Education Requirements for Medical Assistants

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The average salary of a medical assistant is $30,170. The education requirements for becoming a medical assistant are minimal. Most employers look for candidates who have earned at least an associate degree in medical assisting or one of the available certifications with continuing education courses. These can usually be completed in less than two years.

There are various paths to entering the field, but most require some form of postsecondary education. The optional routes include certification, along with short-term training programs and online classes. Many schools offer certificates, diplomas, and associate degrees in this diverse occupation. Each academic route has its benefits and drawbacks; it is up to each student to weigh these factors when choosing a path toward their career goals.

While formal education is not required to become a medical assistant, credentials are. These include certification and licensure. The most common certificates held by medical assistants are Certified Medical Assistant (CMA), Registered Medical Assistant (RMA), and National Certified Medical Assisting Cardiac Technician (NCMAT). State licensing requirements vary, but all states require CMTs to register with their respective state boards. This article, which we created with the help of Team MedAssistantEdu, will cover the various education options available to those interested in becoming part of this growing field. 

Candidates can enter the field through short-term training programs, certificate programs, or associate degree programs. These academic paths all require some form of certification (described below). Regardless of which direction one takes to enter the medical assisting profession, most employers prefer candidates with an associate degree. This can be earned by completing two years of study at a college or technical school that offers this credential. Courses include anatomy and physiology, clinical procedures, and health care ethics. Other topics may consist of laboratory techniques, pharmacology, and medical law. Medical assistants also receive on-the-job training once employed.

Short-term training is available to those who prefer not to enrol in traditional educational programs. Most often, these are offered by hospitals and medical centers that employ physicians and community colleges and universities. For example, one might complete a course in phlebotomy (the proper procedures for drawing blood) at a local college. These programs usually take six months to complete and award an industry certificate or certification upon completion. The advantage of short-term training is the amount of time devoted to lectures and hands-on learning; the disadvantage is that all employers may not accept it.

Certification can be gained by completing a professional education program such as those offered through private companies, which generally lead to the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential. Candidates can also choose from various options available at their institutions or through training courses available online. Such programs vary in length and curriculum; they can take as little as four months or more than two years to complete. One example is the Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) certification, which requires the passage of an examination administered by the National Healthcare Association.

Advanced medical careers might require additional education beyond receiving a degree or certification. For instance, those interested in becoming pharmacists are usually required to earn a PharmD degree from an accredited college or university. Similarly, some nurses choose to pursue bachelor’s degrees instead of entering this profession with only their nursing credentials.

Although formal education is not required for entry into this occupation, employers generally prefer candidates who earned an associate degree. They are usually required to pass a certification exam before they can practice, and most employers prefer job candidates who have passed the national Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) examination. Some states also mandate that medical assistants hold licensure.

Licensure requirements vary by state, but they generally fall under the purview of medical assistants who work in hospitals or clinics that receive Medicare payments. Independent practitioners are not subject to these regulations. In some states, students can obtain voluntary certification from the National Healthcare Association during training.

Short-term courses, which usually take six months to complete, can also be taken from private companies or community colleges and universities. One example is the Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) credential awarded by the National Healthcare Association

Medical assistants are in high demand due to a growing and ageing population that needs health care. A Career Outlook article published by the United States Department of Labor predicted that this occupation would grow about 28 per cent through 2018. Job candidates have many educational options for entering this field. In addition to short-term training programs, they can receive an industry certificate or complete associate degree programs. The best job opportunities appear to be with larger medical practices that are equipped to handle more patients.

Most employers prefer certified medical assistants who have passed an externally administered certification examination. This credential can be earned by completing approved training, which usually takes less than two years, or through the National Healthcare Association or American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA).