Everything You Need to Know About Medical Assisting
If you’re considering a career as a Medical Assistant, you might be wondering where you should start. This profession has numerous benefits, including a certain degree of job security as well as a strong sense of personal fulfillment. If your goal in life is to serve and help others in your community, then you may find your calling as a Medical Assistant. Without a doubt, Medical Assistants serve a vital role to the healthcare industry and that of our society.
What Is a Medical Assistant?
A Medical Assistant acts as both an administrator and healthcare professional, performing clinical duties and managing administrative tasks in medical offices, laboratories, hospital clinics, and other settings. In fact, you probably interacted with one at your last appointment.
The history of Medical Assisting dates back to the 1950s. Others might argue that the profession is older than that but, before the 20thcentury, it didn’t have an official name.
Medical Assistants are unique in the healthcare field. They perform clinical and administrative tasks, but they don’t need to spend years in school to acquire these skills. Doctors and nurses usually rely on them to ensure that a medical office runs smoothly. Really, it’s not a stretch to say Medical Assistants wear many hats.
If you’ve ever considered a career in Medical Assisting, and you’re curious about the training requirements, this post might be a great resource for you. Below you’ll find a wealth of information about how to start your Medical Assisting career.
What Does a Medical Assistant Do?
Medical Assistants are often the main point of contact for patients. They typically greet visitors, schedule appointments, and assist the physician. As such, they are probably the first and last face a patient sees during their visit. Here are just some of the duties they perform while on the job:
Administrative tasks may include:
- Greeting patients and answering telephones
- Booking and canceling appointments
- Filing medical paperwork and updating patient charts
- Liaising with laboratories and insurance companies
- Arranging hospital visits and admissions
- Ordering office and medical supplies
- Overseeing billing and bookkeeping
Clinical tasks may include:
- Explaining medical procedures to patients
- Prepping patients for examination
- Sterilizing medical equipment
- Assisting physicians
- Taking blood samples and giving injections
- Performing diagnostic and laboratory tests
- Carrying out electrocardiograms (ECGs)
- Removing sutures and changing dressings
*Clinical duties vary according to state law
What Is the Role of a Medical Assistant?
Without a doubt, Medical Assistants play an integral role on the healthcare team. Because Medical Assistants are asked to perform administrative tasks as part of their role, it is important that MAs are organized, detail-oriented, and capable of keeping sensitive information confidential. In the office, they may be tasked with everything from answering phones to coding insurance forms, updating medical records, and scheduling appointments.
Teamwork is another important aspect of an MA’s job, as some of their tasks are performed with coordination from the entire front office. Typically, Medical Assistants assist patients and prepare them for a visit with the physician. A friendly, accommodating, and genuine nature certainly helps a Medical Assistant build a connection with patients who may be nervous or anxious about seeing a doctor.
In order to thrive as a Medical Assistant, you should enjoy working in a “helping” role. On a daily basis, you will provide hands-on assistance to patients of all ages and all walks of life. Medical Assistants often establish trust and build rapport with patients as they take medical histories and perform basic tasks like recording vital signs, which can include blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and height & weight measurements.
Strong communication skills are also extremely important in this role, as Medical Assistants may be responsible for explaining treatment procedures to patients and answering basic questions. The ability to communicate clearly is especially important when you realize that Medical Assistants work closely with physicians, helping them during physical exams and acting as their “right hand.”
What Qualities Should a Medical Assistant (MA) Possess?
To become a Medical Assistant, you should be:
- Personable and friendly, as MA put patients at ease.
- Attentive, as MA need to acquire important medical information from patients.
- Articulate, as MA need to interact effectively with patients.
- Trustworthy, as MA handle confidential medical information.
- Respectful, as MA work with a variety of patients and healthcare professionals.
- Neat and tidy, as MA must present themselves professionally and keep an office running smoothly.
- Accurate and detail-oriented, as MA often need to multitask.
- Able to take initiative and work independently when necessary.
What Are the Requirements to Become a Medical Assistant?
In the U.S., formal training is actually not required by law for Medical Assistants. However, many employers will only consider applicants with training to minimize risk. Generally speaking, Medical Assistant diploma programs can be completed in a year or less. For instance, the MA program at Unitek College can be completed in as little as 9 months.
Medical Assistant training may likely increase your chances of finding a job. Healthcare establishments typically want to employ the most qualified individuals, which is why they would prefer to hire Medical Assistants with formal training or certification. In this increasingly competitive field, formal MA training can better prepare you for your job and provide more employment opportunities throughout you career.
There are numerous colleges, universities, and technical schools that provide Medical Assistant training. The curriculums might include a combination of on-campus instruction as well as online or hybrid classes. Additionally, some programs will offer classes in the day, afternoon, or evening hours.
After completing a formal program, Medical Assistants have the option to seek certification or directly enter the field. Regardless, a Medical Assistant program will provide students with the tools they need to succeed.
What Is the Primary Path Taken for Medical Assisting?
The steps to become a certified Medical Assistant typically depend on location and personal goals. While there are numerous paths one could take, generally speaking, potential MAs often complete a Medical Assistant program before seeking certification. It’s important to note that certification is not always a requirement for employment.
In some physicians’ offices or clinics, Medical Assistants receive informal, “on the job” training and learn about the profession as they see patients. Again, though, many employers prefer and even expect Medical Assistants to apply after receiving a formal education, be it through a certificate, diploma, or associate’s degree.
When selecting the right program, it’s vital that you meet with admissions representatives and possibly even MA students to ensure that the school is a good fit.
How Long Is Medical Assistant Training?
Higher education and medical training can put large demands on your time as well as your physical and mental energy. If you’re considering going to school to become a Medical Assistant, the first question on your mind is probably this: How long is Medical Assistant training?
In many cases, a student’s Medical Assistant training can be completed within the span of a year. Having said that, the timeline is dependent on the type of education you’d like to receive. For instance, two common routes are an associate’s degree or a diploma program.
Option 1: An Associate’s Degree
If you’d like to build on your education in the future, then an associate’s degree might be a solid option for you. You can typically earn a Medical Assistant degree from a community college or a university anywhere between 18 to 24 months.
An associate’s degree in Medical Assisting requires more credits and time than a diploma program. 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. They typically include subjects like anatomy and physiology, medical coding, clinical procedures, medical law and ethics, and medical office safety.
After earning this degree, you might find a career in one of the following occupations:
- Administrative Medical Assisting
- Clinical Medical Assisting
- Podiatric Medical Assistants
- Ophthalmic Medical Assistants
- Optometric Assistants
Option 2: A 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. Diploma/certificate programs 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 Medical Assistant program at Unitek College, for example, prepares students for an extensive mix of Medical Assisting functions through a variety of classroom modules. Students also attend an externship at Unitek to prepare them for a Medical Assisting career, as they are able to practice in a clinical setting with an actual physician.
What to Consider When Choosing an MA Program
Prospective students may value different things in a formal MA program. Some students may feel that a close student-to-teacher ratio is vital to their success in the classroom, while others may place greater value in the number of clinical hours spent with patients. Take a moment to consider what is important to you and ask the right questions when meeting with admissions representatives.
While there are numerous schools that offer Medical Assistant programs, you’ll want to be selective in your decision-making process. You can use several resources to help you compile a list of possible schools, such as the internet, the library, nearby colleges, or word of mouth. Once you have your list, the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) suggests that you thoroughly investigate each program before taking any action.
You can typically do this by poring through the institution’s website or contacting the program director with a few questions. On the AAMA’s website, they list some sample questions that you might want to ask:
- What are the tuition costs and financial aid options?
- What are the academic prerequisites?
- How long does it take to complete the program?
- What specific topics are covered?
- What does the practicum involve?
- What percent of the program’s students/graduates pass the CMA (AAMA) Exam?
- Will you contact the AAMA Certification Department and give them permission to share your exam pass rates with me?
After completing your Medical Assistant program, it’s time to apply for jobs; this can cause anxiety for some graduates. However, one of the best aspects of attending a good Medical Assistant program is the access to a career services team.
Before enrolling with any Medical Assistant school, you should inquire if they have an individual, team, or department whose job it is to offer career guidance or support, post-graduation. Together with a career coach, you can develop job search strategies that will help you target the best facilities and lead you toward the MA jobs you desire.
How to Become a Medical Assistant?
We understand that it can be difficult to make a career change. We’ve outlined the following steps to help you get started!
Step 1: Do Your Research
First thing’s first: familiarize yourself with a Medical Assistant’s role, job duties, career outlook, etc. It’s important to discern whether this career will suit your needs as well as your limitations. For instance, many Medical Assistants spend hours on their feet. If, however, you want to help others and you do not want a desk job, it’s worth noting that Medical Assistants can work in a variety of environments (more on that in the section “Where Do MAs Work?”)
Step 2: Pick an MA Program
When searching for Medical Assistant schools, it’s important to consider several factors: cost, location, and program length are three essential ones. It’s equally important to consider if you can alter your schedule to meet the program’s requirements. If, for example, you require a shorter timeline, Unitek’s 9-month program may be a great choice for you. Here are some of the courses that program offers:
- Introduction to Medical Assisting & Medical Law
- Medical Administration
- Diagnostic Imaging
- Patient Assessment
- Stages of Life: Pediatrics, Ob/Gyn, Geriatrics
During the program, students gain critical knowledge through professional lectures as well as hands-on exercises. Simulation training, lab work, and a supervised externship all serve to give our students a dynamic, well-rounded experience.
Step 3: Graduate and Seek Employment
The ultimate goal of any Medical Assisting program is to prepare students for entry-level employment as Medical Assistants.
Graduates of an MA program may be qualified to take several certification exams. These include the NCCT exam for the National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) credential and the American Medical Technologists (AMT) to earn the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) credential.
While such credentials are not a graduation requirement, they may be of value depending on your career goals. The faculty members of your MA school should make themselves available to advise their students who are seeking such certifications.
Where Do Medical Assistants Work?
Medical Assistants often work with doctors and nurses while performing a variety of tasks. One moment you could be removing stitches on a patient, and in the next you might be taking an EKG or updating charts. Though they can find employment in various settings, Medical Assistants typically work in one of the following facilities:
- Physician offices
- Nursing homes
- Private health care facilities
- Industrial firms requiring health care personnel
- Hospital clinics
- Health industry providers
- Independent clinics
- Private duty
According to Accredited Schools Online, “Medical Assistants have enormous career potential within the field of Medical Assisting. They can choose to specialize in almost any area of medicine, assisting physicians and other healthcare personnel in clinics, hospitals, private offices, and more.”
How Much Do Medical Assistants Make?
Medical Assistant salaries often vary depending on the location and the employer. In the United States, cost of living tends to differ from state to state, not to mention from city to city. If you live in the suburbs and commute to a city, that statement might be as tangible as your gas bill.
Salary is always important to consider when you change careers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for MAs was $33,610 in May 2018. They also reported that the highest 10 percent earned more than $47,250. Here are the top industries where high-earning MAs worked in 2018:
+ Outpatient care centers
+ Offices of physicians
+ Offices of chiropractors
It’s also important to note that some Medical Assistants use their training to apply to nursing school. On average, licensed vocational nurses and registered nurses receive higher salaries than an MA. Of course, a career in nursing also requires more training.
What Is the Job Outlook for Medical Assistants?
According to the BLS, employment of Medical Assistants is projected to grow 29 percent by 2026, which is higher-than-average compared to other occupations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has linked this demand to the aging baby-boomer population. As they head toward retirement, their needs for preventive medicine will likely increase at a steady rate.
To keep up with the demand, physicians will need to hire more healthcare personnel to perform routine administrative and clinical duties. A larger team would allow physicians to see a greater number of patients and improve the overall health of the community.
What Are Some Important Factors to Consider for a Medical Assisting Career?
If you are considering a career as a Medical Assistant, you might be wondering what criteria you should use when choosing a Medical Assistant program. While it’s important to do your research, it’s also important to consider the type of learner you are, what strengths or weaknesses you may have, etc. Location or time constraints are other factors to consider when it comes to Medical Assistant training.
Is Becoming a Medical Assistant Hard?
Considering your natural gifts and aptitudes is important, as well as considering your personality type, interests, and motivations. If you have a strong desire to serve individuals in your community, an eye for details, basic aptitude in the sciences, and the ability to work in fast-paced environments, you will likely have the necessary components to thrive in a Medical Assisting career.
Additionally, one of the best ways to understand the career’s demands is to talk to professionals working in the field. You should also research Medical Assisting programs near you to find more specific information.
MA Program Enrollment Requirements
If you want to become a Medical Assistant, you should follow your dream. Some schools might have stricter enrollment requirements, but there are also those that don’t; pick the program that is right for you and best suits your situation. To give you a better idea, here are the bulk of Unitek’s enrollment requirements for the MA program:
- Career planning session and admissions interview
- Submit proof of high school education or equivalent
- Entrance assessment test
- Admissions application
- Enrollment agreement
- Financing arrangements and, if applicable, all documents needed to obtain an official award letter for Federal Student Aid
What Are Some Benefits of Medical Assisting?
Before making the personal investment in a formal Medical Assistant training program, it’s important to look at the role of a Medical Assistant and ask yourself: What are some of the rewarding duties of an MA? As we look at the education required and the specifics of this career, you’ll begin to understand the many benefits of working in a profession that allows for flexibility, mobility, and hands-on patient interaction.
Medical Assistants perform a variety of duties throughout the day, usually with a blend between administrative and clinical tasks. Over the course of one shift, you might be at the front desk answering phones, scheduling appointments, greeting patients, and communicating with insurance companies before switching gears to take vital signs, sterilize medical instruments, and prepare patients for exams or x-rays.
One of the most rewarding aspects of a Medical Assisting career is the amount of time that Medical Assistants enjoy working directly with patients. Some physicians might feel that, because of their workload, they are unable to spend as much time as they’d like interacting with their patients. Medical Assistants have the luxury of spending more time with patients—preparing them for exams, both emotionally and physically—while assisting the doctor during various examinations.
Another rewarding aspect of Medical Assisting is the ability to advance within the profession, carving out a specialty within areas like women’s health, pediatrics, or several others. In addition, Medical Assisting might be a wise choice for those who are interested in medical school but would like to gain firsthand experience before they apply.
Why Should You Pursue Medical Assistant Training?
If you’d like to start a healthcare career without spending years in school, Medical Assisting might be a great choice! MAs are vital members of the healthcare team, and their job opportunities are only expected to increase. As previously stated, employment of Medical Assistants is projected to grow 29 percent by 2026. This growth will likely promise a certain degree of job security.
Overall, Medical Assistants receive valuable exposure and experience. They work alongside doctors and nurses and make a difference in the lives of their patients. At the end of the day, this career is all about helping others.