Medical assistant programs are offered in a variety of settings, even online, and can prepare you to begin a challenging and rewarding career within the ever-growing health career sector.
Medical assistants are cross-trained to perform many administrative and clinical tasks within private physician offices, as well as hospitals and other care facilities. As per the U.S. Bureau of labor Statistics, this is a career that is projected to be in great demand through the year 2018 with an anticipated growth rate of 34 percent. This growth is due to the aging of the population and rising need for medical services, along with an emphasis on preventative care so that greater numbers of people are scheduling regular doctor appointments.
Administrative duties may include:
- Greeting patients who visit the office.
- Answering telephones and scheduling appointments.
- Updating patient medical records (most often performed using software applications).
- Coordinating hospital admissions and laboratory procedures.
- Performing billing and bookkeeping.
Clinical duties (which vary according to state law) may include:
- Taking patient medical histories.
- Explaining treatment procedures to patients and their family.
- Preparing patients for examination
- Assisting physicians and nurses during physical exams.
- Performing basic laboratory tests.
- Teaching patients and their family about medication usage and proper diet.
- Preparing and dispensing medication as directed by physician.
- Calling in prescription refills to the pharmacy.
- Drawing blood (may need formal phlebotomy training depending on state requirements).
- Performing electrocardiograms.
- Changing bandages and removing sutures and bandages.
Medical Assistant Education Programs
As per the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), there are no minimum educational requirements to begin a career as a medical assistant and you may apply for a job directly out of high school. However, the AMA strongly recommends that those with an interest in this career complete an accredited medical assistant program and apply for certification. Graduating from an accredited medical assistant program can expand your job prospects, enable you to enter the field at a higher salary, and enhance opportunities for career advancement.
Medical assistant programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Those who graduate from an accredited medical assistant program will be eligible to sit for the certification exam administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME), a division of the AAMA. Those who pass will the test will be awarded the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential.
Medical assisting programs are offered at two year community colleges and private vocational schools. If you attend a community college you will graduate with an Associate in Science (A.S.) or Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree. Graduates of vocational schools will be awarded a certification or diploma upon program completion. Those who attend a community college can expect that the first year of study will be devoted to liberal arts courses. Certificate programs offer only coursework directly related to medical assisting and are, therefore, the faster route to completing a medical assistant program. Both associate and certificate medical assistant programs provide students with hands-on experience in private medical offices, hospital- based settings, and other healthcare facilities.
As per the AAMA coursework in medical assistant programs includes:
- Human anatomy, physiology, and pathology
- Medical terminology
- Keyboarding and computer applications
- Recordkeeping and accounting
- Coding and insurance processing
- Laboratory techniques
- Clinical and diagnostic procedures
- Medication administration
- First aid
- Office practices
- Patient relations
- Medical law and ethics
Visit the Web site of either the CAAHEP or ABHES to locate an accredited medical assistant program in your area.
Certification of Medical Assistants
Certification can be obtained through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). Upon graduating from a medical assistant program and passing a national exam administered by the NBME, the AAMA will award you the Certified Medical Assistant Credential (CMA). As per the AAMA, this certification is considered the “gold standard of medical assisting professionalism” and will provide the certified medical assistant with prestige among colleagues, along with higher salaries and enhanced job security.
More and more employers are mandating that candidates be CMAs. According to the AMA, its offices now receive “100 or more requests per day to verify that current or potential medical assistant employees are CMAs.”
Eligibility for certification includes:
1. You must be a graduate of a medical assistant program that has been accredited by either the CAAHES or ABHES.
2. Apply online to take the certification exam administered by the NBME. The exam consists of 200 multiple choice questions and covers both the administrative and clinical aspects of medical assisting. The exam handbook, available on the Web site of the AAMA, provides detailed information regarding the certification examination.
3. The fee to take the examination is $125. For AAMA, CAAHEP, or ABHES members and $250 for non-members. You may pay by money order, bank check or credit/debit card (personal checks are not accepted).
4. Study for the exam. The AAMA offers several options for study:
a. Review the exam content outline available on the AAMA Web site.
b. Take the AAMA practice exams to test your knowledge in the areas of anatomy and physiology and medical terminology.
c. Enroll in a AAMA exam review course offered by an accredited medical assistant program in your area or by a local chapter of the AAMA.
d. Having graduated from a medical assistant program will prove to be a benefit as you study since much of the coursework in these programs will have included topics covered in the exam.
5. The exam is given at a Prometric test center located throughout the country. Instructions for registering for the test will be provided with you admittance letter sent by AAMA. The exam may be taken throughout the year. However, it is advised you schedule early to ensure the date, time, and location of your choice.
6. When you pass the examination you will receive an official CMA certificate from the AAMA, along with wallet-size identification card. You will be able to use the designation CMA on your résumé and on all job applications across the country. Your name will also be listed in the AAMA database so employers may verify your status. You can also feel very proud in having earned the highest credential available in the field of medical assisting!
7. You will need to renew certification very two years. You can complete this requirement by passing an advanced examination administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners or completing AAMA-approved continuing education coursework.
Medical Assistant Programs – Selected Reviews
Brown Mackie College:
Brown Mackie College has locations in many areas of the country. The campus locations offer a range of training opportunities including a program in medical assisting. The medical assisting program is designed to prepare students to work in the medical field under the direction of doctors and nurses in a medical facility. The coursework includes studies in medical procedures as well as basic administrative functions. Upon completion of the program, students are able to find entry level positions in the medical field in a variety of settings. The program takes less than a year to complete.
Sanford Brown Institute:
With locations in many states across the country, Sanford Brown Institute offers a variety of programs including a medical assistant program. The program is designed to provide training to help you handle both clinical duties and administrative functions. Upon completing the program, students receive a certificate and are able to get entry level positions in the medical profession. Medical assistants may work in a variety of settings including hospitals, clinics, doctor’s office, and other medical facilities. Programs combine both clinical and administrative training to prepare students for a wide range of medical jobs. The program can be completed in under a year.
Remington College offers a medical assisting program that prepares students for a career in the health care field. Medical assistants may work in a clinic, hospital, doctor’s office or other medical facility. The medical assistant program offers students a certificate of completion that allows them to find good paying jobs in the medical arena. Remington College has various campus locations across the country. Programs begin often and you can complete the course in as little as 8 months. The curriculum provides both clinical and administrative training.
Everest College offers medical assistant programs through its many locations across the country. The medical assistant program provides students with the skills and knowledge necessary to join a medical team with an entry level position. The course offers students hands-on training including patient care and communication, clinical assisting, pharmacology, medical insurance and bookkeeping, laboratory procedures, therapeutic care, and cardiopulmonary procedures. After the classroom work is completed, students will take part in a 160-hour externship at a local medical facility. The program prepares students to provide high quality patient care.
Florida Medical Training Institute
The Florida Medical Training Institute offers a medical assistant program at both the Melbourne and Jacksonville campus locations. The course provides 950 hours of training including 200 hours of clinical training, 500 hours of classroom, and 250 hours of lab training. Students will receive a certificate upon successful completion of the program. The program is completed in about 9 months. Graduates are prepared for entry level careers working at hospitals, clinics, private practices, and other health facilities.
Heald College offers a Medical Assistant program that can be taken on campus at one of the many locations in California, Hawaii, and Oregon. The program offers students a combination of classroom study and clinical laboratory study to give them the skills necessary to work in a variety of settings. The Medical Assistant program prepares students for a variety of career options including clinical medical assistant, lab assistant, and patient services representative. Two educational options are available – an Associate in Applied Science degree in Medical Assisting and a Diploma in Medical Assisting.