant Program
One of your first decisions will be to determine whether you want to pursue a certificate program or an associate degree program. This decision depends on your goals.
If you want to enter the workforce and start earning right away, a certificate is the fast-track option. This page will focus on career path options.
If you think you want to eventually earn a bachelor’s degree and have ambitions to advance your career, it makes sense to pursue an associate degree. Check out our associate degree page for more information. An associate degree can lead to roles in healthcare such as team leader, medical or clinical office manager, or other roles in healthcare administration and management.
You should also consider the following:
- When deciding which school to attend, know your next steps. Many schools allow you to transfer credits from your certificate program to an associate or bachelor’s degree program. If you aren’t sure of what you want in the future, this option gives you some flexibility.
- Don’t simply consider a school’s claims of accreditation. Review what organizations are doing the accrediting and compare the quality of accreditations between schools. Medical assistant accreditation organizations such as the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) can prepare you for the CMA certification exam.
- Consider whether a school is qualified to receive Title IV student loans from the U.S. government. This can help reduce the financial cost of your education.
- Lastly, look at criteria such as graduations rates, job placement rates, and the number of students who go on to higher education. An institution that can’t provide these numbers is an institution to avoid.
Medical Assistant Salary
Most employees in this position hold a high school diploma or technical certificate. According to salary.com, the average salary range for a medical assistant without a degree is $33,100 to $34,696. Earning an associate degree can push those numbers to between $33,428 and $35,024.
Location can also be an important factor in an employment search as demand in this field varies based on region. The BLS reports that the following states have with highest mean salary:
|District of Columbia||$39,048|
Medical Assisting Certificate Programs
Medical assisting certificate programs are numerous, and completion time is around a year. Certificates are considered the fastest track, with programs taking six months to a year to complete. Either type of program is available through community colleges, universities, and vocational schools.
Expect to study administration, office management practices, medical terminology, anatomy, clinical procedures, and medical law. This program also delves into the ethical and legal responsibilities of healthcare. Typically you will be required to gain hands-on training through clinical experiences.
Accelerated Medical Assistant Programs
Accelerated medical assistant programs are designed to help you become a medical assistant in as little as six weeks. With this option you can begin working as a medical assistant in less than half the time most training takes. Most courses take place online; however, on-campus and hybrid options are also available.
Online Certificate Programs
Many online programs are available, with a hybrid format option between traditional in-person and online classes offered through certain programs. Ideal for working or returning students, these programs can provide students the flexibility of attending class where and when it is convenient for them.
Medical Assistant Certification
To become a medical assistant, you typically don’t need a license. However, an important option in completing your education is to obtain medical assistant certification.
Not to be confused with certificate programs, medical assistant certification is a voluntary process in which you demonstrate your competence, distinguish yourself, and gain credibility. A certified medical assistant (CMA) is a highly qualified professional that may support advanced duties such as X-ray services or medical order entry. In addition, some employers may require professional certification, and state requirements may vary.
To be eligible for certification, you need to pass a CMA certification examination. To qualify for the exam, you must have graduated from an accredited program within a year of taking the test. It consists of 200 multiple-choice questions and covers a broad range of related topics such as medical terminology, ethics, clinical duties, patient care, administrative duties, and medical documentation. You have three chances to complete and pass the exam. Upon successful completion, you can apply for certification.
Although there are several certifications available, the two main certification exams are available through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA):
- The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
- The Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
You will need to renew your CMA certificate every five years, which may require continuing education courses and retaking certification examinations. If you’re an AAMA member, you could pay reduced renewal fees.
Finally, additional specialty certifications medical assistants can earn focus on areas such as ophthalmology, ob-gyn, or podiatry. This is particularly helpful if you work for a certified practitioner in one of these areas and want to advance your career.
Spotlight: Featured Medical Assistant Diploma and Certificate Programs
The following is a list of featured schools with medical assistant diploma or medical assistant certificate programs. We chose these options based on cost, rankings, and student reviews. These programs are online, in person, or a combination of both. Note that in this section, we use the terminology of the school with regard to certificate or diploma. Tuition amounts are for the entire program.
U.S. Career Institute
The medical assistant certificate program at U.S. Career Institute allows you to study when and where it’s convenient for you. Students receive hard copy and electronic lesson books, instructor assistance, and career support after graduation. Clinical experiences take place in virtual labs, so coursework is entirely online.
Tuition: $1,539 (includes fees and expenses)
San Francisco State University
San Francisco State offers a clinical medical certificate prram that takes six months to complete. The program involves a 160-hour clinical externship for a hands-on experience component. Students can learn how to draw blood, prepare patients for X-rays, and perform electrocardiograms.
Tuition: $2,599 (includes books and course materials)
Minnesota West Community and Technical College
Minnesota West Community and Technical College is a technical/community college that offers a medical assistant diploma program in which students can prepare to support physician care for patients, as well as medical office management. Students must complete 44 credit hours and a clinical practicum for graduation.
Tuition: $7,547 on campus, $8,097 online (excludes fees)
Delivery: Both online and on campus
You can earn either a medical assistant diploma or a medical administrative assistant certificate (9 months, online, campus support) in a year with your medical assistant diploma from Rasmussen College. You can gain job-ready skills quickly to help you jump start your career, and field experience options are available. Upon graduation, you will be eligible to take the CMA or RMA certification exam, and exam fees are included in tuition. This private school has campuses across the nation in Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Florida, and other locations.
Tuition: $13,994 (includes fees)
Delivery: Both online and on campus
San Joaquin Valley College
San Joaquin Valley College offers both clinical medical assistant and medical office certificates, each lasting 37 weeks. Upon graduation, students can qualify for three certification exams to become either a California Certified Medical Assistant (CCMA), National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA), or a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) through the National Healthcareer Association (the school pays for one of the exams completed within six months of graduation).
Tuition: approximately $16,000 (includes fees)
Delivery: Both online and on campus
The 51-credit medical assistant diploma program develops clinical, laboratory, and administrative skills. The program includes a clinical externship under the direct supervision of a physician, which is a 300 hour, unpaid experience.
Tuition: $9,433.98 (excludes fees)
Featured Medical Assistant Diploma/Certificate programs in:
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia