How Much Schooling Does a Medical Assistant Need?

The only formal requirement that must be met to work as a medical assistant is a high school diploma.  However, most employers will only hire professionals with formal training.  Training is especially important for those who would like to work in a clinical capacity since they will need to learn how to take vital signs and prepare and exam room, among other things.  Even administrative medical assistants need to learn about HIPPA laws and other medical related laws and regulations.

When looking for medical assistant schooling you’ll need to choose between a certificate/diploma program and a program that will earn you a degree.  Which one you choose will depend on how much time you have and what your career goals are. 

Because there are so many training programs out there, it should not be difficult to find one that caters to your schedule. Many programs offer evening or weekend classes, and some courses can be taken entirely online.

So, how much schooling does a medical assistant need?

Let’s take a look at the different levels of schooling, what is involved in training for this specialty and how to decide which path you will take.

Certificate, Diploma or Degree?

If you are extremely self-disciplined and can devote the majority of your day to studying, there are some online medical assistant programs that you can complete in just a few months.  However, for those of you who need to find time for work and family, you will need at least one to two years to complete a training program.

  • Certificate and Diploma Programs: These types of training programs will often take one year to complete.  They are typically offered by vocational schools, community colleges and career colleges.  The goal of the program is to equip you for an entry-level position within a medical practice, and to prepare you to take the national certification exam if you so choose.
  • Associate’s Degree Programs: Another option is to earn your Associate’s Degree in Applied Science.  The curriculum will be similar to a certificate or diploma program but will include general education classes such as English and History.  It takes two years minimum to earn an Associate’s Degree.  The benefit to earning a degree is that you will have a more well-rounded education and will be in a better position to earn a higher salary or be promoted to a managerial position.

Visit our medical assistant certification page learn more about certification options.

Types of Classes

As a medical assistant student you will take courses in general medicine and health.

Classroom instruction includes:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Biology
  • Medical Terminology
  • Accounting
  • Transcription

You may also be taught specialty skills such as diagnostic procedures and laboratory research methods.

Finding an Internship

Most medical assistant training programs will help you to find an internship where you can put your new found skills to use.  This is an excellent way to get some hands-on experience before applying for a job.  Because medical assistants are not licensed, most hospitals will not accept interns, however physician offices, DOs and chiropractors are usually open to accepting medical assistant interns.

During your internship you’ll have a chance to practice your administrative and clinical skills.  You may be asked to do simple tasks like answering the phones and greeting patients.  You may also shadow nurses and physicians to observe patient care in action.  If you are studying clinical medical assisting you’ll be able to take patient’s vitals under the supervision of a medical professional.

Getting Your Certification

The last step in your medical assistant training is passing the national certification exam.  The exam might be built into your training program, but if not, you will need to contact the AAMA, AMT or NHA to schedule a testing date.  Once you pass the exam you will earn your official credentials as a CMA (Certified Medical Assistant) and will have skyrocketed your marketable skills.

To find out how to contact these certification agencies please visit our medical assistant credentialing page.

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