CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a medical assistant.

Step 1

Is becoming a medical assistant right for me?

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing 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:

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

Still unsure if becoming a medical assistant is the right career path? to find out if this career is right for you. 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 degree level.

Associate 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
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
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
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
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 Degree

Common components of these programs include the following:

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

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
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

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


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.