How to Become A Medical Assistant

Healthcare industry is one of the biggest sectors in the United States and thus provides a wide variety of entry-level jobs for qualified allied healthcare professionals.

Medical assistant training may provide a career path into the allied health field as well as the healthcare industry. In addition to that, medical assistant training may also provide you with the necessary skills and tools sought by employers.

Education and Guidelines on How to Become a Medical Assistant

If you are still in high school and you are interested in becoming a medical assistant then it is preferable for you to take courses such as anatomy, biology and chemistry. However, employers have a high preference for those seeking to become medical assistants, to have completed their postsecondary medical assistant training programs.

Medical assistants carry out administrative and clinical tasks to help out both doctors and patients alike.
How to Become A Medical Assistant

Students normally take a year to successfully complete their medical assistant training programs. These are offered by a wide variety of colleges, universities, community colleges and, training and technical schools. These programs in the United States normally result in a diploma or a certificate in a related field.

Several community colleges and junior colleges in the United States offer two-year programs in medical training or medical assistance and this may lead to an associate’s degree.

All of these programs, in addition to classroom instruction, provide laboratory access to students.

Educational Requirements

In most states, there are no set educational prerequisites for becoming a medical assistant. However, a few states may require assistants to graduate from an accredited program, successfully clear an exam, perform various advanced medical tasks, such as administering and taking injections and x rays etc.

In some cases students acquire a high school diploma or equivalent to apply for medical assistant positions in hopes of learning their duties and responsibilities on the job.

The coursework for medical assistant programs may include:

  • Medical terminology
  • Medical billing
  • First aid
  • Science and mathematics
  • Anatomy

Training for Medical Assistants

Medical assistants without relevant postsecondary education get their training, develop their skills and learn their tasks on the job. Physicians, doctors and experienced assistants may help a new medical assistant in understanding how to perform daily clinical tasks, medical terminology, how to handle medical instruments and the familiarization with different types of medical equipment. Medical assistants may also learn to record patient information and how to compile and manage both electronic and paper health records. It may take you several months to complete your on-the-job training.

Licensure, Registrations and Certification

Normally, being certified is not a set prerequisite to become a medical assistant, though employers generally tend to hire medical assistants who are certified. Various recognized organizations provide certification for medical assistants. Some certification bodies require the assistant to successfully clear an exam, while others require the assistant to graduate from an accredited program.

In the United States, the National Committee for Certifying Agencies, which is headed by the Institute for Credentialing Excellence, is responsible for accrediting five certifications in relation to medical assistants. These are:

  • Certified Medical Administrative Assistant from the National Healthcare Association
  • Certified Clinical Medical Assistant from the National Healthcare Association
  • National Certified Medical Assistant from the National Center for Competency Testing
  • Certified Medical Assistant from the American Association of Medical Assistants
  • Registered Medical Assistant from the American Medical Technologists

Specification and Expertise

In hospitals or larger practices, medical assistants may be required to specialize, so they may be able to perform various tasks.

These specialized medical assistant types may include:

  • Administrative Medical Assistants

These medical assistants fill our insurance and other medical forms for patients. They also manage patient appointments and attend phone calls. Administrative medical assistants may also be required to store, maintain and buy medical equipment and other supplies for the clinic or hospital.

  • Clinical Medical Assistants

These assistants may be required to do clinical tests, sterilize medical equipment and dispose contaminated equipment and supplies such as used injections. In addition to this, clinical medical assistants may also be required to prep patients for x rays, drawing blood, removing stitching, changing dressings or instructing patients about medication and special diets.

  • Podiatric Medical Assistants

Podiatric assistants work with podiatric doctors or foot doctors. These assistants develop and take x rays, make feet castings and assist podiatrists in surgery.

  • Ophthalmic and Optometric Medical Assistants

These medical assistants help ophthalmologists and optometrists. They help the patients in learning how to remove, care for and insert contact lenses. These assistants may also assist ophthalmologists in surgery.

Important Skills and Qualities Expected of a Medical Assistant

There are several skills and qualities that a medical assistance program will aim to develop in you for increasing your potential. Your employer will expect you to display these very abilities and skills on the job. These skills may include:

  • Analytical Skills

Medical assistants are expected to understand and analyze medical charts and diagnoses. You as a medical assistant may also be required to code a patient’s medical records and other documents for the purpose of billing.

  • Detailed Oriented

As a medical assistant, you will have to keep in mind that insurance companies and physicians rely on accurate records. Thus medical assistants need to be accurate when taking vital signs or recording other relevant patient information.

  • Interpersonal Skills

As a medical assistant, you would be expected to present and discuss the patient’s information with various medical personnel, such as doctors and physicians. You as medical assistant may encounter various situations where you may have to interact with patients that are in pain, distress or trauma etc. In these situations you will have to act in a professional, calm and composed manner.

  • Technical Skills

In the capacity of a medical assistant, you must have the basic working knowledge of clinical equipment and tools. This is essential for checking a patient’s vital signs, such as blood pressure, pulse checking and heart rate etc.

Your Duties and Tasks as a Medical Assistant

Medical assistants are generally required to perform several tasks and responsibilities, these tasks and responsibilities may include:

  • Taking the patient’s blood and preparing it for laboratory use and tests.
  • Schedule patient appointments
  • Assist and help the doctor with patient examination
  • Administer injections to patients as prescribed by the doctor.
  • Measure vital signs of the patient
  • Take, record and analyze patients’ medical history and personal information

Medical assistants record and take a patients personal information and medical history. As a medical assistant, you must ensure that this information is kept confidential and discuss it only with those medical personnel that are involved directly with the treatment of the patient.

In this modern world, electronic health records (EHRs) systems are rapidly changing the dynamics of a medical assistant’s tasks and responsibilities. Increasing numbers of physicians and doctors are adopting EHRs, transferring all their patients’ medical records and information to the online system. Medical assistants need to educate themselves about the EHR software that the office they are working in is using.


Frequently Asked Question(s)

Q:After becoming a medical assistant, what kinds of tasks will I be responsible for?

A:As a medical assistant, you will be responsible for: helping patients prep for medical examinations, measuring vital signs of patients, collecting blood for tests, administering medication according to physician's instructions, checking patient history, and more. The duties may vary from place to place and will depend upon the healthcare setting. (Source: O*Net Online and the American Association of Medical Assistants)

Q:After I become a medical assistant, where will I work?

A:Medical assistants are typically hired in physicians’ offices. You can also seek work in other healthcare institutions such as hospitals and clinics. You main duties will revolve around assisting health care practitioners, scheduling patient appointments, measuring vital signs and recording patient history, giving injections according to prescriptions, and helping patients prepare for medical tests. (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Q:How long does it take to become a medical assistant?

A:It can take you 1-2 years of post-secondary education to prepare for a career as a medical assistant. Once you complete your high school diploma, you can enroll in a short training program offered by an accredited vocational school or college. There is no exact academic route designed for this career. Some training programs can be completed in less than a year while others may take longer. (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Q:How to become a certified medical assistant?

A:By getting certified, you can improve your career prospects in the field. A certification will reflect your level of expertise and competence. The American Association of Medical Assistants is a renowned organization that offers certification to medical assistants. You must have completed a medical assisting program from an accredited school to qualify for the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) Credential. (Source: The American Association of Medical Assistants)

Q:How to become medical assistant?

A:If you plan to become a medical assistant, it is recommended that you pursue short post-secondary training programs after high school. Medical assistant training programs can take 1-2 years to complete and are also offered online. These programs will help you develop conceptual knowledge and practical skills. Laboratory learning is an important part of the training and is geared towards equipping students with clinical skills needed for the career. (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Q:What degree do you need to become a medical assistant?

A:There is formal educational requirement for medical assistant careers. However, most employers prefer hiring individuals who have completed a post-secondary medical training course. Medical assistant training programs are offered by a number of vocational schools and colleges. These programs can be completed in 1-2 years. The coursework comprises of theory-based learning and laboratory learning. (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Q:What do medical assistant do?

A:Medical assistants perform various clinical and administrative tasks in healthcare settings. The duties depend on the needs of the employer and vary with the specialty, location, and the size of practice. Medical assistant typically perform the following duties: measuring vital signs of patients, scheduling patient appointments, giving injections to patients as directed by the doctor, and assisting physicians. (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Q:Why become a medical assistant?

A:There are a number of reasons why many individuals opt for a career as a medical assistant. This occupation provides the opportunity to help people and directly impact their lives in a positive way. One can prepare for this field in a short time-span without having to undergo extensive training. On the other hand, medical assistants may be eligible for benefit packages and a reasonable salary. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical assistant's had an annual median pay of $29,370 in 2012. (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics and the American Association of Medical Assistants)

Q:Where can a medical assistant work?

A:Medical assistants provide support services to physicians and work in the healthcare industry. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012, medical assistants held approximately 560,800 jobs. A majority of these professionals were employed in physicians' offices, clinical, and other healthcare facilities. The demand for medical assistants is expected to grow in the coming few years.

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