If you’re compassionate, analytical, and detail-oriented, then Medical Assisting might be a great career for you! Not only is there a certain degree of job security—healthcare careers are usually a necessity for every community—but there is also the nature of the job itself, which many Medical Assistants tend to see as rewarding work. Before diving into the educational requirements of Medical Assisting, let’s briefly describe what Medical Assisting is and the most common roles and responsibilities associated with the profession.
What Is a Medical Assistant?
Medical Assistants generally operate in a clinical setting and perform both administrative and clerical duties. They may work in doctors’ offices, clinics, laboratories, hospitals or industrial settings that require healthcare personnel. Whether you choose to pursue this career with a degree or diploma program, rest assured that you’ll be learning skills for a valuable profession. To give you a better idea of what these skills might entail, please see the administrative and clinical lists below!
Job Tasks and Responsibilities of a Medical Assistant
The job duties of a Medical Assistant can vary by location or specialty, but they typically include some of the following functions:
+ Answering telephones
+ Scheduling appointments
+ Greeting patients
+ Updating and file patient charts
+ Ordering supplies
+ Arranging hospital admission and laboratory services
+ Handling billing, collections, and bookkeeping
+ Taking medical histories and record vital signs
+ Preparing patients for examination and assisting physicians during examinations
+ Phoning prescriptions to a pharmacy
+ Collecting and preparing laboratory specimens
+ Sterilizing medical instruments
+ Prepping patients for X-rays
+ Administering electrocardiograms
+ Removing sutures and changing bandages
What’s Required to Become a Medical Assistant?
Now, you might be wondering, is Medical Assistant a degree? Or more specifically, what is required to become a Medical Assistant? These are great questions, and the answer can depend on your location as well as your career goals. Generally speaking, you do not need certification to practice in the field. Additionally, a formal education isn’t always required. It is often highly recommended, though, as some employers will only hire candidates who already possess the knowledge and skills of a Medical Assistant.
One of the first decisions you’ll need to make revolves around your educational needs.
Ask yourself this: Would you like to earn a Medical Assistant degree or a diploma/certificate?
What Is an Associate’s Degree in Medical Assisting?
If you’d like to build on your education in the future, then an associate’s degree might be a solid option for you. According to an article by All Allied Health Schools, you can typically earn a Medical Assistant degree from a community college or a university. The duration of these degree programs is often between 18 to 24 months.
An associate’s degree in Medical Assisting requires more credits and time than a diploma program. It gives students an opportunity to study for their certification. In addition, it can lay the groundwork for a higher-level degree, such as a bachelor’s or master’s degree in healthcare management.
Aside from general education courses, an associate’s degree program will feature a variety of healthcare classes. These classes typically include subjects like anatomy and physiology, medical coding, clinical procedures, medical law and ethics, medical office safety, and more. The goal of both associate degree and diploma programs is to equip students with the necessary skillset to thrive as a Medical Assistant.
After earning this degree, you might find a career in one of the following occupations: Administrative Medical Assisting, Clinical Medical Assisting, Podiatric Medical Assistants, and Ophthalmic Medical Assistants and Optometric Assistants.
Though it depends on the program you choose, you may also need to complete a supervised externship. Of course, some diploma programs will also give you opportunities to gain real-world experience!
What Is a Medical Assistant Diploma Program?
If you don’t want to spend years in school, then a Medical Assistant diploma program might be the ideal choice for you. It can enhance the skillset of someone who already works in healthcare and wants to create new opportunities for their future. Unlike a degree program, your coursework will not usually include general education courses.
The curriculum of such programs tends to focus on Medical Assistant tasks. This is why they typically take much less time to complete. For instance, diploma programs can often be completed in a year or less. If time is a concern, Unitek College offers Medical Assistant training that can be completed in as little as 9 months!
A Medical Assistant diploma/certificate program can be found at career or vocational colleges. They offer courses that are often similar to those in an associate’s degree program. If you choose a diploma program, you can expect to study subjects like anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, office management, and medical law and ethics.
Medical Assistant programs can vary in course work and curriculum but if you’re thinking of enrolling into one of these programs, you should look for schools that are best equipped to prepare you for real world experience. The best Medical Assistant programs should also strike a good balance in regards to their breadth of topics and skills training.
The Medical Assistant program at Unitek College, for example, prepares students for an extensive mix of Medical Assisting functions through a variety of classroom modules. The topics we cover include medical law, patient care, stages of life, pharmacology, and computerized Medical Assisting. Students also attend an externship while at Unitek to prepare them for a Medical Assisting career, as they are able to practice in a real-world setting with an actual physician.
Medical Assisting as a Stepping Stone
Some individuals use Medical Assisting as a “stepping stone” to reach their ultimate goal of becoming a nurse or other type of healthcare professional. Medical Assisting allows individuals who are interested in healthcare to gain real experience working alongside doctors. In addition, it allows them to acquire the necessary clinical hours to apply for more rigorous programs.
Graduating from a reputable Medical Assisting school can also increase your chances of finding your dream job in the healthcare field.
Generally, formal education will provide you with more freedom to market yourself in an increasingly competitive job market. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical Assistants held 720,900 jobs in 2020 alone. They have also listed the following as the largest employers of Medical Assistants:
- Offices of physicians—57%
- Hospitals; state, local, and private—15%
- Outpatient care centers—8%
- Offices of chiropractors—4%
Regardless of your long-term career goals, Medical Assisting is an exciting field that offers opportunities for personal and professional growth.
Why Medical Assisting Programs Stand Apart
Speedy Medical Assisting programs offer one great benefit, and that’s time.
They can typically be completed in as little as one year. If you are interested in a healthcare career but lack the interest or time required to obtain an advanced degree, Medical Assisting could be a great choice for you.
Because Medical Assisting programs do not require as much time as other healthcare professions, successful graduates will be able to enter the job market a lot quicker. For example, Unitek College has built an accelerated Medical Assisting curriculum that combines classroom learning with clinical, hands-on experience to provide students with the knowledge they’ll need to obtain meaningful employment.
Finding a College that provides these types of practical qualifications is essential. To be successful, a true professional needs to know how to promote themselves in a competitive job market, with top notch application materials, a clear idea of the type of environment they want to work in, and a strategy to help them get there.
If you’re completely new to the healthcare field, that’s okay. Now is a great time to begin your journey and Medical Assisting is a great first step for your healthcare career.