Medical Assisting Education and Career Guide
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Medical Assisting Degrees: Program Options & Certification
A medical assistant degree can help you take the next step in your career path.
From scheduling appointments to navigating medical apps, today’s medical assistants need to be nimble, patient and have an eye-for-detail.
Sound like you? To get started, you’ll first need to earn a medical assistant degree or certificate. This educational experience will help you become well-versed in both the administrative and clinical duties of a medical assistant. Students learn about coding medical information, how to conduct a lab test and master the skills needed to work directly with patients.
A medical assistant degree brings you one step closer to working in this growing career field.
Medical Assistant Degrees: What to Expect
Although many states don’t have formal education requirements for medical assistants, most employers will look for job candidates who have completed a medical assisting degree or certificate program.
An associate’s degree in medical assisting can be a solid building block if you decide to further your education in the future. Your additional knowledge can make you more appealing to employers as well.
As a medical assistant, you’ll interact with doctors, nurses, technicians and patients. Your natural inclination to help others will give you a head start, but you’ll also need to learn specific skills to help you thrive in this career. The healthcare field is evolving quickly, especially as new technology is introduced.
You can earn your medical assistant degree from a community college or a four-year college. Here’s a sample list of what you’ll learn during your 18-to-24 month medical assistant degree program:
- Anatomy and Physiology:
This is usually one of the first courses you’ll take. You’ll learn about the various systems in the body (skeletal, muscular, digestive, immune, to name a few), chemistry and cell structures.
- Medical Coding:
Students are introduced to medical coding and insurance claims processing. Get the facts about insurance types and how to submit a claim for patients.
- Medical Terminology:
Learn the lingo. This course teaches students about medical word structure, clinical terms and anatomic words. You’ll learn to recognize related prefixes, suffixes and word roots.
- Clinical Procedures:
Administering oral medication and measuring blood pressure are just a few of the skills you’ll need to master in this course. Students are also expected to demonstrate their ability to find a pulse and take an oral temperature too.
- Medical Law and Ethics:
Students are introduced to the legal and ethical issues that may arise in a medical assisting setting. Coursework will touch on topics such as malpractice, confidentiality and mental illness. Controversial matters, such as stem cells and abortion, are also discussed.
- Phlebotomy and Laboratory Procedures:
Learn about collecting blood and other specimen collection. Students learn how to prepare lab samples and what to expect in lab operations.
Gain an understanding of drug dosages, injections and classifications. Students are taught about how medications work, the proper storage and handling of drugs and ethical guidelines.
- Medical Office Procedures:
This course highlights the administrative tasks of a medical assistant. You’ll learn about medical software, equipment, managing patient records and how to schedule appointments. Some schools also include CPR certification in this course.
- Medical Office Safety:
Safety is a number one priority for any medical office. This course covers precautionary steps, methods to reduce disease transmission and sanitation and sterilization.
- Patient Intake:
Students are given an overview of patient intake procedures, such as taking vital signs and recording body measurements. You’ll also be taught how to help with an examination.
- Specialized Medical Assisting:
Some medical assistant degrees include a course about specialty medical fields. Students learn about the different types of exams used in various healthcare areas. The class will demonstrate where a medical assistant fits in to the process.
In addition to the healthcare classes, an associate’s degree program will include general education courses which will help strengthen your writing and math skills. They also provide you with a more well-rounded perspective.
Depending on the medical assistant degree program you choose, you may also be required to complete and externship. This is an opportunity to put what you learned in the classroom to work. Typically, you’ll be set up with a local medical facility where you’ll gain hands-on experience.
Medical Assistant Certificate
Don’t have two years to devote to school? Already work in the healthcare field and want to expand your skill set? A medical assistant certificate program could be the right path for you. Unlike an associate’s degree, your coursework will not include general education courses. The curriculum focuses solely on medical assistant tasks and responsibilities. This is also why the program is shorter in length, usually nine to 12 months.
A medical assistant certificate, which is offered at career colleges, will include many of the same courses as an associate’s degree program. You can expect to learn about medical terminology, office management and medical law and ethics. A short externship is usually another requirement to earn your certificate.
Online Medical Assistant Degree
Online medical assistant degrees are designed for students who are juggling many responsibilities. From working parents to career changers, an online medical assistant degree can properly prepare you for a role working alongside other medical professionals.
You’ll be immersed in the same curriculum as an on-campus student. The benefit to an online program? Many are self-paced which means you can study when it’s convenient for you.
If you’ve never enrolled in an online class before, don’t be intimidated. An online medical assistant degree program is designed to be intuitive and easy-to-use. You’ll simply log on and have access to lessons, readings and assignments.
You’ll also have the opportunity to interact with other students and receive support from faculty members.
Online or on-campus, there’s one important component to look for in a medical assisting school: Accreditation. Before enrolling in a degree or certificate program, be sure the education you receive abides by the policies and standards of one of the following accreditation organizations:
- Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
- Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs (CAAHEP)
ABHES, which is recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education, ensures a school’s accountability with program evaluations and provides assistance in program improvement.
CAAHEP is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and reviews and accredits more than 2,000 programs. It’s considered the largest accreditor in the health sciences field.
Accreditation is particularly important if you’re seeking federal financial aid or plan to pursue more education. Without this seal of approval, your credits won’t transfer to an accredited school nor will you be eligible to receive aid.
What You’ll Learn
Once you’ve completed your medical assistant degree, you’ll be prepared to do a wide range of administrative and clinical tasks. Your education program should teach you how to:
- Record patients’ medical history, vital statistics and test results
- Show patients to exam rooms and prepare them
- Use blood pressure units and ophthalmoscopes
- Prepare and administer medication as directed by a doctor
- Schedule appointments
- Sterilize equipment
- Perform tests
- Draw blood
According to O*NET Online, MEDITECH software is a technology requirement frequently mentioned in medical assistant job postings throughout the country.
MEDITECH provides software modules to healthcare organizations of all sizes. Some of the software you may come across includes patient discharge instructions and scheduling and referral management.
If you’re concerned about learning the ins-and-outs of medical software, look for a medical assistant program that provides instruction in technology. This information may also be built into a class about managing medical records and scheduling.
Salary and Job Outlook
The baby boomers are getting older. An increasing number of people have access to healthcare and more medical facilities are in need of support workers. All of this is good news for graduates of a medical assistant degree or certificate program.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ current Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment of medical assistants is expected to grow much faster than average at 29 percent through 2026.
Medical assistants with a degree or certificate earn a median annual wage of $32,480. However, certain organizations may pay more. Below you’ll find the median salaries for the following healthcare facilities:
Medical Assistants Annual Median Salary
for the following healthcare facilities
Outpatient Care Center
State, local or private hospitals
Offices of Physicians
Medical Assistant Certification
One way to boost your salary potential and increase your job prospects is with professional certification. While you don’t need to be certified to work as a medical assistant, many employers look for this additional credential from candidates.
There are five certifications available so it’s a good idea to check with potential employers to see which one they prefer. You’ll have to pass a test in order to earn your certification; here’s what you can expect:
- Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) exam: 210 multiple-choice questions
- Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) exam: 200 multiple-choice questions
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) exam: 200 multiple-choice questions
- Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) exam: 100 multiple-choice questions
- National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) exam: 150-multiple choice questions
Armed with a medical assistant degree and certification, you’ll be prepared to work in a fast-paced medical clinic or physician’s office. Your career isn’t limited to medical assisting, either. With a degree, you’ll also be qualified to work as an EKG technician and phlebotomist.