The length of the time it takes to complete the MA program and become a medical assistant will depend on the diploma or degree that an individual is interested in attaining.
Students who acquire a higher level of education will have a better chance of securing a job, advancing in their career, earning a higher salary and gaining more responsibilities as a medical assistant.
Length of the MA program based on diploma/degree:
- Diploma / certificate 9 months to 1 year
- Associates degree 18 months to 2 years
- Bachelors degree 2 years
The most commonly found working medical assistants are those who have earned a diploma or associates degree as a medical assistant.
These medical assistants make up the majority of the MA workforce and can be found working in a wide variety of clinical settings.
Medical assistants who have acquired a bachelors degree are less common, however those who have acquired a bachelors degree may have the best opportunities for gaining entry into management / leadership positions within their field.
In addition to a lower number of MA’s holding a bachelors degree this type of degree isn’t offered by all of the educational institutes that offer diploma / associates degrees, so those interested in earning a bachelors will need to do their research and find a qualified program in their area or online.
Individuals that choose to become medical assistants can participate in an MA program at a local community college, technical school or vocational school.
Prior to gaining placement into the medical assistant program students must first obtain their high school diploma, G.E.D. or equivalent.
During the medical assistant program students will learn how to perform a range of administrative and clinical duties as well as learn about medical terminology, medical law and ethics, and anatomy & physiology.
- Medical law and ethics
- Proper patient care procedures and protocols
- Effective communication and human relations skills
- Phlebotomy and laboratory procedures and protocols
- Administrative duties and business practices
- Medical office management
- Medical coding and insurances
- Computer billing
- Bookkeeping techniques
- Keyboard skill development
- Proper phone etiquette
Online training programs
Depending on where an applicant apply’s for the medical assistant program the educational institute may allow students to participate in an online medical assistant program that will allow them to take the majority of their educational training through the online system.
Many educational institutes may still require students to participate in some coursework on campus or in a clinical stetting as there are some aspects of training that can only be taught in person.
These programs are excellent for individuals who work a full-time schedule or lead busy lives, however it requires students to be extremely self disciplined and the lack of direct person to person training limit the amount of interpersonal training a student may receive.
While online programs can be extremely beneficial students need to take the coursework just as seriously and develop a study system that works for them and their learning needs.
On the job training
Some healthcare clinics / facilities may offer on the job training for aspiring medical assistants in place of joining a medical assistant program.
Depending on the clinic or facility that offers the training they may choose to pay their employee (potentially at a reduced salary) while they train, not pay the employee until they complete the program or send the employee off for training as part of a work – study program.
On the job training has its own advantages and disadvantages with regards to training, salary and earning a diploma or degree as a medical assistant.
While some healthcare clinics / facilities may offer on the job training other facilities may prefer to hire candidates that have completed a formal education and have acquired at least an associates degree as a medical assistant, so it is important to weigh the options that are available for becoming a medical assistant prior to choosing an educational path.
Upon completion of an MA program students have the option of becoming certified by taking an exam, which is offered by a credential organization such as the AAMA.
While the exam is not necessary for obtaining a job as a medical assistant it can significantly improve your chances of getting hired and earning a higher salary.
In fact some healthcare facility’s may look specifically for certified medical assistants when they open up positions for hire.
Obtaining a certification proves to the employee that you have been adequately trained and educated as a medical assistant and will be prepared to handle whatever work is given to you by the employer.
Students / candidates who wish to take the exam may take it within 90 days of applying for exam.
Exams may be offered throughout the year depending on the state that the exam is taken in.
Medical assistants may choose work in a number of clinical and healthcare settings such as physician offices, rehabilitation clinics, nursing homes, hospitals, urgent care centers, home health services, ambulatory care services, dental offices and surgical centers/offices.
Depending on the size of the facility a medical assistant works for he / she may be able to take on a leadership / managerial role as a lead medical assistant, clinical team leader or clinical office manager.
Many medical assistants that are interested in taking on advanced roles within the healthcare system may decide to transition into another field that offers more opportunities for direct patient care and more diversity in career roles.
Allied health management
Medical administration and health management are growing fields within the various healthcare settings.
These positions allow individuals to take on management roles and act as a liaison between the patients and administrative staff in order to improve workflow and ensure smooth operation of the facility.
Allied health management positions provide skilled leaders/managers with opportunities to lead others and improve the overall performance of an office, hospital or healthcare facility so that the employees and patients can both have a better overall experience.
Those who obtain an associates degree as a medical assistant may be able to transition into a bachelors (BSN) degree program within the allied health management program, depending on the educational institute.
Medical coding and billing
Medical assistants that are interested in diversifying their career opportunities and potentially earning a higher salary may choose to cross train in medical coding and billing.
Medical billing/coding specialists are responsible for gathering, interpreting and managing patient data and applying the proper medical codes to bills so that insurance companies can properly pay the medical offices they are being billed by.
These specialists play an extremely important role in ensuring that the clinic, physician and other employees are properly paid for the work the work they perform and maintain accurate records to potential legal / ethical pursuits that can occur from miss billing and management of patient records.
The nursing field offers a wide variety of opportunities for those who enter the field.
Each level of nursing opens new doors for career advancement and diversity.
Those who choose a career as a registered nurse have the most flexibility and opportunities of the various nursing disciplines and are able to choose from over 75 different career specialties.
Other diverse roles
Here are a few other roles medical assistants can choose to diversify in or transition to:
- Pharmacy aid
- EKG technician
- Dental assistant
- Surgical technologist
After earning a certificate or degree medical assistants must then search for and apply to careers within their field.
The length of time it may take to get a job will depend largely on the need for medical assistants in their market.
Obtaining an interview and getting hired can take anywhere from 1 – 3 months or more, however individuals may be able to speed up their opportunities for landing a job by looking for career placement opportunities within their school, build connections within the industry or hiring an employment agency service to help them find a job.
As stated earlier the opportunities available to medical assistants will depend on their education and work background.
Medical assistants who earn their certificate or diploma may go on to join entry level positions within the medical field while individuals who earn their associates may be able to participate in more senior roles.
Medical assistants who continue their education and earn a bachelors degree may move into higher level managerial roles, healthcare education and public relations positions based on their experience and work requirements set by the company they are interested in working for.
In terms of schedule medical assistants generally work 40 hours per week and may be required to work weekends if the facility they work for requires it.
While medical assistance isn’t the most lucrative job it is an excellent way for individuals to get their foot into the healthcare system and explore the opportunities that are available as a healthcare professionals.
Medical assistants may choose to expand their role by going back to school and earning a degree or they may choose to move into a different field all together such as nursing, education, healthcare advocacy or research.
Because medical assistants are trained in a variety of skills their ability to take on flexible roles and provide critical assistance to physicians and healthcare professionals makes them an invaluable asset and improves the quality of patient care exponentially by providing patients with excellent care and freeing up other healthcare professionals to focus on and respond to important tasks within their own field of expertise.