A medical assistant works alongside physicians in many care facilities, such as medical offices and clinics. Depending on their qualifications and state laws, these health professionals help physicians with clinical tasks, administrative tasks, or a hybrid of both.
To begin a career in medical assistance, it is essential to complete the proper training programs and certifications. Although formal education is not always a requirement, employers sometimes prefer that a potential candidate possess both traditional coursework and clinical experience.
Below, we look at the necessary education and training pathways for prospective medical assistants. But first, a quick refresher on what a medical assistant does in the first place.
Who is a Medical Assistant?
Medical assistants are healthcare professionals who help physicians with both clinical and administrative duties. These duties’ exact comprehensiveness and scope depend on the office’s specialty where the medical assistant works, state law, and the employer’s needs.
Medical assistants serve as a liaison between a physician and a patient.
Roles of Medical Assistants
In most cases, a medical assistant is expected to perform clinical and administrative tasks set by the healthcare facility they work for. The general clinical and administrative roles include but are not limited to:
- Change wound dressings/remove stitches
- Perform basic laboratory exams
- Take vital signs
- Prepare patients for medical procedures
- Preparing patients for medical examination
- Scheduling appointments
- Answering the phone
- Keeping and updating medical records
- Coding and filling out patient insurance forms
- Acting as a liaison between the patient and the doctor
- Follow up calls
Medical Assistant Education and Training - Overview
It is important to note that some job opportunities for medical assistants do not require formal education. However, most medical assistants undergo medical assisting training programs to become certified and increase their chances.
A collaborative report between a data organization center and the US Department of Labor discovered that 65% of medical assistants hold post-secondary certificates, and 18% have associate degrees.
Starting a career as a medical assistant requires little to no education, but creating a career as a certified medical assistant requires formal education.
Formal education through a medical assisting program ensures that an individual obtains the necessary clinical, administrative, and tactical skills needed on the job.
Medical Assistant Programs and Courses
Medical assisting programs are typically offered at colleges/technical schools accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education. These programs usually take a year/two to complete. Most of these programs also include training in clinical courses.
According to the American Association of Medical Assistants, educational programs that teach medical assistance usually involve courses in the following areas.
- Medical Laws and Terminology
- Lab Techniques
- Anatomy, Physiology and Pathology
- Medication Administration
- Medical Coding
- Office Practices
- Clinical and Diagnostic Procedures
- First Aid
- Insurance Processing and Electronic Records
Most of these medical assisting programs will also include an additional externship program that allows students to further their training and practice at approved healthcare facilities.
The experiences gained during the externship may be clinical, administrative, or a combination of the two depending on the indicated specialty of the student in alignment with their career goals.
Medical Assistant Professional Exams
Once students complete their program, they must sit for one of two certification exams. These are the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) exam administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants and the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) exam administered by the National Health Career Association.
Why Medical Assistants Become Certified
Certification after completing medical assistant programs is not a compulsory requirement. Most states don’t demand it, yet most medical assistants choose to get certified anyway. Why? First of all, they do it because of the professional benefits.
Getting certified demonstrates to potential employers that the prospective employee is committed and has a high level of skill and expertise.
It is also an added advantage for a medical assistant in terms of better job opportunities and higher salary rates.
Below is a quick summary of the steps required to become a practicing medical assistant.
- Step One - Graduate from high school; pass GED; or complete medical assisting training program
- Step Two - Pick any of the recognized certification bodies and pass their exams.
- Step Three - Continue professional development by renewing certification.
Medical Assistant Certification Types
Below are five of the most popular and recognized certification outfits for medical assistants.
Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)
The American Association of Medical Assistants administers the CMA certificate. Candidates must graduate from an accredited medical assisting training program to qualify.
The CMA certification must be renewed every 60 months
Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)
The Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) is administered by the American Medical Technologists or American Registry of Medical Assistants (ARMA)
There are five primary ways to qualify as a candidate.
- Graduate from an accredited medical assisting training program
- Be a graduate of a formal medical assistant training program of the US Armed Forces
- Possess 5-7 working experiences as a medical assistant
- Possess five years of working experience as a medical assistant instructor
- Have a recognized credential in a healthcare-related discipline.
This certificate renews every three years.
Certified Clinical Medical Assistants (CCMA)
The National Health Career Association administers the Certified Clinical Medical Assistants (CCMA) certificate. Candidates must complete an accredited medical assisting program to qualify. It must be renewed annually.
Certified Administrative Medical Assistants (CMAA)
The National Health Career Association awards this certificate. Candidates must complete an accredited medical assisting training program to qualify. It must be renewed annually.
National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA)
The National Center awards the National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) certificate for Competency Training. Candidates must have graduated from an approved NCCT school to qualify. They may also possess two years of working as a medical assistant or have completed a military medical assistant training program.
The certificate must be renewed annually.
Finally, depending on state laws and regulations, medical assistants are sometimes expected to register for licensure. Before taking licensing or certification exams, an aspiring certified medical assistant must inquire about state credentials for their profession.