Becoming a medical assistant is an excellent career choice that can propel you to an exciting and enriching career. We will always have a need for dedicated professionals in the healthcare industry, and today, jobs in healthcare are on the rise. With excellent job security, good pay and a fast education path, becoming a medical assistant might be the perfect fit for your goals.
If helping others is your passion and you’re ready for a challenging and fulfilling career, continue reading this guide on how to become a medical assistant!
Becoming a Medical Assistant
Most states do not have any formal requirements for becoming a medical assistant beyond a GED or high school diploma. Still, you may experience difficulty landing a medical assistant position without a medical assistant certificate. With that in mind, check out the steps to take to become a medical assistant:
1. Earn a Medical Assistant Certification
The first step to becoming a medical assistant involves going back to school or furthering your education. Earning a medical assistant certification will help you stand out from the crowd, and provide essential practice for the job. Hands-on learners will have the opportunity to learn in action through an externship that is part of your medical assistant program.
While some employers may provide on-the-job training for medical assistant positions, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that most prefer to hire employees with a medical assistant certificate from an accredited post-secondary institution. As such, earning a medical assistant certification will increase your chances of getting hired.
Various universities, community colleges and technical schools offer medical assistant training programs. In general, these programs take approximately one year to complete. As you choose a program, some questions to consider include:
- Is the school accredited?
- How much does the program cost compared with similar programs at other institutions?
- What quality of hands-on training will you receive?
- How are the courses offered? Do they have online and in-person course options?
- What are the residency options? Will you have to commute?
At AIHT, our accredited medical assistant training programs are nine months long and involve 225 hours of high-quality externship experience. We have competitive rates and provide a hybrid of online and in-person course options.
2. Build Medical Assistant Experience With Externships
After you’ve blazed through your written assignments and mastered the lab work, the next step in earning your medical assistant certification is to gain hands-on experience with an externship. Externships typically involve unpaid shadowing of an industry professional for anywhere from a day to several weeks.
Medical assistant externships provide an excellent opportunity for students to learn from industry professionals about a medical assistant’s daily tasks and responsibilities. In addition to observation, externs can also perform specific medical assistant tasks under supervision, such as drawing blood or preparing patients for an X-ray. In this way, externships prepare you for real-world work and increase your confidence before an interview or your first day on the job.
AIHT has clinical affiliations with various healthcare facilities to complete your externship requirements.
3. Get Certified
The next step on your journey to a medical assistant career is to get certified. Certifications have many benefits, including:
- Adds credibility
- Boosts your resume
- Increases your hiring chances
- Gives you leverage for better pay
- Creates additional opportunities for advancement
The technical aspects of medical assistant certification involve authorized data entry of medication, laboratory and radiology orders. Achieving a medical assistant certification generally involves:
- Covering an application fee.
- Submitting a certificate application with your official transcript.
- Completing a written examination of approximately 200 questions.
The primary medical assistant certifications are through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and American Medical Technologists (AMT). The overall governing body for medical assistant certifications is the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
4. Apply and Interview
The final hurdle before officially calling yourself a medical assistant is to apply for an open position and nail the interview process. To do so, you will need to:
- Craft a compelling resume.
- Rehearse responses for various interview questions.
- Continue polishing your technical skills as you wait for an opening or an interview.
Here are some other tips to keep in mind for the application and interview process:
- Keep your options open and apply to various places, such as hospitals, urgent care clinics, primary care clinics, specialty centers and healthcare facilities.
- Connect with alumni in your area who may know of opportunities and can get you in touch with the right individual for an interview.
- If you enjoyed your externship experience, ask the staff at that healthcare facility about any openings.
Roles and Responsibilities
Medical assistant roles and responsibilities can be categorized into two broad areas — administrative or managerial duties and medical duties.
Administrative and Managerial Duties
Medical assistants are often the first and last people patients encounter with their visit to the doctor’s office. When the patient arrives, your duty as a medical assistant is to greet them in the reception area and perform administrative tasks related to their appointment. After their appointment, they will come to you to schedule later appointments or pay for the rendered services. As such, some administrative and managerial duties of a medical assistant include:
- Supervising the reception area.
- Greeting patients and visitors.
- Responding to phone calls.
- Entering relevant data into the computer.
- Sending and receiving mail.
- Filing insurance claims.
- Assisting other staff with patient data management.
- Upholding the integrity of patient information and medical history.
Medical assistants also assist doctors and practitioners with medical duties related to a patient’s medical profile, such as:
- Drawing blood.
- Sterilizing medical equipment.
- Checking blood pressure levels and other vitals.
- Preparing patients for X-rays or other medical exams.
- Wound care
Depending on the medical facility, you may have other duties specific to the type of healthcare the facility provides, such as eye care or dental care. If your medical assistant training does not cover these duties, your employer will provide on-the-job training.
Medical Assistant Certifications
There are four medical assistant certifications you can receive that CMS recognizes. The medical assistant certifications that meets CMS’s meaningful use standards include:
- Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) through AAMA: Requires a postsecondary medical assistant diploma and involves an exam of over 200 questions. The entire application, testing and certifying process take approximately six months. Once you receive the certificate, it is valid for 60 months.
- Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) through AMT: Requires at least 720 hours of instruction in an accredited medical assistant training program, enrollment in an Armed Forces medical services training program or five years of work experience to apply. The exam consists of over 200 questions, and you can retake the exam up to three times. Upon successfully completing exam, you will receive the certificate within two to three weeks. The certificate is valid for three years. From start to finish, the RMA process is approximately two months if you pass the exam on your first try.
- National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) through the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT): Requires a diploma from an NCCT-approved institution or the Armed Forces or two years of medical assistant work experience within five years of your application. This certification requires annual renewal.
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) through the National Healthcareer Association (NCHA): Eligibility requirements include a medical assistant diploma within the previous five years or a high school diploma with at least one year of supervised medical assistant work experience within the previous three years. The CCMA certification is valid for two years.
Visit Our Medical Assistant Program Page or Contact Us for More Info
If you can see yourself thriving in a medical assistant position, visit our medical assistant program page to discover how AIHT can help you achieve that goal. A medical assistant certificate can expand your career prospects.