October 20, 2022

Key Steps to Becoming a Medical Assistant

By B&SC Blog Team

Key Steps to Becoming a Medical Assistant

If you want a healthcare job that involves assisting doctors and other healthcare providers, a medical assistant career might be right for you. Medical assistants provide valuable support to other healthcare professionals, helping ensure patients receive quality care. They also handle administrative tasks to keep medical offices and other healthcare facilities running smoothly. While certification is not required for all medical assistants, some employers prefer to hire certified medical assistants. Knowing more about the process of becoming a certified medical assistant can help you decide if you want to pursue this career path.

What Is a Medical Assistant?

A medical assistant is a healthcare worker who performs a wide range of clinical and administrative tasks in healthcare settings, such as doctor’s offices, outpatient clinics, and hospitals. Some of the administrative tasks these assistants handle include filling out medical records and scheduling patient appointments. Clinical tasks these assistants perform can include taking medical histories, measuring vital signs, assisting doctors during examinations, and preparing blood samples for lab tests. Some medical assistants might also administer injections or give medication under a doctor’s supervision. State laws vary on the clinical tasks that medical assistants are allowed to perform.

Medical assistants can specialize in either clinical work or administrative work in some cases, such as when they work for a hospital or large medical practice. Those who focus on administrative work might handle tasks such as coding medical information or completing insurance forms. Those who focus on performing clinical work might provide patients with instructions on special diets or medications, change dressings, or get patients ready to have X-rays taken.

Why Become a Medical Assistant?

This vital role in healthcare is in growing demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected growth in medical assistant jobs from 2020 through 2030 is 18 percent.* Being a medical assistant can provide you with a stable career while also allowing you to work in a healthcare setting.

When you’re a medical assistant, you can find work at an assortment of healthcare facility types. Depending on your preferences, you might want to work in a large hospital where you can specialize in administrative or clinical work, or you might choose a small medical practice that allows you to handle a wide range of clinical and administrative tasks. You can also learn new skills, as needed, in order to handle any additional responsibilities allowed under state law.

The fact that medical assistants can handle both clinical and administrative tasks gives them lots of flexibility and a broad spectrum of skills to leverage when looking for employment.

*Cited projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth.

How to Become a Medical Assistant

You don’t have to spend several years in college in order to become a medical assistant. In fact, some medical assistants do not have college degrees. However, it’s important to explore the different steps you can take to build this type of career to see what suits you best or offers better career opportunities. From schooling to certification, keep the following information in mind about how to become a medical assistant.

High School Diploma or GED

If you have a high school diploma or GED, you might be able to find work as a medical assistant. In this situation, you can expect to learn the duties and responsibilities that are part of being a medical assistant while you’re on the job. Over time, you’ll learn new skills that are needed for this kind of work. For those who are still in high school, classes in chemistry, biology, and anatomy are important for working in healthcare. While you can start your career as a medical assistant with a high school diploma or GED, you should keep in mind that you might have trouble finding a job. Many healthcare employers prefer to hire medical assistants who have earned a diploma or degree in this field.

Medical Assistant Program

Medical assistant programs can provide you with formal training and education for doing this type of work. With a diploma or degree in medical assisting, you might be in a better position to find work compared to those without a college-level education. Medical assistant degree programs teach you the skills needed for this career through classroom lectures and lab courses where you gain hands-on experience.

A medical assistant associate degree program also provides training and education for working in this healthcare occupation. This kind of program includes classroom lectures and lab courses as well, which gives you a chance to gain firsthand experience performing clinical tasks. This type of degree program includes courses in medical terminology, clinical procedures, pharmacology, advanced medical assisting, and medical office procedures. You should be prepared to take your certification exam after completing a medical assistant diploma or associate degree program.

Pass the CMA Test

Most states do not require medical assistants to have a certification, but earning one can make you a more desirable job candidate. Keep in mind that in some states, you might need to be certified in order to work as a medical assistant. To receive your certification as a medical assistant, you’re generally required to pass a test and meet eligibility requirements, such as graduating from an accredited program and having a certain amount of work experience. Different organizations offer certifications for medical assistants, so it’s best to check the eligibility requirements for each one. The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) offers a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential. Other certifications include Registered Medical Assistant, National Certified Medical Assistant, and Certified Clinical Medical Assistant.

The CMA Certification Exam has 200 multiple choice questions, which are given in four 40-minute segments. Exam practice tutorials are available from AAMA so medical assistants can prepare for the test.

Get Your First Medical Assisting Job

When you go through a medical assistant program and earn your certification, you’ll be ready to pursue your first job. Networking during your degree program can provide you with access to information on job opportunities. You can also check local job boards or ask healthcare facilities in your area about available medical assistant positions. As you gain experience on the job, you’ll be able to hone your skills and develop new ones.

Stay Certified

Your CMA certification doesn’t last forever. In fact, you’ll need to become certified again every 60 months in order to keep this credential. You can maintain your certification by passing the CMA exam again or through continuing education. Maintaining your certification through continuing education can only be done if it hasn’t been expired for more than three months, so plan ahead. You’ll need to acquire 60 recertification points if you take the continuing education path.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Medical Assistant?

The length of time it takes to become a medical assistant depends on the type of education you pursue. A medical assistant program at a technical or vocational school, for example, might only take a year to complete. Going to school to earn an associate degree in medical assisting might take two years. After earning your degree, you’ll then have to factor in the time it takes you to become certified. Depending on when you take your certification exam, you can expect to become a certified medical assistant as long as you pass the exam and meet other requirements, as needed. If you’re starting out in a medical assistant job with a high school diploma or GED, you might need to spend several months going through training at work.

Next Steps for Medical Assistants: Career Path

When you have your medical assistant diploma or degree and certification, your career doesn’t have to stop there. With this training and education, you might decide to advance your career and become a physician assistant or registered nurse if you enjoy working with patients.

Other career paths to consider include medical and health services manager, medical records and health information technician, or medical and clinical laboratory technologist. Advancing your medical assisting career involves earning a bachelor’s degree and possibly a master’s degree, depending on your career goals. For example, you might be in a better position for a leadership or management job in health services with a master’s degree.

Start Your Journey Today

If you want to learn more about your options for a medical assistant degree, request info from Bryant & Stratton College. Our school offers a medical assisting diploma and a medical assistant associate degree. We can provide you with additional information on these educational programs and help you start the admissions process.

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