Medical Assistant Certification, Training and Career Guide

Over the years medical assisting position has become a key part of physician’s office employee list. Hospitals usage of medical assistants has also increased substantially. Its ease of entry requirements coupled with the time and money it takes to become a qualified medical assistant has made the profession very appealing for most students. On the other hand jobs have started to vanish due to increased number of professionals joining the field. Although there are job opportunities in the field, one has to be very active and hard working in order to secure a good job.

Medical Assistant Career Overview

  • Quick Facts

    • Education takes 1 to 2 years
    • Minimal admission requirements
    • Tuition fees range from $3,500 to $40,000
    • No state licensure requirements
    • Student can opt for voluntary certification but it's not mandatory
    • Usual work place: doctor's office and hospitals
    • According to our own little survey, most medical assistant earn $11 to $15 per hour
    • Most employers require some experience
    • Organization and office skills play important role in this field

Medical assistants provide a number of direct patient care and support services in various healthcare facilities. The usual work place for medical assistants is ambulatory care centers or out penitents treatment and care facilities such as: physician’s office, dental clinics, dermatology clinics, obstetrics or gynecology clinics, ophthalmology clinics, etc. However, medical assistants also get employment in big hospitals, nursing homes or long term care centers. Medical assistants are versatile healthcare personnel that can be assigned on both clinical and administrative tasks. In physicians’ offices, they can reduce human resource expenses substantially by handling both clinical and administrative duties. This is probably one of the main reasons why the demand for medical assistants has increased in recent years.

Medical assistant can work as an office assistant or front desk receptionist. When working as a medical office assistant, you are required to be neat, organized and well mannered in your interaction with patients. A courteous and pleasant demeanor helps to put the patients more at ease and in a relaxed mood. Patience is also an important trait in this job because you are obligated to carry out various tasks in a day and still be able to attend to other duties set out by physicians after the patients check out. You may be also required to carry out basic laboratory tests on collected specimens and dispose of used supplies afterwards. Aside from keeping the examination rooms clean, medical assistants may also be assigned on tasks such as: arranging medical instruments and equipment.

Most of the time medical assistants are confused with nurses especially with certified nurse aides (CNA). There are some major differences between the two but it may not be clear for those new to healthcare field. Nurse aides usually provide bedside patient care in hospitals, nursing homes or long term care centers, etc. They may also perform some clinical tasks which are also done by medical assistants, such as: taking patient history, vital signs, perform injections, laboratory duties etc. However, medical assistants work in front desks and carry out a lot of administrative tasks which are not included in nurse aides’ job description.

Medical Assistant Job Market

This career field is very attractive especially if you compare it with nursing aide. The pay is better and the job description is not as hard as CNA. However it is becoming increasingly difficult to find job as a new grad. Most employers require at least one year experience.

The pay varies by experience, work environment and the state. The average hourly pay for medical assistant ranges between $11 and $19. Comparing this with CNAs’ $7 to $16 average hourly pay, this career field easily attracts a lot of job seekers.

Training and Certification

It’s not mandatory for medical assistants to get certified to work as one but there are a number of compelling reasons that make certification a necessity. The main reason for certification is employment. You may be lucky enough to get a job without certification but chances are most employers will ask for it during application.

If you are about to enroll in medical assistant program, you should make sure that the program (not the institute) is accredited by one of the following organizations:

  1. ABHES (Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools)
  2. CAAHEP (Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs)

Graduating from accredited program is the main requirement for medical assistant certification. If you have been working as a medical assistant for long time without certification and now you are seeking certification to stay current, please refer our certification section for detail explanation on how to go about that.

There are a couple of well respected medical assistant certifications/credentials: one of them is Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) from American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and the next big credential is Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) from American Technologists (AMT) agency.

Further reading about certification and accreditation:

Weather you are enrolled in certificate program or AAS, you should expect to take the following core courses:

  • Human Anatomy and Physiology
  • Medical Terminology
  • Clinical Procedures
  • Laboratory Procedures
  • Medical Office Management
  • Pharmacology
  • Medical Ethics, Law and Economics
  • Externship

There will be additional courses in addition to the above listed. But those courses varies from college to college. Medical assistant training is provided by technical institutes, vocational schools, community colleges either online or in a classroom. If you intend to be certified, make sure that the program is accredited.

Job Description and Responsibilities

Medical Assistant on the JobMedical assistants are expected to handle the clerical obligations which do not demand the direct involvement of the physician. These tasks are extended to ensure the fulfillment of the patient’s administrative needs like updating and filing of the patient’s record, preparing insurance forms, arranging admission and laboratory services, handling of simple bookkeeping and settlement of bills. Depending on the state’s law, in some health care facilities common duties are also delegated to them. These tasks may include: listing down of medical histories, preparing patients for examinations and recording of vital signs. In cases where they are assigned to work in areas with large-scale practice, medical assistants concentrate on one specialized discipline and work under the supervision of the department manager.

Medical Assistants Vs. Physician Assistants

Medical assistants should not be confused with physician assistants. They differ both in depth of training and responsibilities. Medical assistants have limited school-level education and mainly deal with the administrative side of patient care, while physician assistants are groomed to provide broad range of health care services like prevention and treatment of illnesses under the direct supervision of a licensed physician. Physician assistants are also given the power to exercise autonomy in medical decision making when deemed proper and urgent.