How to Become a Medical Assistant in 3 Steps
If you’re looking to start an exciting career in healthcare, becoming a medical assistant is one the fastest paths you can take to get there. Medical assisting also offers great employment potential, terrific benefits, and lasting job security—making it a smart choice for those seeking a solid, long-term career path.
Why Medical Assisting?
With medical assistants becoming more in-demand by the day, this occupation offers fantastic job prospects to any career seeker. In fact, the projected job growth for medical assisting is a whopping 29% compared to just 7% for all other occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS also estimates that more than 183,000 new medical assistants will be hired in the U.S. between 2016-2026. That means your chances of finding employment in this growing field are extremely strong.
You’ll discover solid earning potential too. In 2017, the median average salary for medical assistants was $32,480 per year or $15.61 per hour, but this number can be even higher depending on your location and experience level. Plus, your salary is likely to include great benefits, including paid vacation and sick days, health and dental insurance, retirement benefits, and more.
If you’re interested in finding a career that allows you to help others, while earning competitive wages and great benefits, medical assisting could be the right path for you. So, what does it take to become a medical assistant? Read on to learn what your options are for pursuing this exciting career to see if it’s a good fit for your next chapter.
On-the-Job Training vs. Formal Training Programs
If you’re lucky enough to find a healthcare employer that is willing to provide on-the-job training, you can technically begin your medical assisting career with just your high school diploma or GED. However, it can be challenging to find doctors and medical facilities who are willing to hire untrained applicants. These days, most employers prefer to hire candidates who are job-ready—having already completed formal medical assisting training through an accredited program.
Luckily, there are affordable, accredited programs that can prepare you for this career quickly, in as little as 9-12 months. These include on-campus programs, online programs, and hybrid programs that are a combination of both.
Step 1: Choose the Right Program for You
Many colleges, universities, and technical schools offer medical assistant training programs with various program lengths, degree types, costs, and more. To determine the best fit for you, it’s important to consider the following questions.
Is the program fully accredited?
The best medical assisting programs have been accredited by a nationally-recognized accrediting agency listed by the U.S. Department of Education. These accreditations ensure that the program you enroll in meets certain quality requirements. In our case, Ameritech is institutionally accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).
Keep in mind that certain types of financial aid are only available to people attending accredited programs. Plus, if you choose to transfer to another school, you are much more likely to receive credit for courses taken as part of an accredited program.
Taking an accredited program also qualifies you to sit for a certification exam, so you can become a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) upon graduating. At Ameritech, we work with the National Healthcare Association, so students can get their Medical Assistant Certifications (CCMA). You can find more information on that here. You’ll also be prepared for additional MA certification exams which you can read more about later on in this article.
How long is the program?
Depending on how much time you want to spend in school, you could choose to earn a Medical Assistant certificate or diploma in as little as 9-12 months, or pursue your associate’s degree in an 18-24-month program. In Ameritech’s case, we offer a 12-month on-campus diploma program with extensive hands-on training— to ensure that you’re ready to join the workforce when you graduate.
What are the total program costs?
Costs for medical assistant programs can vary wildly, so it’s important to consider the total cost of completing your program. Most programs offer financial aid, so be sure to talk to a Financial Aid Representative to see if you qualify for tuition assistance. At Ameritech, we’re proud to offer one of the most affordable private MA programs in the state of Utah—with great financial aid options for those who qualify.
What is the program format (on-campus or online)?
Medical assisting programs are typically delivered in-person in a classroom, online, or through a hybrid program that offers a combination of in-person and online learning. When deciding which program type to choose, consider your schedule and how you prefer to learn. Do you learn better in a hands-on environment? Would you benefit from more one-on-one attention from your instructors? Are you looking to build your professional network? If so, an on-campus program may be your best bet.
While online programs can offer convenience schedule-wise, they aren’t the best fit for every student. As you’ll be taking your classes remotely via your computer, online programs can’t offer the same hands-on learning environment that you’ll gain in an on-campus program. That’s important, as you won’t be able to interact directly with the medical equipment you’ll be required to use in your new job. That can mean a steeper learning curve once you enter the field. You may also have limited access to your instructors and won’t be able to collaborate with other students like you would in an in-person program.
At Ameritech, we believe that a hands-on, on-campus program is the absolute best choice for medical assistant training—and the safest bet for ensuring that you’re job-ready from day one. When you consider the daily tasks that MAs do on-the-job like taking a patient’s vital signs, drawing blood, and working with microscopes and other equipment, a hands-on environment is really the best way to become proficient at these core job duties.
At our Provo campus, we even have a classroom that’s set up exactly like a doctor’s office. With three exam rooms, our goal is to provide our students with an accurate simulation of what it’s like to work in the field as a MA. Since you’ll have the opportunity to practice in a real-world environment, you’ll know exactly what to do and how to do it when you start your externship and begin your first job as an MA.
What type of degree will I earn?
Shorter programs (9-12 months) allow you to earn a certificate or diploma, while longer programs (18-24 months) enable you to earn your Associate’s degree. Either degree is perfectly sufficient for starting a career as a medical assistant, so it generally comes down to how much time you want to spend in school before beginning your new career. Longer programs generally cost a bit more too, so if your budget is limited, a shorter program may be a better fit.
At Ameritech, we offer a 12-month diploma program. We’ve structured our program so that you’ll graduate with everything you need to begin a career as an MA in the shortest amount of time possible.
Does the program include an externship?
In many programs (but not all), you will be placed in an externship after you’ve completed the necessary coursework. That means you’ll have the opportunity to learn the job duties of a medical assistant firsthand in an actual medical facility, working with doctors, nurses, and patients.
An externship is a great way to gain real on-the-job training, so you can start your career with the skills and confidence you need to succeed. Having that real-world training can help set you apart from other candidates, as well as get you in the door at medical facilities where you may want to work after graduating. Some students even get hired on by the same facility when their externship is complete! It’s a great way to start building your professional network, while acquiring the experience you need to become job-ready. If you think you would benefit from on-the-job training, be sure that the MA program you choose includes an externship as part of their curriculum.
At Ameritech, not only does our MA program include an externship, we also help our students get their national MA certification before they start it. That means our students can start actively performing the job duties of an MA during their externship, instead of just training by watching others perform the necessary job tasks.
Does the program include the costs of getting certified? Does it offer certification exam prep as part of the program?
Generally, if you enroll in an accredited program, you’ll have the opportunity to sit for a certification exam, which upon passing, enables you to become a Certified Medical Assistant. However, not every program includes the cost of certification in your tuition. Be sure to find a school whose program includes certification costs, so you can avoid additional costs down the road.
Additionally, look for a school that offers certification exam prep, so you can ensure that you’ll be fully equipped to pass your exam the first time. Some schools may even have exam pass rates available, so be sure to ask your Admissions Counselor if you’re like to know what percentage of students typically pass the test.
At Ameritech, we make it simple by including the cost of the national certification exam in our tuition fees. We also include national exam prep in our curriculum at no additional cost to ensure that our MA students pass.
Does the program include job placement assistance? What is the job placement rate for MA students?
If you’d like help finding a job after you graduate, make sure that the medical assistant training program you’re considering includes job placement assistance. Some schools even offer job placement assistance for life—meaning you’ll always have a place to turn when you’re looking for your next job.
It also might be wise to ask an Admissions Counselor what the program’s current job placement rate is—meaning what percentage of medical assisting students were able to find work after graduation. While you’re unlikely to find a school with 100% placement, look for one with at least an 80% job placement rate. 80% or above is a good indication of a school’s reputation within the local healthcare community and can provide some reassurance if you’re concerned about the likelihood of finding work after completing your program.
At Ameritech, we offer job placement assistance to our graduates. With a stellar reputation within the Utah healthcare community, our MA program boasts an 89% job placement rate—meaning that your chances of finding a MA job after graduating from our program are extremely high. In addition, our medical assisting students give our program a 99.8% satisfaction rating.
Step 2: Get Certified
If you chose an accredited MA program, you will be eligible to take the Certified Medical Assistant exam. This exam is typically administered outside the school by an external accrediting organization like the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) or the American Medical Technologists (AMT).
While becoming certified is not a requirement for employment as a medical assistant, it can give you a competitive edge when you start your post-graduation job hunt. Healthcare employers tend to look more favorably at candidates who have been certified and sometimes, offer higher pay to Certified Medical Assistants.
Depending on your state and your school’s accreditation, the certification exam typically costs between $95-$200. Luckily, many medical assistant programs (including Ameritech) cover the cost of the exam in your tuition, so you will not be responsible for any added expenses.
Give yourself plenty of time to study for this exam. If your program offers certification exam prep, you should definitely take advantage so you can pass the test with flying colors. If your school doesn’t offer certification exam prep, you can take an exam prep program in-person or online at an additional cost. The AAMA also offers some free study resources like a practice exam, an exam content outline, and more to assist you as you prepare.
At Ameritech, we work with the National Healthcare Association, so our students can get their Medical Assistant Certifications (CCMA). Additionally, our graduates are prepared and eligible to take the following certification exams: 1) the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) offers by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA); 2) the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) offers by the American Medical Technologists (AMT); and 3) the National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) offered by the National Center for Competency Testing.
We also prepare our graduates for additional certifications on top of their national MA certification. This includes the following certification exams:
· Immunizations (through the Utah State Department of Health)
· Phlebotomy Tech*
· EKG Tech*
· HIPAA (through University of Utah)
· Clinical Laboratories Improvement Amendments (CLIA)
*not included in tuition.
Step 3: Start Your Job Hunt
Once you’re certified as a medical assistant and have completed your externship, you can begin your job hunt. If your school offers job placement assistance, that can be a super helpful resource if you’re unsure of how to get started. Reputable schools tend to have a great network within the local healthcare community, with former students working at all of the major medical facilities in your area. Some of these former students may even be in a position to hire you.
If your school does not offer job placement assistance, remember that as a Certified Medical Assistant, you are qualified to work in a wide variety of healthcare settings. So, if you’re having trouble finding work in a traditional physician’s office, expand your search to include specialist practices like chiropractors, podiatrists, optometrists, and obstetricians.
Again, at Ameritech, we offer job placement assistance to our graduates—helping you find great employment opportunities when you graduate and any other time when you may need help finding work. With an 89% job placement rate for MAs and a great reputation within the Utah healthcare community, we can help connect you with great opportunities to start and advance your career. Local healthcare employers even give us a 100% satisfaction rating—meaning our MA grads are in demand and get hired.
If helping others comes naturally to you, becoming a medical assistant could be your ticket to a satisfying, long-term career. Depending on what training program you choose, you could start an exciting career as a medical assistant in as little as one year. With its fantastic job outlook and continued growth, medical assisting is a surefire path to making a great living and ensuring your job security for years to come.
Interested in becoming a medical assistant? Learn more about Ameritech’s fully accredited 12-month program.