So you're thinking about becoming a medical assistant, and you're curious about what you need to do? If so, then you'll find all you need to know about how to become a medical assistant right here.
Before going any further, you should decide if Medical Assisting is really what you want to do. Here are some helpful guides you might like to read:
- What is a Medical Assistant?
- Salaries for Medical Assistants
- Medical Assistant comparison with Registered Nurses
- Medical Assistant comparison with Physician Assistants
If you've read this far, we'll assume this is the career choice for you. There are basically two main approaches to acquire the skills you'll need:
How to become a Medical Assistant with no experience - On the job training
This approach is not as common as it once was, but it is still a possibility, particularly if you already have contacts who work in healthcare such as a Doctor who runs a family clinic. The reason is because there are no legal requirements to perform basic Medical Assisting duties in most states, so learning while you work is perfectly acceptable.
However, unless you already know someone who can help you get a job, then this approach is probably not for you. This is because there are far fewer job opportunities for MAs who don't have a recognized qualification such as an RMA (Registered Medical Assistant) or CMA (Certified Medical Assistant) - for details on just how hard it is to get work without a formal qualification, see our research into Job Advertisement Requirements for Medical Assistants in the USA.
The benefit to this approach is that you don't have to spend money and time getting a qualification, and you start earning an income straight away, so if you do know someone who can help you get work then consider this approach - you can always get further qualifications at a later time.
Studying to become a Medical Assistant
Realistically, this is the most appropriate choice for the vast majority of people wanting to become a Medical Assistant.
The most common program to take is a Diploma which generally takes between 9 and 12 months to complete, and before you graduate you will have to complete an Externship or Practicum where you will apply the skills you've learned, in an actual medical practice.
These programs usually take 2 years to complete, however they do offer some advantages over Diplomas - for a look at the advantages and disadvantages of this option see Associate's Degree in Medical Assisting.
Regardless of which type of program you choose, these can be done either completely on campus, or with a combination of online and campus study. Be very wary of any online school that claims you can do your entire course online - there are many tasks such as giving injections, venipuncture, operating EKG machines, which cannot be effectively studied online - for an example of what to avoid see our review of an online Medical Assistant school which has caused problems for many students.
The most important thing to check about any school you are considering going to, is to ensure that they are accredited by either the CAAHEP or ABHES. Without this accreditation of the program you study, your qualification may not be recognized by employers and you may not be eligible to become an RMA or CMA.
Finally, once you have completed your studies, you will then need to take the RMA or CMA exam in order to become fully certified. To get a feel for what's involved in the exams see our guide to practice tests.