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Medical Assistant Training Requirements

By: CareerFactsheet editors- Updated: Aug 21, 2012

Medical assistants perform a range of administrative and clinical duties in the offices of health professionals, including physicians, podiatrists, chiropractors, and other health practitioners. Their duties may include billing, completing insurance claim forms, updating and filing patient records, and other clerical and administrative tasks such as answering phones, greeting patients, and responding to office correspondence. Medical assistants are also called upon to perform clinical tasks, such as administering medication, providing medical advice and instructions, taking a patient’s history, and performing routine medical procedures such as drawing blood or taking an x-ray.

On average, medical assistants earn a median salary of $30,170 per year or a wage of $14.51 per hour according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While this pay level is lower than the national average for all occupations, it is comparable to most other healthcare support occupations. You can increase your salary potential by completing specialized education, as well as focusing on sectors and roles that have higher salary levels. For example, management-level medical assistants who act as office managers or clinical supervisors have higher earning potential. In addition, medical assistants in insurance and scientific research and development sectors earn more than medical assistants working in a medical practitioner’s office, as do medical assistants who specialize in occupational and physical therapy.

How To Become a Medical Assistant

Minimum Education Requirements

In order to become a medical assistant, most states do not require formal education in medical assisting. A high school diploma or equivalent is generally necessary to become a medical assistant. If you are interested in becoming a medical assistant, you should complete courses in biology, chemistry, and anatomy when completing your high school diploma. In many cases, medical assistant training is completed on the job.

On-the-job Training

Many medical assistants learn about their roles and responsibilities through on-the-job training. This training is typically delivered by a medical professional, such as a physician. An experienced medical assistant, the office manager, or a clinical supervisor may also provide new medical assistants with on-the-job training over a course of weeks or months. During this instruction, you will learn about medical terminology, instrument names, and how to use any instruments should one of your responsibilities include clinical duties. You will also learn about how to interact with patients and how to complete various administrative duties, such as maintaining accurate records and completing various billing and insurance forms. You will also learn how to code paper and electronic health records, depending on which system the office uses.

Formal Medical Assistant Training

Medical Assistant Training

In order to have a successful and progressive career as a medical assistant, obtaining a sound education can benefit you in the longer-term. Although not required, many employers prefer to hire assistants with some formal medical assisting education and training. Some states also require medical assistants to complete an accredited program, pass an exam, or both to undertake specific types of clinical procedures and tasks, for example administering an x-ray.

Training Duration and Medical Assistant Programs

Generally, a medical assistant program will take between six to twelve months to complete and will lead to a diploma or certificate. Certificate programs may be completed in less than six months in some cases. Medical assistant and medical assisting diploma and certificate programs are offered by community colleges, vocational schools, technical schools and institutes, junior colleges, and online education and training providers. Several education providers, including community colleges, junior colleges, and online education providers also offer associate degrees in medical assisting. Associate degrees can take up to two years to complete. Students completing formal programs will receive in-depth classroom and practical instruction. While a certificate or diploma provides medical assistants with the skills and knowledge to complete tasks such as updating medical records and collecting specimens for laboratory testing, an associate degree provides graduates with more advanced skills and training. For example, an associate degree will provide medical assistants with the skills to remove sutures and stitches, draw blood, administer injections, and perform other advanced clinical tasks.

When choosing a school or college, you should confirm the academic prerequisites and compare tuition costs and financial aid options. You should also confirm how long it takes to complete the program, what courses are provided, and whether a practicum is offered, such as an internship or hands-on training. Before picking a program, you should ensure that the instruction you receive will meet your career goals. For example, if you want specialized training in administering x-rays you should confirm that modules are provided in radiology. You should also verify that the program is accredited by Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools.

Admission Requirements

Admission to medical assistant programs is generally open to applicants who are 18 years of age or older and who have obtained a high school diploma or equivalent. Some programs may have additional requirements, such as residency requirements and proof of English language proficiency. Additional prerequisites may also be mandatory, such as completion of specific science-related high school level courses or passing a keyboarding test.

Whether you complete a medical assistant program at a traditional brick and mortar college or school or through online education, similar courses are provided. Programs give you the knowledge and skills necessary to work and communicate in a medical setting. Typically, classes are offered in office management and administration to ensure you are prepared to undertake the administrative aspects of medical assisting. For example, modules provide instruction in billing and accounting, medical record keeping, coding and insurance processing, medical office practices and procedures, customer service and patient relations, and software use, including using word processor and spreadsheet applications.

Coursework Involved

You also receive instruction on the clinical aspects of medical assisting, including medical office procedures, occupational safety, first aid, medical terminology, pharmacology, medical law and ethics, clinical and diagnostic procedures, and laboratory techniques and procedures. Many programs also offer specialized modules for students interesting in pursuing a specific type of medical assisting, including courses related to, psychology, dentistry, occupational therapy, ophthalmology, and veterinary medicine. Programs may also provide more specialized and in-depth clinical instruction and training, such as advanced clinical procedures, radiography or radiology, and electrocardiography.

In addition to in-class instruction, hands-on work experience opportunities are provided through clinical training, externships or internships to most students completing associate degrees, as well as diploma and certificate programs. These unpaid work experience placements are provided in hospitals, physicians’ offices, or healthcare facilities under the supervision of a physician or health professional.

Medical Assistant Certification

Medical Assistant Certification

Is Certification Required In Order To Work as a Medical Assistant?

In most states, medical assistants do not need to be certified. Some states may require medical assistants to be certified if they perform certain clinical tasks and procedures, such as taking x-rays or administering medicine and injections. Just as some employers prefer to hire medical assistants with some level of formal education, employers may also opt to hire assistants who have been certified by a recognized organization.

Certification of medical assistants in the United States is provided by four organizations, including the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), the American Medical Technologists (AMT), the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT), and the National Healthcareer Association (NHA). These organizations have been recognized for accreditation by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence. The four certifications include Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) from the AAMA, Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) from the AMT, National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) from the NCCT, and Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) from the NHA.

Certification Criteria

In order to apply for certification, you must generally pass a test and be at least 18 years of age. To complete the exam for the RMA, NCMA, and CCMA certifications, you must have some work experience or complete a formal medical assisting program. For CCMA certification, you must have at least one year of work experience as a medical assistant, while you are required to have at least two years of work experience for NCMA certification. For RMA certification, the work experience requirement is set at least five years if you have not completed a formal training program. In order to take the exam for the CMA certification, applicants must complete a post-secondary medical assisting program.

Certification bodies require you to pay a fee to write texts. Certification examinations typically feature multiple choice questions and test your knowledge of the duties of a medical assistant. For example, you are tested on medical terminology, anatomy, and physiology. You are also tested on the clinical responsibilities of a medical assistant, including questions related to medical procedures, patient examination, infectious disease safety and control, phlebotomy, laboratory-related knowledge, and pharmacology. Your knowledge of medical office management will also be assessed, including questions related to bookkeeping, maintaining medical records, and insurance requirements. Familiarizing yourself with these topics can help you prepare for any of the certification exams.

Resource Links

For a list of accredited medical assisting programs offered by vocational and technical schools, colleges, and other recognized education institutions:

For more information about certification:

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