Search Schools

  • Next Step >
  • Next Step >

How to Become a Medical Assistant

The medical assisting field has seen an explosion in growth over the past few years, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that growth is expected to continue through 2020. At a 31% rate, the growth of this occupation is much faster than average, and the income is more than enough to give you a comfortable life that you won’t have to go into significant school debt to obtain. Many comparable careers require four years in college and can put students in debt for decades, but with medical assisting, you can be on the job in less than a year. There are a few routes you can take to get there and this guide will help you decide which way to go.

Preparing

There are three primary medical assisting routes you can pursue through your education. Medical assisting puts you on the line, tasked with administrative and clinical duties. This is the least specialized of the three options, but in general it is the most common. If you wish to work in a specific area, look to administrative medical assisting, or clinical medical assisting as a specialization. As the name suggest, administrative and clinical medical assistants work primarily in a specific area of the medical office.

Administrative medical assistants focus on scheduling, billing, coding, greeting and checking in patients, and checking out patients at the conclusion of their visit. Clinical medical assistants are tasked with clinical duties such as taking vitals, sterilization of instruments and patient rooms, administering medications or injections and the transport and labeling of test materials. While BLS.gov offers a general outlook for medical assistants, other sites, such as indeed.com give more specific information about each position.

As you can see, those that go with the profession that covers both sides of the coin will likely earn a little more over their career, but those that specialize will have more say over where they work. The choice will come down to your specific desires and goals, and the difference in salary is minor enough that it shouldn’t have much impact over your decision.

Getting There

You have two more big decisions to make as you start to work towards your diploma or degree as a medical assistant (after you decide if you wish to specialize). First, you need to find the right school for you and decide if you wish to learn online or on campus. The advantages of an online degree program are many, and there are plenty of schools offering programs for those pursuing medical assistant educations. You will learn at your own pace and on your own schedule and in most cases, the education will not last longer than eight months. On the other hand, you need to be self-motivated and dedicated to your education if you wish to succeed. Distractions can set you back if you don’t keep focused on your online education.

Campus based educations are still the most popular way to learn and many students are starting to combine campus and online based courses. These are considered hybrid courses. Campus based courses have a big advantage for students that have trouble staying focused on their studies when they aren’t schedule to show up to class each day. If you start to slip in an online course, you may want to consider taking some on campus to get you back on track. There are plenty of guides online that will teach you ways to avoid this pitfall, but keep in mind that this is an important step to take.

Second, you will have to decide if you wish to become certified. Certified medical assistants earn an average income of $52,000 a year. This is a significant increase over the non-certified numbers previously mentioned. You will need to visit the American Association of Medical Assistants to earn your certification and plenty of information and preparation materials can be found on their site. While this does require a little more work, the higher expected salary may be worth it, even if you don’t pursue a certification right after you finish school.

Preparing for the Future

One consideration that is less important now, but worth keeping in mind is the school of choice and how credits will work if you wish to continue your education at a later date. Many medical assistants are happy working in their chosen career until retirement, but some see this as a starting point for other aspirations. Talk to the schools you are considering about the likelihood of credits transferring to other school, or find out if they have degree programs in related field that you may eventually work towards. Learn how your particular credits will help you in your future and you will be able to go where you want, when you want in your career.