Most people who want to become medical assistants must pass through a training program. Although it is possible to become a medical assistant without formal training, those that enroll in a credited medical assistant education program have an upper hand at better opportunities. Even those with no formal training cannot just get into a healthcare facility and start working as a medical assistant the next day. Usually, it is the physician who provides on the job training for those with no prior medical assistant education. However, most employers prefer hiring those who have gone through a credited medical assistant training program. Hence, if you want to pursue a medical assistant career, you should be familiar with the education process. What are the requirements? What will you need? What is expected of you?
The minimum threshold for pursuing a medical assistant training program is a high school diploma or any other equivalent degree. If you don’t have a high school diploma or an equivalent credential, you need to take General Educational Development classes and pass the exam.
Level of education
Depending on your credentials, you can enroll in a certificate, diploma or an associate’s degree program. A certificate or a diploma will take you at least 9 to 12 months to complete. On the other hand, an associate degree will take you longer to complete, usually between 18 to 24 months. A certificate or a diploma will deal with medical assistant roles in general while an associate’s degree is for those who want to specialize in a specific area. Moreover, you will require more points to qualify for an associate degree compared to a diploma or a certificate. However, you can start up with a medical assistant certificate or diploma and once you find your area of interest through experience, you can choose to specialize with an associate’s degree program.
Mode of Study
There are numerous technical schools, colleges and universities where you can enroll in a medical assistant training program. However, it is important to consider programs that are accredited nationally by relevant certifying agencies such as CAAHEP or ABHES. You can choose to study online at the comfort of your home or attend the classes personally.
Medical assistant course
A typical medical assistant certificate or diploma course will cover both administrative and clinical related topics. Some of the topics that are discussed include; first aid, medical ethics and terminology, bookkeeping, anatomy and physiology, healthcare administration, insurance and coding, pharmacology, medical information security and clinical procedures. The administrative topics will put emphasis on the fundamental office procedures that are expected in healthcare facilities. For instance, candidates are trained on how to store and protect a patient’s privacy which is very crucial in the healthcare industry. Besides learning how to safely keep the medical records, you will need to grasp medical terminologies since the medical reports are usually written in a technical medical language. On the other hand, the clinical units will put a lot of focus on basic medical procedures such as taking vital signs, withdrawing blood and handling body fluid specimen. All medical procedures must adhere to government regulations, hence you must understand the medical ethics expected from any medical assistant. In addition, there are classes that will require on lab demonstration especially when dealing with minor surgical procedures. However, those pursuing an online training program can learn through virtual labs without the necessity of appearing physically. In contrast to a certificate or a diploma, the coursework of a medical assistant degree will deal with specialization within the scope of a medical assistant occupation. For example, you can specialize in medical coding by advancing through an associate’s degree.
After completing the course, medical assistant prospects are required to apply for an internship. The purpose of the internship is to gain experience. While on internship, you will be supervised by a certified medical assistant, nurse or physician and awarded a grade based on your performance. On average, you should have spent at least 160 hours on an internship program. Most medical assistant training schools have a relation with healthcare facilities hence they can help you find an internship placement.
Medical assistant exam
Once you complete your medical assistant preparation program, you may be required to pass a written or practical exam offered by a national certification body to get certified at the national level. Regardless, it is not compulsory for medical assistants to get certified in order to get employed. However, most employers are starting to notice the value of seeking medical assistants who have attained national certification. For that reason, it will improve your job opportunities and salary. Furthermore, there are states where you will be required to have nationally recognized certification to perform certain medical tasks as a medical assistant. Currently, the most recognized certified credential is the CMA (Certified Medical Assistant) and the RMA (Registered Medical Assistant). The former is regulated by The American Association of Medical Assistants while the latter is offered by The American Medical Technologists. Additionally, there are other national certifications available such as the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant and National Certified Medical Assistant that require candidates to pass medical assistant exams to receive recognized credentials.