If you want to get your foot in the door of a healthcare career, a good place to get started is as a medical assistant. Medical assistants are a vital part of most doctors’ offices today as they complete many of the essential administrative and clinical tasks that keep primary health care offices operating.
Why is the career of a medical assistant such a good choice? Job demand! The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the demand for all types of medical assistants will increase by 23% by 2024.
There will be a steady demand for more support workers for most types of group practices, clinics and other healthcare centers in the coming years. This is because there is increasing demand for healthcare services for our aging population, and all of those healthcare offices need support workers to staff and run them.
There are two primary types of medical assistants. Which type you are will depend upon the medical practice in which you work. Other medical assistants may be a bit of a hybrid between these two types.
Duties of Clinical Medical Assistant
A clinical medical assistant focuses on doing clinical related tasks in primary care offices, nursing homes, and outpatient clinics. The clinical tasks that they perform usually include the following:
- Taking blood pressure, weight and checking vision
- Assist the doctor, NP or PA in doing physical examinations
- Provide the patient with some medications or injections if directed to do so by the doctor
- Prepare blood tests
- Dispose of used and contaminated medical supplies
- Sterilize medical instruments
Depending upon the state, clinical medical assistants may have other duties, such as instructing patients about special diets or prescription drugs; preparing the patient for x-rays; taking out stitches; changing dressings and drawing blood.
Duties of Administrative Medical Assistant
An administrative medical assistant also has very important roles in a medical office, but their duties are primarily restricted to administrative tasks. For example, this type of medical assistant may do some or all of the following:
- Complete insurance forms for patients
- Code patient medical information
- Enter patient information into electronic health records
- Answer telephones
- Order new office supplies
- Set up patient appointments
Administrative medical assistants have very important roles to play in terms of transferring patient records into electronic form, which is being required by many federal health initiatives.
Education Requirements for Medical Assistants
Most medical assistants complete an associate’s degree or diploma program for medical assistants. You will not find any exact educational requirements for medical assistants that apply to all states. However, the vast majority of healthcare employers will want to hire medical assistants who have graduated from such a program.
You should be able to find medical assistant programs at most community colleges and vocational schools in most cities. However, today there also are online programs so that you can earn your certificate or associate’s degree in a year or two while continuing to work.
Two online MA programs that are accredited and of high quality are:
- Herzing University: This is a highly respected online college that provides medical assistant students with both clinical and administrative skills that will make them in high demand in most medical offices, nursing homes or hospitals. This online university also offers a bachelor of science, associate’s degree and a diploma for medical assistants. Some students may choose to earn a certificate or associate’s degree and then start working. It is possible to return to school later to earn your bachelor’s, and your employer may opt to pick up the tab.
- Pima Medical Institute: This medical assistant program is also online and can be completed full time in less than a year. All of the instructors in this one year program will arm you with the latest clinical and administrative skills to qualify for many good paying MA jobs in primary care offices.
Licensing Requirements for Medical Assistants
Medical assistants are not required to have a license in most states. There were days when one could become a clinical or administrative medical assistant with just a high school diploma. Today, however, most doctors’ offices want you to have a medical assistant certificate or associate’s degree. They also prefer that you earn your MA registration or certification after you have graduated.
To achieve registered medical assistant status, you must have at least five years of work experience or a degree as a medical assistant. At that point, you then are qualified to sit for the examination given by the American Registry of Medical Assistants.
Or, you can become a certified medical assistant. This certification follows your passing the examination administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants.
Another certification to consider is Certified Clinical Medical Assistant or CCMA. This certification is offered by the National Healthcareer Association.
Still another highly regarded certification is for a National Certified Medical Assistant or NCMA, which is administered by the National Center for Competency Testing.
With your MA certificate or degree, along with your registered or certified status, you will be a highly desirable MA candidate for many types of high paying medical assistant positions across the country.
As you are considering to become an administrative or clinical medical assistant, you should verify if your desired program has been accredited.
For medical assistant programs, we advise that you seek accreditation from one of these respected organizations:
- Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
- Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
Accreditation from one of these respected organizations serves as a signal for both you and future employers that your education is of high value.
Becoming a clinical or administrative medical assistant is an excellent way to gain a foothold in the very quickly growing healthcare field. After you have become a MA and have several years of experience, you could find that you want to continue your education. Some MAs use their education and work experience as a foundation to earn a more advanced degree that leads to higher paying positions, such as:
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing
- Master of Science in Nursing
- Master of Physician Assistant Studies