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How to Become a Medical Assistant

a medical assistant helping a patient
Written by Amanda Nunez

If you are considering a career in healthcare, you may be a good fit for a medical assistant. Working hands-on with patients, medical assistants play an integral role in medical offices and hospitals. Like other growing positions in the medical field, medical assistants are in demand and enjoy job stability. 

If you are considering a new career in healthcare, here’s what you need to know about how to become a medical assistant.

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

A medical assistant in an office has a wide array of responsibilities— including everything from scheduling appointments and interacting with patients. While most medical assistants are part of the staff at an outpatient facility, like an urgent care clinic, the clinical and administrative responsibilities of a medical assistant can vary based on their speciality, work environment, and skillset.

When it comes to administrative tasks, medical assistants may be expected to schedule patient appointments or employee shifts, as well as update electronic medical records. They may also perform billing actions such as handling medical and insurance coding. 

When it comes to seeing and treating a patient, a medical assistant could be the first face a person seeking treatment sees when they enter a medical facility. After that initial greeting, a medical assistant’s clinical medical assisting tasks may include transporting a patient to an exam room, measuring their vital signs, drawing blood, and handling any sort of injections. They may also perform first aid if a patient is in need of care for a wound, such as applying bandages or dressings. 

In the case of lab work, medical assistants can collect and prepare samples, as well as perform some testing. When patients have to receive more serious care, a medical assistant can sterilize any medical instruments while assisting with any exam-based procedures or minor surgery.

Medical Assistant’s Job Outlook

With an aging population and a growing demand for medical care, demand for medical assistants and other healthcare professions is expected to grow significantly. Over the next decade, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 16% growth for the profession, which is about triple the average job growth rate. This certainly seems to confirm that medical assistant is a reliable career path to head down, as opportunities are projected to multiply across the healthcare industry.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Certified Medical Assistant?

If you’re an incoming student with a high school diploma (or equivalent) and no transferrable (or applicable) course credit, a medical assistant education will probably take you 1-to-2 years to complete. There are other factors that will impact your graduation timeline, such as the choice to attend school full- or part-time, or your chosen course load. 

Judging by the amount of time needed to become a medical assistant, it may seem easier than becoming an advanced medical professional like a nurse practitioner. However, remember that every job comes with its own set of hardships just as it also carries its own set of rewards. 

5 Steps to Become a Medical Assistant

Everyone’s path is different, but when it comes to all the big milestones you’ll need to hit if you plan to both properly train for and search out a medical assistant job, these 5 specific moments stand out.

Enroll in and Complete an Educational Program

The minimum educational requirement for becoming a medical assistant is completing a high school diploma or GED. However, if you want to improve your job prospects, you’ll want to pursue further education and become a certified or registered medical assistant.

Firstly, you’ll need that aforementioned high school degree or equivalent accreditation, and enroll in an accredited medical assistant program. To be prepared for the national medical assistant certification exam, you will want to enroll 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). Accredited programs are offered at many local community colleges, and are available in online or in-person course format. Medical assistant students are expected to learn about patient care, business and administration, and experience practical training to prepare you for your future success. 

After completing your accredited medical assistant program, you are ready to take the national certification. There are 2 test options available to you: the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) test offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) offered by the American Medical Technologists (AMT). Both tests offer you the same level of certification and career opportunities. However, the RMA certification needs to be renewed every 3 years while the CMA certification only needs to be renewed every 5 years.

Landing a medical assistant job without receiving education in the field is certainly possible and does happen, but attending school is a great way to knock out the second and third points on this list. 

Experience Sets You Apart

There are fields where it’s easy to amass experience before applying to your first professional position, but the medical field isn’t one of them. That’s why an accredited program is so important—it’ll open doors for experiences that can give you an advantage during the hiring process, like site visits, hands-on training and internships. 

Become Official

Earning a medical assistant certification may be just as important as learning how to become a medical assistant because these act as doorways to higher pay, more responsibility and better career advancement prospects. There are approximately seven different medical assistant certifications, each requiring a passing grade on different exams. These certification processes may require completion of an accredited course, which makes steps one and two part of a larger journey.

If you’d like, you can jump on a job board and research which certification your desired employer prefers.

Sell Yourself with a Resume

Now’s the time to put all those good grades, internship experiences and past achievements to paper! If you don’t have much in the way of relevant experience, crafting a skill-based resume may be your best option. However, if you’ve completed a program, field experience and a certification, you should list your achievements with the confidence that you’re ready for that first professional role!

Put Yourself Out There: Apply!

You didn’t craft your resume for yourself, so get it into the hands of people hiring medical assistants!

The resume is just to get your foot in the door—after that, you’ll need to participate in an interview and verbally communicate your readiness and passion for the position. Don’t be afraid to do practice interviews and remember to be confident and proud of your accomplishments.

Find Open Medical Assistant Positions With TJN

For many individuals looking for a career change within the healthcare field, becoming a medical assistant can be an excellent option. It’s never a bad idea to research current job listings, though, and TheJobNetwork’s healthcare job board provides a great space to search, compare and possibly apply to open medical assistant roles. You can even check out other opportunities in the field that may influence your continuing education!

About the author

Amanda Nunez