Learn About Medical Assisting

Thank you for visiting OnlineMedicalAssistantPrograms.com, a comprehensive online resource built for students thinking about a career and education in this healthcare field. We have created this research-based site to give you all the information you need to make smart decisions about your future.

I’m interested in this career. What is it like?

You will perform administrative and clinical tasks in medical offices like clinics and hospitals. Also, you will be the first people that patients interact with at the doctor’s office, acting as the mediator between physician and patient.

Individuals who are organized, flexible and pleasant already have characteristics helpful for this profession. You should be able to keep track of many things at the same time, because each day will require you to balance tasks that range from scheduling appointments to collecting urine samples. And you need to maintain a pleasant demeanor so that you can put patients at ease when they must visit the doctor.

Many students are attracted to this medical career because job prospects are good and it does not require extensive formal education. In fact, some clinics hire assistants who have only a high school diploma, so you may not need a degree to work in this field. However, although most training will occur on the job, a degree may help you to stand out among the competition.

Here are five accredited schools offering medical assisting programs

Follow the links to receive more information about these sponsored online schools.

1. Kaplan University

2. Herzing University

3. Keiser University

4. San Joaquin Valley College

5. Allied Schools

Students and professors discuss their experiences

An Interview with Natalie Weber

Natalie Weber

Student, Diploma Program for Medical Assisting, Western Iowa Tech Community College

“Being a people person and being able to communicate easily with others will help you considerably in this field, since you are constantly working with others.”

Read the Full Interview >>

An Interview with Fataun Poureetezadi

Fataun Poureetezadi

Student, Certificate in Medical Assisting, Everest College

“The most important trait for someone who wants to succeed is tenacity. This program moves fast and throws a ton of information at students. Many people drop out of because they lack the iron will to keep up.”

Read the Full Interview >>

An Interview with Jin Kim

Jin Kim

Instructor, Medical Assisting, Portland Community College

“The biggest hurdle that students face is the challenging coursework. Some students expect everything to be easy and fast, but this is far from the truth. Students should be prepared to take rigorous classes in math and science.”

Read the Full Interview >>

Overview of Responsibilities and Duties

What kinds of tasks will I perform?

Some of your administrative duties could include front office and back office responsibilities such as but not limited to, management of appointments, recording and handling of patient medical histories, as well as employee health records. The exact job function can vary according to each employer, but it can include the recording of vital signs, supervisor health assessments, administer shots and the handling of blood work for lab submissions. It is important to understand that this profession is not the same as a physician’s assistant, who provide more advanced clinical procedures such as providing assistant during surgery. The core difference is that physician’s assistants have the ability to make medical decisions, whereas medical assistants must get approval and have the authorization of the physicians.

One more helpful interview

An Interview with Lisa Simpson

Lisa Simpson

Certified Medical Assistant, Based in Illinois

“A CMA job is a wonderful position for someone who is thinking about working as a nurse or in some other aspect of the healthcare field. This job will place you in the clinical or hospital setting so that you can see what it would be like to work at a medical facility and rid yourself of any misconceptions about the field.”

Read the Full Interview >>

Two Factors to Keep in Mind

What else is important to understand?

Limited Career Advancement

You should be aware that there is little career mobility in this field. Although you may gain greater responsibility and pay over time, you won’t have the opportunity to learn other healthcare skills. For instance, some assistants become medical office managers. But you will need to obtain an advanced education to move beyond the scope of basic assisting.

Clinical vs. Administrative Training

This career contains two major knowledge areas, which are clinical skills and administrative skills. Some programs give you the option to study one of these knowledge areas alone, but your employment opportunities will be greater if you are skilled in both clinical and administrative duties. Clinical skills include medical procedures like drawing blood, giving shots and laboratory techniques. On the other hand, administrative skills refer to medical office duties like stocking supplies, scheduling appointments and medical coding.

Types of Assistants

What are common specializations?

Education Required:

Certificate (9 months to 1 year)

Average Salary:

$28,900 (Lowest 10% earned less than $20,810; highest 10% earned more than $40,190)

Work Environment:

Medical clinics, hospitals

Job Description:

CMAs perform both clinical and administrative duties. They take patient histories, conduct basic laboratory work, bill patients, collect specimens and explain medical instructions. To become certified, CMAs must pass the CMA Certification Exam, which is offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants.

Education Required:

High school diploma; certificate (9 months to a year) recommended

Average Salary:

$26,000

Work Environment:

Medical clinics, hospitals

Job Description:

This type of assistant helps run the offices of hospitals and clinics. They maintain patient medical records, work with insurance companies and handle billing issues. They order supplies and keep examination rooms stocked. In addition, individuals with this specialization schedule and confirm appointments.

Education Required:

High school diploma; certificate (9 months to a year) recommended

Average Salary:

$30,000

Work Environment:

Medical clinics, hospitals

Job Description:

These assistants work closely with physicians and patients in a clinical setting. They aid healthcare professionals by sterilizing medical equipment, recording vital signs and explaining medical procedures to patients. Sometimes they perform additional duties like giving shots or removing stitches.

Education Required:

High school diploma; certificate (9 months to a year) recommended

Average Salary:

$28,900 (Lowest 10% earned less than $20,810; highest 10% earned more than $40,190)

Work Environment:

Clinics

Job Description:

Specialized assistants exist to complete clinical tasks in specific areas of medicine. For example, ophthalmic assistants work for eye doctors. They test patients’ vision and show them how to care for glasses and contact lenses. Some other areas that employ specialized assistants include podiatric and chiropractic care centers.

Employment Statistics

Can you tell me about the future of this career?

Statistics show this profession is a growing field. The BLS found that in 2010 there were about 527,000 medical assistants working in the US. Employment is to increase by approximately 31% over the next 10 years, which is much higher than the average projected growth for all occupations. Assistants who become certified will have the best job prospects.
Profession Employment 2010 Projected 2020 Average Growth
Medical Assistant 527600 690400 31%
Medical Secretary 508700 718900 41%
Receptionist Or Information Clerk 1048500 1297000 24%

Average Salary Growth 2006 - 2011

Profession 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Medical Assistant 27190 28270 29060 29450 29760 30170
Medical Secretary 29220 30050 30800 31450 31820 32430
Receptionist Or Information Clerk 23810 24580 25400 26010 26260 26730

Salary By Percentile

Profession 10th 25th 50th 75th 90th
Medical Assistant $20880 $24670 $29100 $35080 $40810
Medical Secretary $21410 $25660 $31060 $37660 $45860
Receptionist Or Information Clerk $17900 $20880 $25690 $30930 $37500

Educational Prerequisites

What formal education is necessary?

You can become an entry-level assistant without any formal education. However, there are many programs available to assist your professional development with specialized training through a certificate or associate’s degree program. The certificate programs take one year, while associate’s programs are typically two years long.

Knowledge and Skills You Will Acquire

What can I expect to learn at school?

Formal training and study will significantly contribute to your knowledge and skills.

Examples of Academic Topics

Anatomy and Physiology

Anatomy is concerned with the structure of the body, including its organs, bones and tissues. Physiology, which is closely related to anatomy, describes bodily functions like breathing and the skeletal, muscular, nervous and cardiovascular systems. Basic knowledge of anatomy and physiology prepares individuals for many clinical tasks.

Medical Ethics and Law

Medical ethics and law provides students with an ethical framework to help them make difficult healthcare decisions. This subject discusses situations like patient confidentiality, medical experimentation, healthcare reform and informed consent, which means that patients must be aware of the possible risks of a medical procedure before it is performed.

Medical Terminology

Medical terminology discusses the technical language that is specific to medicine and the healthcare industry. This subject covers the vocabulary that relates to clinical procedures, anatomy and physiology, diagnostic testing and medical legislation. It also explores the Latin roots of medical terminology.

Inventory Management

Inventory management teaches students to order, stock and organize the essential supplies that are used in a clinic like bandages and disposable medical gowns. It discusses ways to catalog different items and how often they need to be ordered. Inventory management also addresses how to track the use of necessary items.

Infection Control

Infection control is a set of procedures used to create a sterile environment that limits the growth of microorganisms in order to prevent infection. It discusses standard precautions that are practiced, like frequent hand washing, wearing protective clothing, avoiding contact with body fluids and properly disposing of needles.

Examples of Industry Skills

Administrative Skills

Administrative skills are necessary to keep a medical office running smoothly such as how to use basic technology like word processing programs, e-mail and spreadsheets. Administrative skills also include organization, prioritizing your job duties, and professional conduct in the workplace.

Phlebotomy

Phlebotomy is the technical term for drawing blood. You will be trained to efficiently and safely draw blood from patients so that it can be analyzed in a laboratory. The process of phlebotomy involves sterilization of equipment, puncturing the skin and vein with a needle and safely handling the blood sample. You will also learn various ways to help people feel comfortable when you are drawing blood.

Clinical Procedures

Clinical procedures are the day-to-day processes that you are expected to perform. During your training, you will learn to change dressings, collect bodily fluid specimens from patients and perform simple lab tests. You will also be trained to use medical equipment like an EKG machine and to prepare patients for x rays.

Medical Coding

Medical coding is an essential part of the medical billing process. In your medical coding class, you will learn to document the medical services that patients were provided with by assigning diagnostic and procedural codes to their information file. You will also use those codes to create a claim that needs to be paid.

Measuring Vital Signs

Vital signs are clinical measurements that determine the physical condition of patients. In your curriculum, you will discover how to accurately measure and record vital signs like temperature, blood pressure, pulse and breathing rate. Your measurements will indicate to physicians how well their patient’s body is functioning.

Your Options for Academic Programs

Are both undergraduate and graduate programs available?

You can only study medical assisting at the undergraduate level. You can either earn a certificate or an associate’s degree. Remember, you do not need to have formal education to get a job in this field, but it will enhance your resume and improve your job prospects.

Choose a specific level:

  • Certificate
  • Associate’s

Certificate

Many schools offer certificates in medical assisting, which will increase your employment prospects. Certificate programs are a good idea if you want to learn the foundational knowledge and skills without completing a full degree.

What are the different types of certificates?

You can earn undergraduate certificates through vocational schools or community college programs. Some schools allow you to focus on either administrative or clinical skills, while others offer instruction in both areas.

What is an estimate of study length?

Most programs require students to complete about 30 credit hours. Students normally are able to complete their certificate programs in 9 months to 1 year.

What is an example of one or two required classes?

Your medical assisting certificate program will train you in administrative and clinical tasks. The exact courses that you will take vary according to the length and depth of your program, but you are likely to take administrative courses in medical billing and coding, business applications software, healthcare ethics and medical terminology. You will also take classes that are designed to teach you hands-on clinical skills like anatomy and physiology, laboratory procedures and specimen collection. In addition, many certificate programs require students to complete an internship.

What are common job placements I can expect?

Job placements can vary for entry level positions, often most find position in a private practice, clinical setting or a floating position with an employment agencies. From there, you have the options of becoming more specialized to work for in more niche medical fields.

What would help me decide on the best school for my needs?

The most important thing to consider when you are looking for a school is whether or not it provides you with the opportunity to practice your clinical skills in a hands-on setting. Quality programs will have several hours of lab work for students to practice skills like taking vitals and drawing blood. Many programs also offer an internship, which is a valuable opportunity for you to put your skills to work in a real-world setting. If your program does not include an internship, you will have to learn to apply theory on the job.

What about completing a program online?

There are several opportunities to earn your certificate online. If you choose to pursue this route, you should only attend a program that provides an internship or an externship, which is a training program for nonresident medical professionals. During an externship program, you will be placed in a healthcare facility where you can learn hands-on skills that you will not normally be able to receive through your online program. You should not commit to an online program unless it provides ample practical instruction.

Associates’ Degree

An associate’s degree will increase your employment prospects and provide you with a thorough understanding of useful principles. Some employers prefer that applicants can demonstrate their technical knowledge and ability through an associate’s degree.

What kinds of associate’s degrees exist?

Associate of Science AS

An AS degree has classes that teach clinical and administrative skills along with general science courses. The AS is the best option if you want to transfer into a bachelor’s degree program.

Associate of Applied Science AAS

An AAS degree focuses on the technical aspects and skills over general knowledge. This is a good choice if you want to start your career as soon as you finish your associate degree program.

What is a good estimate of the total time commitment?

They typically require students to complete 60 to 65 credit hours. Most students are able to complete their programs in about 2 years.

What courses will be mandatory for me to complete?

When studying for an associate’s degree, you can expect to take science classes like biology, anatomy and physiology. You will also take classes about medical coding, healthcare ethics, administrative procedures and medical terminology. Finally, you will take clinical labs that teach you how to remove stitches, change bandages and draw blood. In addition, most associates degrees require students to complete an internship or externship.

What is a good type of job recent graduates usually land?

If you earn an associate’s degree, you will be eligible to work as a clinical or administrative medical assistant. In addition, you will be better suited for managerial positions  after you gain some work experience.

What would help me choose between all the schools?

Your biggest consideration when you are looking for a school is whether or not its program offers an internship or externship. Internships and externships allow student to practice the skills that they learn in class in a practical setting. This work experience enhances your resume and increases your job opportunities.

It is very important that you consider the accreditation of the program.   To earn the Certified Medical Assistant Certification, you must graduate from a program that is accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES), as they both ensures the education quality fulfills professional standards.

What about enrolling in a program that is online? How would it compare to the regular campus programs?

If you are considering attending an online school, keep in mind that these online degrees are only valuable if they include a practical component, like an internship or externship. Although you can learn administrative tasks and theory in an online program, hands-on experience is vital for mastering professional skills like removing stitches or testing blood. In addition, you should keep in mind that you must graduate from a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) if you want to become a Certified Medical Assistant. Very few online programs were accredited in 2012, although this could change in the future. You should check whether your online program is accredited if you are interested in earning this degree.

Getting Certified

Could I receive a legitimate certification?

Certification Requirements

You can distinguish yourself in the job market by becoming a Certified Medical Assistant. Certification will assure potential employers of your knowledge and ability, which makes you a more competitive job applicant. Remember, you are only eligible for certification if you complete a certificate or degree from a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). After completing an accredited program, you must pass the CMA Certification Exam, which is administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). In addition, you will need to recertify every 5 years to keep your certification current.

More Career Related Information

What are other useful sources of advice and data for this profession?

Organizations and Associations:

Career Data and Articles: