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How to Choose the Best Medical Assisting Program

Tips for Selecting the Right MA School: Expectations, Requirements, and Challenges

Smiling healthcare professional with clipboard

Medical Assistants (MAs) help provide patients with quality care and work under the supervision of doctors and nurses. They perform both administrative and clinical tasks in healthcare facilities across the country. While Medical Assisting school comes with its own unique set of challenges, it is a beneficial experience that can be incredibly rewarding and prepare you for the future.

Our guide will teach you everything you need to know about choosing the right Medical Assisting program. Continue reading to learn about the benefits, requirements, and challenges that go along with finding the best program for you.

(Click here to learn how to become a Medical Assistant or visit some of the highest paying cities for Medical Assistants.)

Understand the Role of a Medical Assistant

A Medical Assistant acts as both an administrator and healthcare professional, performing clinical duties and administrative tasks in medical offices, laboratories, hospitals, and other settings. In fact, you probably interacted with one at your last doctor’s appointment.

Without a doubt, Medical Assistants play an integral role in the healthcare team. Since they are responsible for several administrative tasks, it’s important that MAs are organized, detail-oriented, and capable of securing confidential information. 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. Medical Assistants help their patients by preparing them for physician check-ups and examinations. A friendly, accommodating, and genuine nature helps them build stronger connections with their patients. These are essential qualities for Medical Assistants since many of their patients could feel nervous or anxious about seeing their doctor. The best Medical Assistants will always strive to establish trust and build rapport with patients.

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 are responsible for performing basic diagnostic procedures. This can include tasks such as measuring 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.”

Consider Your Career Goals

While researching each school, you should ascertain as much information as possible in relation to your selection criteria, including factors such as the program’s curriculum, clinical opportunities, reputation, and student support services.

Before you decide to enroll anywhere, do not be afraid to ask a lot of questions when meeting with admissions representatives. In fact, the more, the merrier! Reps of a standout school should always be willing—if not enthusiastic—to answer all of your questions.

It’s also important to consider your overall career goals. For instance, do you want to pursue a lifelong career as a Medical Assistant? Or do you want to use your MA experience to advance your career? With more schooling, Medical Assistants can move into other healthcare professions, such as Registered Nurse, Physician Assistant, or Nurse Practitioner.

(Click here to learn how to become a Registered Nurse.)

Research Accredited Programs

Now that you’ve decided to pursue Medical Assisting school, the next step is to find the best program for you. There are several questions you should consider when searching for an MA program. In your research, you should gather as much information as possible about your selection criteria, including cost, length, location, accreditation, and certification opportunities.

Furthermore, the best Medical Assisting program should be tailored to your individual needs. For example, some students may prefer smaller class sizes. In contrast, others might place more value on time set aside for clinical externships. Before enrolling anywhere, don’t be afraid to ask questions when meeting with admissions representatives.

Here are some sample questions you could ask when applying for MA school:

  • Is the program online, in person, or a combination of both?
  • Is the program accredited?
  • Where is the school located, or where do they offer campuses?
  • What is the faculty-to-student ratio?
  • 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?
  • What percentage of graduates find employment?

We can’t overstate the importance of choosing an accredited program. Many Medical Assistant schools are accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC). Their mission is to ensure quality education that enhances student success in the workforce.

Compare Program Curriculums

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 receive. For instance, two common routes are an associate degree or diploma program.

Option 1: Medical Assisting Associate Degree

If you’d like to build on your education in the future, then an associate 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 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 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

Close up of medical student with mini graduation cap

Option 2: Medical Assisting 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 skill set of someone who already works in healthcare and wants to create new opportunities for their future. Unlike a degree program, your coursework will not include general education courses.

The curriculum for these programs tends to focus on Medical Assistant tasks. This is why they typically take much less time to complete. Diploma (or certificate) programs can be found at career or vocational colleges. They offer courses that are similar to those in an associate-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 coursework and curriculum, but if you’re thinking of enrolling in 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 to prepare them for their MA career, as they are able to practice in a clinical setting with an actual physician.

Consider Program Location, Schedule, and Length

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. Consider vital components of each program, such as location, schedule, and length. You can use several resources to help you compile a list of possible schools and evaluate whether they’re a good fit. Try using 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.

Before enrolling with any Medical Assistant school, you should also 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.

Evaluate Program Costs and Financial Aid Options

Out-of-pocket school costs can vary depending on your individual situation. They will also depend on the location, school, and type of program. Medical Assisting school prices might range anywhere from $3,000 to $13,000. Keep in mind that some programs may charge a higher price for more clinical externships or cutting-edge medical equipment.

Again, be sure to research your favored schools and ask the admissions representatives about tuition costs as well as their financial aid options. You might be eligible for financial aid, which can cover many college expenses, such as:

  • Tuition
  • Transportation
  • Room and Board
  • Books
  • Computer Equipment
  • Living Expenses

Medical student studying textbooks

Financial Aid Options for MA School

Most schools will offer several financing options to qualifying students. For instance, the financial aid team at Unitek College is ready to assist you with finding the right combination to help you achieve your goals.

Some of Unitek’s financial aid options include the following pathways.

Federal and State Grants

Grants provide money based on financial need. In most cases, the money does not have to be repaid (with some exceptions). Unitek College participates in these grant programs:

Federal Grants

State Grants

Federal Loans

These loans are offered by the U.S. Department of Education to eligible students or their parents to help cover educational costs.

Additional Options

The below options are available to those who qualify:

Research Program Reputation and Graduate Outcomes

It’s vital that you visit potential MA schools before you make a final decision. Let’s say you have narrowed down your list to two or three top schools. Contact each one and inquire about free campus tours, meeting with faculty and current students, and observing a nursing class. Some schools may even allow you to shadow a student for a day.

Most importantly, ask questions about each school’s Medical Assisting program. This combination of practical knowledge and campus experience will allow you to envision life at each school as accurately as possible. You want to ensure that both the school and the program have a good reputation. Additionally, you want to learn about their career services team and how they serve graduates. Don’t forget: You could be one of those graduates!

Medical students walking in a hallway

Unitek College Medical Assisting Program

If you’d like to become an MA, Unitek College offers a Medical Assisting program that can prepare you for a career as an entry-level Medical Assistant in as little as 9 months. You will learn how to perform clinical and administrative tasks in a medical office, clinic, hospital, or other healthcare settings.

This is a blended-online program in which all your theory (didactic) courses are online, while your lab and externship requirements are mostly in-person with minor online components. Our hybrid program emphasizes administrative and clinical skills, with varied instruction in medical terminology, medical office procedures, clinical procedures, basic anatomy & physiology, and other special duties common in the field.

By the end of our program, you will complete 28 semester credits and a 160-hour externship at a healthcare facility. Class topics include pharmacology, medical administration, diagnostic imaging, surgical technique, medical law, and more.

Graduates of the Medical Assistant program are trained in the following:

  • Medical office administration
  • Medical law
  • Pharmacology
  • Infection control
  • Diagnostic imaging
  • Microbiology, hematology, venipuncture, and urinalysis
  • Surgical technique and assistance

Start Your Medical Assistant Career at Unitek College

Without a doubt, Medical Assistants play an essential role in healthcare. Many schools can offer high-quality education for aspiring MAs who would like to advance their careers. These vocational schools can give you the knowledge and skillset to succeed in your dream career. If you have an avid desire to help others, then becoming a Medical Assistant could be a very satisfying career path for you.

Find the right MA program and get started on the road to a rewarding career today.