Have you considered becoming a medical assistant but have found traditional courses at a college campus don’t work for your lifestyle? The good news is you can now train as a medical assistant online!
Here are the basics about online medical assisting programs, including how these classes work, what they cost, and how you can find the perfect program to meet your unique needs.
Why a Medical Assistant Program on the Internet?
Online programs to study medical assisting are extremely popular today, and it’s not just due to the advent of new educational technologies that make remote study easier. With recent changes in the economy, many people have had to become second breadwinners in their households and cannot afford to leave work to go to school. Online programs allow people who are working a full-time job to continue working while taking classes.
Remote study is also an ideal option for someone who needs to stay home with children, and can’t attend classes at a conventional campus. With online study, not only do you set your own schedule around your family’s needs, you can save on childcare expenses, commuting costs, parking, and meals eaten away from home.
People who are traveling or know they will move soon (like military spouses) are also great candidates for online study. You can login to your classroom from anywhere at any time.
What are the pathways to becoming a medical assistant?
Once you have a high school diploma or the equivalent, there are several pathways to becoming a medical assistant, and these routes are the same whether you study online or in person at a regular college campus.
First, you need to decide what type of medical assistant you want to be. If you only want to work hands-on with patients, you can study clinical medical assisting. However, many students study both administrative and clinical medical assisting, as many offices want their medical assistants to be as versatile as possible.
Clinical medical assistants work under the supervision of doctors to:
- prepare rooms and patients before appointments
- sterilize equipment
- take patient medical histories and vital signs
- assist with patient exams, treatments, procedures, and diagnostic tests
- manage laboratory specimens
- draw blood for testing
- give immunizations
Some clinical medical assistants work in specialty clinics, like gastroenterology, endocrinology, dermatology, surgery, cardiology, and emergency medicine. They learn tasks specific to those areas of medicine once on the job.
Administrative medical assistants (also known as medical administrative assistants) process insurance paperwork, maintain files, schedule appointments, manage the reception area, and order supplies. Both types of medical assistants are vital to the smooth operation of a medical facility.
Because there are currently no state or national regulations regarding the minimum education for a medical assistant, you have a couple of options when it comes to your training. If you want to pay the minimum tuition fee and complete your training faster, you can elect to enroll in a diploma program that takes about one year to complete.
However, if you want an Associate’s degree in medical assisting, you’ll need to pay more and study for about two years. Depending on the jobs in your area, the extra study time invested in a two-year program may or may not pay off in terms of higher pay when entering the job market.
All medical assistant students take the same core courses, but in two-year programs, these classes are given in a slightly expanded form, and other non-medical assisting classes may be required too.
A typical medical assistant curriculum includes classes in:
- human anatomy and physiology
- phlebotomy (drawing blood)
- first aid
- medical terminology
- sterilization procedures
- clinical and diagnostic procedures
- insurance documentation
- general office procedures
- medical legal issues
There are two other common requirements to become a medical assistant. All students, especially those who have been studying online, must complete an internship (also sometimes known as an externship or practicum). This allows you to spend time in a real medical setting, working with live patients. It also gives you exposure to different branches of medicine, if you are still undecided about what type of work you would like to do. Most internships come after or near the end of college training.
Most medical assistants also become certified or registered through one of the agencies below. These organizations make sure all medical assistants entering the workforce meet national standards for patient care:
- American Medical Technologists (AMT): registration for both clinical and administrative medical assistants.
- National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT): national certification for both clinical and administrative medical assistants.
- National Healthcareer Association (NHA): certification for clinical medical assistants only.
- American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA): certification for both clinical and administrative medical assistants.
How do online medical assisting programs work?
Online medical assistant degree programs and diploma programs try to emulate traditional college classes as closely as possible. For most students, this means using videos, streaming lectures, online discussions, slide presentations, and online assignments in place of the usual in-person classwork. Some courses are more self-paced, whereas others have a weekly timetable that must be followed.
Some programs have their students do all of their coursework online. Then, they complete their internships and enter the job market. Other programs offer a hybrid approach, where students do most of their study via the Internet, but they attend some classes live and in person.
Associate’s degree programs are most likely to function like this because students may have to take some general education classes (e.g., English, economics, math, etc.) that aren’t offered online.
What do online medical assistant programs cost?
You may be shocked to see the wide range of tuition costs when it comes to online medical assisting programs. Since this isn’t always a you-get-what-you-pay-for situation, it’s wise to check out where your tuition money is going; in some cases, you may find the expense well worth it, and in others not so much. Tuition can be in the form of a flat fee for the entire program, a semester fee, or a credit hour fee.
Online programs today can cost as little as less than $1,000 or as much as $30,000; average tuition about $6,000, but understand that’s based on everything from the school itself to region of the country.
Be aware that many of the higher priced programs offer financial aid, so you may not have to bear the entire cost yourself. Also, when you’re studying at home, you’re saving on all those little expenses mentioned above that come with conventional classes, although you’ll still have to buy books and supplies, and in some cases, you’ll have to include the cost of your certification exam in your tuition.
Where can you find online medical assistant training?
There are several sites online that offer lists of online medical assisting training programs, including the top ranked schools and the most affordable schools. Other places to find out about online training programs include:
- Traditional college campuses: many brick-and-mortar schools today also offer online medical assisting programs for students who want to study remotely. If you have a community college or technical school near you, this is a great place to start your search. The benefit of an online program affiliated with a nearby school is that it’s easier to meet with faculty or handle administrative issues that need to be dealt with in person.
- Recommendations from working medical assistants: your doctor’s office, HMO, and local hospital are the perfect places to ask around.
- High school guidance or college career counselors: these professionals know which schools have the best reputations, which will help you when you start applying for jobs.
- Online chat forums: you can talk with other medical assistant students around the country online and see what they have to say about their programs before you plunk your money down and commit to a program.
Make sure whatever program you choose is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). You’ll need to have graduated from an accredited program to both get your certification and find a job after graduation.
Also, look for programs that have known national reputations or strong connections with your local healthcare institutions. You’ll appreciate it when it comes time to apply for your internship.
Finally, programs that offer certification as the final step in the medical assistant training process can be immensely helpful. Having someone to help guide you through the sign-up and study process increases your chance for successful certification.
Online courses in medical assisting are important today, as the field is expected to see a greater than average increase in employment over the next decade, outstripping both the general economy and jobs in the allied health sector.
If you think you’d like to work as a medical assistant, check out online programs that might suit your learning style and pocketbook. In a year or two, you could be working in a new career and be encouraging your friends to pursue online programs too.
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