A step-by-step guide on how to become a medical assistant.

Step 1

Is being a medical assistant for me?

Step One Photo

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

Overview
What do medical assistants do?
Career Satisfaction
Are medical assistants happy with their careers?
Personality
What are medical assistants like?

Still unsure if becoming a medical assistant is the right career path? Take the free CareerExplorer test to find out if this career is in your top matches. Perhaps you are well-suited to become a medical assistant or another similar career!

Described by our users as being “shockingly accurate”, you might discover careers you haven’t thought of before.

Step 2

High School

Prospective medical assistants can begin preparing for their career while in high school. Relevant and helpful electives include:

• Anatomy and physiology
• Mathematics
• Bookkeeping
• Computer applications
• Introduction to health care
• Safety and first aid

Volunteer experience in a healthcare setting is also very valuable.

Step 3

Formal Training

Some medical assistants are trained on the job, but this practice is far less common than in the past. Nowadays, the common path to entering the field is via formal education. Training programs, generally available at technical and vocational schools, are typically offered at the certificate or diploma level, as well as the Associate’s Degree level.

Associate’s Degree programs encompass slightly more advanced training compared to certificate and diploma programs. They are also recommended for students who think they may wish to eventually earn a more advanced degree in a health-related field.

To ensure that their selected program teaches the fundamental concepts necessary to succeed in the profession, students should be sure to enrol in a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).

Certificate or Diploma

Common components of these programs include the following:

Medical Office Terminology
Focus
Medical terms and healthcare vocabulary needed to effectively work and communicate in a medical office; basics of human anatomy
Target Skills
Ability to understand, spell, abbreviate, and use medical terminology

Medical and Insurance Billing
Focus
The basics of the health insurance industry and how insurance claims are submitted and processed; diagnosis and medical procedural coding
Target Skills
Understanding of the processes to submit medical and insurance forms
Understanding of how and why forms are prepared in a certain way

Medical Laboratory
Focus
Introduction to all aspects of the laboratory process typical of medical offices, including laboratory testing techniques and documentation procedures
Target Skills
Knowledge of how to perform, handle, and process frequently conducted medical tests, such as drawing blood, sample collection, and immunology testing

Medical Assisting – Clinical
Focus
Completion of a certain number of hours working in a relevant medical setting
Target Skills
First-hand medical assisting experience greeting patients, recording vital signs, and managing a medical office

Associate’s Degree

Common components of these programs include the following:

Phlebotomy
Focus
Study of the human circulatory system and the techniques to properly and safely collect blood samples
Target Skills
In-depth understanding of how to draw blood and the underlying physiological basis for blood-drawing techniques
Ability to operate equipment used
Understanding of the legal and safety rules that must be followed

Psychology
Focus
The basics of human behavioral science
Target Skills
Basic understanding of the human brain – memory, learning, mental development, and consciousness – and how it can affect behavior
Ability to analyze and interpret data and trends

Ethics and the Law in Healthcare
Focus
An overview of ethical and legal principles related to healthcare: documentation procedures, privacy requirements, patient bill of rights
Target Skills
Identifying and handling moral, ethical, and legal dilemmas commonly encountered in the medical profession

Pharmacology
Focus
Background of pharmaceuticals and drug laws; administering medications
Target Skills
How to safely deliver medications, calculate dosages, read drug labels, and prevent unintended drug interactions

Step 4

Certification & Resources

While certification is not required in the field, many employers prefer to hire certified medical assistants. For this reason, most accredited medical assisting schools tailor their curriculum so that students will be prepared to sit for a certification examination upon graduation. When choosing a school, students should ask these questions:

  • For which certification exam does the school prepare its graduates?
  • What is the school’s certification exam pass rate?
  • How does the school’s pass rate compare to the national average?

These are the most widely recognized and sought after certifications:

Step 5

Employment

For newly graduated and certified medical assistants, the key to finding that first job is often thinking outside the box. Expand your job search beyond physicians’ offices and clinics and apply with specialists such as chiropractors, podiatrists, obstetricians, and others.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I become a Medical Assistant?

The varied work of a medical assistant demands a specific set of skills and abilities:

  • Ability to multi-task in a fast-paced, ever-changing environment – the job involves a myriad of both administrative and clinical responsibilities

  • Communication skills – the capacity to interact with people with ease; to listen, ask pertinent questions, and clearly convey instructions and information

  • Perception and attention to detail – skilled at observing and recording details; in this field, mistakes can have serious health and safety consequences

  • Sensitivity – the ability to recognize patient distress and discomfort and treat them with kindness and compassion

  • Ability to react calmly and effectively in emergency situations

  • Comfort with technology – depending on the setting, medical assistants use medical equipment such as autoclaves, x-ray machines, blood pressure monitors, EKG machines, and hemoglobin machines; they use different types of software for bookkeeping, billing, scheduling, and maintaining patient records

If these characteristics describe you, becoming a medical assistant may be the right decision for you. The reasons to enter the field are many:

  • Flexible and relatively inexpensive training options
  • Relatively fast entry into the job market – which is not the case for many other healthcare/medical occupations
  • Opportunity to interact with all kinds of people and contribute to their wellbeing
  • Dynamic and varied work environment
  • A potential launching pad into other medical careers
  • Job security – according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is an in-demand and fast growing occupation
  • Solid rate of pay
  • Most medical assistants receive health insurance through their employers
  • A 9-to-5 work day is possible – something which is not available to many other practitioners in the medical field
  • Less stressful than many other medical roles
  • Opportunities to work with evolving technologies

What are Medical Assistants like?

Based on our pool of users, Medical Assistants tend to be predominately investigative people. This characteristic aligns with the many detailed investigative tasks demanded of these practitioners in both their administrative and clinical roles: filling out insurance forms, processing medical bills, taking patient’s blood pressure, reading other vital signs, and collecting fluid and tissue specimens for laboratory testing.

Steps to becoming a Medical Assistant

To become a sought after medical assistant, complete an accredited certificate or degree program and upon graduation pursue professional certification.

How long does it take to become a Medical Assistant?

• Medical assistant certificate or diploma programs last about one year. • Medical assistant Associate’s Degree programs last about two years.

How to become a Medical Assistant

While it is possible to become a medical assistant with only a high school diploma or GED and on-the-job training, most employers prefer to hire applicants who have completed a formal education program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).

Medical assistant training comes in the form of a one-year certificate or two-year Associate’s Degree programs. Both include classroom and laboratory/clinical components and are generally offered by vocational or technical schools and community colleges.

Certificate programs are less costly and are designed to prepare students for relatively quick entry into the workforce. Curricula are targeted and focus on medical billing, office operations, clinical components, laboratory procedures, and medical technologies. Associate’s Degree programs cover similar coursework – though at a more in-depth level – and also include general education courses.

Certification is not mandatory for medical assistants. Many employers, however, seek job candidates with one or more professional credentials accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. Among the recognized certifying agencies are the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), the National Healthcareer Association (NHA), the American Medical Technologists (AMT), and the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT).