CAREER PATHWAYS

Looking for the perfect job?
Explore our Career Guides!

Read More

How to Become a Medical Assistant

By Lace Brunsden

Published:

Are you considering a career in the healthcare field? Becoming a medical assistant could be a rewarding path to explore. In this article, we will delve into the responsibilities, skills, and potential career opportunities of medical assistants to help you determine if this profession is the right fit for you.

Career Summary

Medical Assistant Salary

Medical Assistant Salary

A medical assistant salary can vary a lot depending on their employer and the number of responsibilities that they have.

According to Glassdoor, the salary of a medical assistant in 2023 can be summarized as follows:

  • Entry Salary (US$36k)
  • Median Salary (US$44k)
  • Executive Salary (US$54k)

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary across all occupations is estimated at US$ 61,900. In comparison to this, a medical assistant salary is relatively low.

What does a Medical Assistant do?

A medical assistant is a healthcare professional who performs both administrative and clinical tasks to support the smooth operation of medical offices, clinics, hospitals, and other healthcare settings.

Medical Assistant Career Progression

Your career progression as a medical assistant can vary depending on your aspirations, additional education, experience, and opportunities within the healthcare industry.

Here is a general progression from entry-level to executive roles within the field:

  • Entry-Level Medical Assistant: You will perform basic administrative and clinical tasks under the supervision of a healthcare provider. You may assist with patient intake, vital signs, medical record management, and basic clinical procedures.
  • Certified Medical Assistant (CMA): If you obtain certification through an accredited program and pass the Certified Medical Assistant exam you may have increased responsibilities, such as medication administration and more complex clinical procedures.
  • Lead Medical Assistant: You will take assists with scheduling, coordinating workflows, and ensuring efficient operations within the medical office or department. You will also serve as a liaison between medical assistants and healthcare providers or management.
  • Clinical or Administrative Supervisor: Overseeing a team, you will monitor quality assurance, compliance, and regulatory requirements. You may manage schedules, staffing, and workflow optimization.
  • Practice Manager: You will oversee the administrative, financial, and operational aspects of the facility. You may work closely with physicians or executive leadership in decision-making and practice growth initiatives.
Medical Assistant Career Progression

Pros:

  • Patient Interaction and Impact
  • Variety of Responsibilities
  • Team Collaboration
  • Entry Point into Healthcare
  • Opportunities for Specialization

Cons:

  • High Workload and Time Pressure
  • Emotional and Challenging Situations
  • Exposure to Illness and Infections
  • Physical Demands
  • Limited Autonomy

Useful Skills to Have as a Medical Assistant

  • Excellent Communication Skills
  • Organizational and Time Management Skills
  • Attention to Detail and Accuracy
  • Technical Competence
  • Compassion and Empathy

Popular Medical Assistant Specialties

  • Administrative Medical Assistant
  • Clinical Medical Assistant
  • Pediatric Medical Assistant
  • Ophthalmic Medical Assistant
  • Geriatric Medical Assistant

How to become a Medical Assistant

Medical Assistant 5 Steps to Career

Complete a Medical Assisting Program

The first step to becoming a medical assistant is to complete an accredited medical assisting program that suits your needs, whether it’s a certificate, diploma, or associate degree program.

It’s important that you ensure that the program is accredited by a recognized accrediting body, such as the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).

The coursework typically includes a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on clinical training.

Do I Need A Degree To Become a Medical Assistant?

No, a degree is not always required to become a medical assistant in the United States. The educational requirements for medical assistants can vary depending on the state, your employer’s preferences, and the specific job responsibilities. In some cases, medical assistant degree can prove to be beneficial.

How Long Does it Take to Complete a Medical Assistant Training Program?

The duration of your medical assistant training can vary depending on the educational path chosen. A diploma program typically takes around 9-12 months to complete, while associate degree programs may take 1-2 years. Factors such as program structure, part-time or full-time enrollment, and any additional prerequisites or requirements can also impact the duration of the training.

Can I Become a Medical Assistant Through Online Education?

Yes, it is possible to become a medical assistant through online education. Many educational institutions offer online programs for medical assisting that allow you to complete your coursework remotely. Online medical assistant programs provide flexibility and convenience if you have other commitments or prefer to learn at your own pace.

When considering an online medical assistant program, it’s important to ensure that the program is offered by an accredited institution. Accreditation ensures that the program meets certain quality standards and that the education provided is recognized by employers and professional organizations.

What Are Some Web Resources to Learn Skills to Become a Medical Assistant?

There are several reputable web resources available to learn skills and gain knowledge related to becoming a medical assistant.

Here are some valuable online resources:

  • American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA): The AAMA is a professional organization for medical assistants, and their website offers resources such as educational content, industry news, certification information, and continuing education opportunities.
  • National Healthcareer Association (NHA): The NHA is another recognized organization that offers certification for medical assistants. Their website provides resources, study materials, practice exams, and preparation guides for the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) certification.
  • Medscape: Medscape is a widely-used online resource for healthcare professionals. While access to some content may require registration, it provides medical news, articles, continuing education courses, and clinical reference materials that can be beneficial for medical assistants.

Consider Certification

While certification is not always required, it is highly recommended to enhance your job prospects and demonstrate your competence as a medical assistant.

First, decide which certification exam you want to pursue. The most recognized certifications for medical assistants include the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) credential offered by American Medical Technologists (AMT).

Is a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) Certificate Worth It?

Yes, pursuing a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certificate can be worthwhile for several reasons. The CMA certification is widely recognized and demonstrates a high level of competence and professionalism in the field of medical assisting. Here are some benefits of obtaining a CMA certificate:

  • Enhanced Job Opportunities: Many employers prefer to hire medical assistants with recognized certifications like the CMA. Having a CMA credential can give you a competitive edge in the job market and increase your chances of securing desirable employment opportunities.
  • Expanded Scope of Practice: The CMA certification signifies that you have met rigorous standards of knowledge and skills in both administrative and clinical areas. This can enable you to take on a wider range of responsibilities and perform advanced tasks within the medical assistant role.
  • Professional Development: Obtaining a CMA certification demonstrates your commitment to professional growth and lifelong learning. It showcases your dedication to maintaining and enhancing your skills, which is highly valued in the healthcare industry.
  • Networking and Support: The CMA certification allows you to connect with a community of certified medical assistants. Joining professional associations or participating in CMA-specific events and conferences can provide networking opportunities and access to valuable resources, continuing education, and career support.
  • Career Advancement Potential: Holding a CMA certification can open doors to further career advancement within the medical assisting field. It can serve as a stepping stone towards leadership positions, specialized roles, or opportunities for higher salaries and increased responsibilities.

Is it Difficult to Get a CMA Certificate?

The difficulty of obtaining a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certificate can vary depending on factors such as your prior knowledge, study habits, and the preparation you put into the certification exam. The CMA exam assesses your knowledge and skills in various areas of medical assisting, including administrative tasks, clinical procedures, and ethical considerations.

While the exam can be challenging, proper preparation can increase your chances of success. Here are some factors to consider when assessing the difficulty of obtaining a CMA certificate:

  • Exam Content: Familiarize yourself with the content areas covered in the CMA exam, which include topics such as medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, medical office management, clinical procedures, and more. Understand the depth and breadth of knowledge required to pass the exam.
  • Preparation Resources: Utilize study materials, textbooks, practice exams, and online resources specifically designed to help you prepare for the CMA exam. These resources can provide you with a structured study plan, review important concepts, and help you become familiar with the exam format.
  • Prior Education and Experience: If you have completed an accredited medical assisting program, you will have acquired the foundational knowledge and skills needed for the CMA exam. Prior work experience as a medical assistant can also provide practical insights that can aid in exam preparation.

Gain Hands-on Experience

It is important that you look for opportunities to gain practical experience through externships or internships offered by medical assisting programs or healthcare facilities.

Hands-on experience provides you with valuable real-world exposure to essential medical assistant duties, hones clinical skills, and helps build a professional network.

What are Internship Opportunities for a Medical Assistant

Here are some common internship opportunities available for aspiring medical assistants:

  • Externships through Educational Programs: Many medical assisting certificate or diploma programs include an externship component as part of their curriculum. These externships provide you with the opportunity to gain practical experience in a real-world healthcare setting. Educational institutions often have partnerships with healthcare facilities where you can complete your externship under the supervision of experienced medical professionals.
  • Hospitals and Medical Centers: Hospitals and large medical centers often offer internship programs for medical assistants. These internships may provide you with exposure to various departments, such as outpatient clinics, emergency departments, or specialty units. You may assist with patient intake, vital sign measurements, documentation, and other clinical tasks under the guidance of experienced medical professionals.
  • Physician’s Offices and Clinics: Physician’s offices and private clinics frequently offer internship opportunities for medical assistants. You may get some hands-on experience in outpatient care settings. You will probably assist with patient triage, medical record management, performing basic clinical procedures, and administrative tasks.
  • Specialty Practices: Interning in specialty practices, such as dermatology, cardiology, or orthopedics, allows you to gain specialized knowledge and experience. These internships provide you with exposure to specific medical procedures, equipment, and conditions related to the specialty.
  • Community Health Centers: Interning at community health centers or free clinics offers you a unique experience in providing care to underserved populations. You may have the opportunity to assist with health screenings, immunizations, patient education, and community outreach programs.

What Skills Will I Learn as a Medical Assistant?

As a medical assistant, you will acquire a diverse set of skills to perform both administrative and clinical tasks in a healthcare setting.

Here are some of the key skills you can expect to learn:

  • Administrative Skills: As a medical assistant, you will learn various administrative skills, such as scheduling appointments and managing calendars to ensure smooth patient flow and efficient healthcare operations.
  • Communication and Interpersonal Skills: Developing effective communication and interpersonal skills is crucial for interacting with patients, colleagues, and healthcare professionals, allowing you to establish rapport, provide empathetic care, and maintain professional relationships.
  • Clinical Skills: Your training will equip you with clinical skills like taking and recording vital signs accurately, assisting with patient examinations and procedures, and performing basic laboratory tests, enabling you to provide hands-on patient care under the guidance of healthcare providers.
  • Medical Knowledge and Documentation: You will gain knowledge of medical terminology, common conditions, and treatment procedures, while also learning how to accurately document patient information and maintain electronic health records for effective communication and continuity of care.
  • Organizational and Time Management Skills: The ability to effectively organize tasks, manage time, and prioritize responsibilities will allow you to navigate the fast-paced healthcare environment, ensuring efficient patient flow and timely completion of administrative and clinical duties.
  • Infection Control and Safety Procedures: You will be trained in infection control protocols and safety procedures to maintain a clean and safe healthcare environment, preventing the spread of infections and ensuring the well-being of patients and staff.

What is the Work-Life Balance of a Medical Assistant?

Your work-life balance as a medical assistant can vary depending on factors such as your specific job setting, employer expectations, and individual preferences.

Here are some key considerations related to work-life balance for medical assistants:

  • Working Hours: As a medical assistant you may work in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, or specialty practices, which can have different operating hours. You may sometimes work standard daytime shifts, while other times you may work evenings, weekends, or even overnight shifts in facilities that provide 24/7 care. Your specific work schedule will depend on the needs of your employer and the healthcare setting.
  • Full-Time vs. Part-Time: Medical assistant positions can be available in both full-time and part-time capacities. Part-time positions may offer you more flexibility and the ability to balance work with other personal commitments or responsibilities. However, it’s important to note that part-time positions may have different benefits and career advancement opportunities compared to full-time positions.
  • Overtime and Shift Work: In certain healthcare settings, such as hospitals or urgent care facilities, as a medical assistant you may be required to work overtime or irregular shifts to ensure adequate coverage. It’s essential to consider how these factors might impact work-life balance and personal commitments.
  • Personal Time Off: As a medical assistant, you will typically receive paid time off benefits, including vacation days, sick leave, and holidays, depending on your employment agreement. Utilizing these benefits effectively can help maintain your work-life balance and allow for time to recharge and attend to personal matters.

What’s the Career Outlook for Medical Assistants?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of medical assistants is projected to grow 16 percent from 2021 to 2031, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is attributed to several factors, including the increasing demand for healthcare services due to the aging population and the expansion of healthcare facilities.

The BLS report states that medical assistants who have formal training and certification may have better job prospects. Certified Medical Assistants (CMAs), in particular, may have an edge in the job market, as employers often prefer to hire candidates with recognized credentials.

Medical Assistant Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities for a Medical Assistant?

As a medical assistant, you can pursue various job opportunities and positions within the field.

Here are some different roles and positions available to medical assistants:

  • Certified Medical Assistant (CMA): After completing an accredited medical assisting program and passing the Certified Medical Assistant exam, you can become a CMA. This certification demonstrates proficiency in both administrative and clinical skills and can enhance your job prospects and career advancement opportunities.
  • Lead Medical Assistant: You may progress to a lead or senior role within a healthcare facility. In this position, you will take on additional responsibilities such as training and supervising other medical assistants, coordinating workflows, and ensuring efficient operations within the medical office or department.
  • Clinical or Administrative Coordinator: You can advance to coordinator roles where you’ll oversee specific areas or programs within a healthcare facility. Clinical coordinators may manage specialized clinics or programs, ensure smooth patient flow, and coordinate care. Administrative coordinators focus on managing administrative tasks, processes, and procedures within a medical office or department.
  • Medical Office Manager or Practice Administrator: With additional education or experience, you can pursue careers as a medical office manager or practice administrator. In these roles, you will oversee the overall management of a medical office or healthcare practice. Your responsibilities may include managing staff, budgets, operations, compliance, and strategic planning.
  • Instructor or Educator: As an experienced medical assistant with a passion for teaching, you may explore opportunities as instructors or educators in medical assisting programs. You may teach aspiring medical assistants, sharing your knowledge and skills to help train the next generation of healthcare professionals.

What Type of Companies Hire a Medical Assistant?

As a medical assistant, you can find employment in a variety of healthcare settings.

Here are some types of companies and organizations that often hire medical assistants:

  • Hospitals: As a medical assistant, you can work in hospitals of various sizes, including general hospitals, specialty hospitals, and rehabilitation hospitals. You may be employed in departments such as outpatient clinics, emergency rooms, surgical units, or maternity wards.
  • Physician’s Offices and Medical Clinics: You may commonly be hired by private physician’s offices and medical clinics. These can include general practices, specialty practices (e.g., cardiology, dermatology, pediatrics), and multi-specialty clinics.
  • Outpatient Care Centers: You may work in outpatient care centers, which provide a range of specialized healthcare services such as imaging centers, ambulatory surgical centers, rehabilitation centers, or urgent care centers.
  • Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities: As a medical assistant, you can be employed in long-term care facilities to provide medical support to residents, assist with medication management, and coordinate care.
  • Community Health Centers: You can work in community health centers, which provide primary care and preventive services to underserved populations. These centers often serve low-income individuals, migrant populations, or those without access to traditional healthcare settings.
  • Diagnostic Laboratories: Some medical assistants are hired by medical laboratories where they assist with specimen collection, processing, and basic laboratory tests. These laboratories can be part of hospitals, independent laboratories, or specialized diagnostic facilities.
  • Research Institutions: You may find opportunities in research institutions, participating in clinical trials, or assisting with data collection and patient monitoring in research studies.
  • Telehealth Companies: With the rise of telehealth services, you may be hired by telehealth companies to support healthcare providers in virtual patient visits, remote triage, and patient monitoring.
  • Occupational Health Centers: As a medical assistant, you can work in occupational health centers that provide healthcare services to employees of companies or organizations. You may assist with employee health assessments, pre-employment screenings, and workplace injury management.

Should I become a Medical Assistant?

The role of a medical assistant offers several rewarding aspects. From the opportunity to interact directly with patients and make a positive impact on their lives, to the variety of responsibilities and the potential for career advancement, there are numerous reasons why you may choose to pursue this career path.

However, it is essential to carefully consider your own circumstances and aspirations before making a decision. Becoming a medical assistant requires dedication, hard work, and ongoing commitment to learning and professional development. It also involves coping with the challenges that may arise, such as a demanding workload, emotional situations, and exposure to illness.

If you are drawn to a career that combines both administrative and clinical responsibilities, offers opportunities for growth and specialization, and allows you to play a crucial role in the healthcare team, then pursuing a career as a medical assistant may be the right path for you.

Careers Related to Medical Assistant


Lace Brunsden

About the Author

Read more articles by Lace Brunsden