Have you been thinking about becoming a medical assistant? You’ll be very pleased to learn this is a rapidly expanding profession with many opportunities for people with a variety of interests.
In fact, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 23 percent growth in this field through the year 2024. You may also like hearing that becoming a medical assistant is much easier than going into many other healthcare professions.
Here are the requirements to be a medical assistant, so you can see if this might just be your new career.
Personal Skills and Abilities
While the medical assisting profession sees a wide range of personalities and backgrounds, there are a few personal skills and abilities that are helpful to possess. As you might imagine, working with patients as a clinical medical assistant requires care and compassion, and you should enjoy the idea of healing people or helping them uncover what’s troubling their health.
Are you concerned about your desire to provide aid for those that are sick and in need? If so, you can also work as an administrative medical assistant. This is a person who has the same training as a clinical medical assistant but who works behind the scenes keeping a clinic or hospital department running smoothly.
You can learn more about this type of medical assisting position later on in our article (under the sections entitled “Medical Assistant Training Programs,” “Certification and Registration,” and “Beyond the Basics”).
Whether you plan to be a clinical or administrative medical assistant (or both, which is common in many small clinics that need a jack of all trades), you should be detail oriented and thorough, as well as able to multitask easily. You may have to record medical data, phone pharmacies with prescriptions for a physician, or keep track of a busy appointment book, all while being interrupted by doctors, patients, and colleagues.
Successful medical assistants deal well with stress, whether that comes in the form of crying babies, ringing phones, or grouchy doctors. You may even have to deal with respiratory arrests or cardiac emergencies on the job.
Having good communication skills is helpful as well. You will have to explain procedures or tests to patients, summarize patient histories for physicians, and perhaps handle email correspondence or man the reception desk. And because you will have access to confidential data, you also need to have the integrity to keep personal matters private, which can be a challenge if you work in a small community.
Clinical medical assistants spend a lot of time on their feet, whether at the side of a physician during exams or ushering patients back and forth between reception and procedure rooms. You will likely be on the go much of the day, so you need to have the stamina for this. If you prefer a more sedentary position, an administrative medical assistant job is a better choice, although you will still spend some time on your feet to do things like filing and stocking supplies.
Fine motor skills are useful to a medical assistant too. You may be called on to give intramuscular injections for immunizations or draw blood for lab tests, for example. In fact, some medical assistants work all day drawing blood as a phlebotomist. Other typical medical assistant tasks (depending on the employer and state regulations) that require manual dexterity include:
- applying EKG electrodes
- taking blood pressures
- handling fluid or tissue samples
- performing basic laboratory tests
- starting IVs
- assisting with diagnostics and procedures
- providing basic wound care
Minimum Requirements of a Medical Assistant
The only requirement that is common to all medical assistants is a high school diploma or equivalent. From there, people interested in medical assisting work can follow several different pathways to finding jobs.
While it is possible to secure employment with just a high school diploma and learn everything on the job, more and more employers today are requiring some sort of training from their candidates. You can get this training at a traditional brick-and-mortar school, like a community college, or you can participate in an online program.
There are some people who learn medical assisting in the military, too.
A medical assistant can work in both general practice and specialty settings, and there are many tasks that are unique to certain specialties. These special tasks are generally the only ones taught on the job, post-formal training, in areas such as orthopedics, pulmonology, cardiology, pediatrics, OB/GYN, or gastroenterology.
Other minimum requirements to become a medical assistant vary by the employer and geographic location. Some employers want healthcare experience or certification (see below). In certain areas, competition for jobs is more fierce, so the requirements for candidates are higher.
If you are willing to travel further or relocate for work, you can increase your opportunities and find a position that best fits your resume. There are no states, though, that require either a medical assisting diploma or degree or certification—it is at present completely up to the group that’s hiring.
Medical Assistant Training Programs
If you would like to get to work soon with a minimal investment financially, you can enroll in a diploma program for medical assisting. This takes about one year to complete, and these programs are found both online and in local communities at colleges and technical schools.
You can also get an Associate’s degree in medical assisting. Many people find that this yields better job prospects with more money and improved chances for advancement, which makes the two-year commitment and higher price tag worthwhile.
Think about how you learn, your education budget, your location, and what you hope to achieve in your career when deciding which type of program to choose. If you have small children who aren’t quite ready for daycare, or if you already work another job, online training may be for you. However, if you would like to advance in the field and take home a higher salary, you may wish to pursue a two-year degree at a conventional college.
Whichever training route you choose, make sure the program is accredited with either the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). These agencies make sure the medical assisting curriculum being taught meets the standards of care required by the profession.
There are two types of classes you’ll take during training, unless you opt for solely clinical work, which is possible. If you really don’t want to do any clerical or administrative work, clinical medical assisting is fine, but you will usually broaden your chances for employment if you take the dual training curriculum.
The clinical classes you’ll take include:
- human anatomy and physiology
- phlebotomy (drawing blood)
- first aid
- sterilization procedures
- medical terminology
- pharmaceutical principles
- clinical and diagnostic procedures
To round out your administrative skills, you’ll get coursework in areas like health insurance, accounting, information technology, scheduling, and business communication. You may also learn about the basic legal issues relating to being a medical assistant, like patient confidentiality and HIPAA laws that govern healthcare information privacy.
Certification and Registration
As mentioned above, some employers like to hire medical assistants who have been certified or registered. This means they have taken an exam, for a small fee, that demonstrates that they know how to practice the national standards for medical assisting. There are four bodies that provide certification or registration for medical assistants:
- American Medical Technologists (AMT)
- National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
- National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)
- American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA)
Like any extra credential, being certified or registered as a medical assistant, even if it’s not required, can sometimes translate to a higher hourly rate or salary. It also shows potential employers that you are dedicated to your career and want to work in healthcare long term.
Before deciding which type of credential to test for, it’s a good idea to talk to medical assistant instructors and any friends who work in the field, as well as to read job postings, to get a feel for the most common requirement in your geographic location and area of interest. You can also chat with experienced medical assistants via online job board forums.
Each type of certification offers a slightly different benefit—some may favor those who are already working as medical assistants, while others may be better for graduates of certain types of training programs. They also have different rules regarding maintaining and renewing your credential.
Beyond the Basics
Since medical assisting usually involves a lot of daily hands-on work with patients, you will be required to do an externship or internship. Frequently used interchangeably, internships and externships place you in real-life medical workplaces, either during or immediately after your training, to get experience with real patients and procedures under supervision. Look for training programs with strong networking connections to help you secure an internship or externship in an area of medicine that interests you.
Finally, there’s no limit to the number of additional credentials you can earn after becoming a medical assistant. Some medical assistants find it both helpful and lucrative to become certified as a medical coder or biller. Others go on to earn a Bachelor’s degree. Becoming a medical assistant is an ideal entrée into the world of healthcare where the opportunity for growth and personal satisfaction is huge.
- Please bookmark Medical Assistant Professional for more helpful articles.
You Also Might Like: