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How To Become A Certified Medical Assistant

June 3, 2020 | Staff Writers

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As a certified medical assistant, you get to work in a vast range of health care settings. Your duties will be both clinical and administrative. In order to become a certified medical assistant, you should consider a study program that allows you to pass the certifying exam. It can take as little as a year to complete these programs and many vocational schools and community colleges offer them.

The Different Education Pathways

There are a number of certified medical assistant programs. Some of these offer more clinical practice while others offer more laboratory work. Others focus more on the administrative duties and not as much on medical duties. This means that there is a lot of variation in the programs and it is important that you look into these variations before choosing the program that is right for you. However, all programs will focus at least on:

  • Medical terminology
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Medical billing and coding
  • Clinical laboratory procedures
  • Medical laws and ethics
  • Business computer applications

Two main types of educational programs exist for those who want to become a certified medical assistant.

These options are:

1. Obtaining an associate’s degree at an accredited school, which takes two years to complete.
2. A one year certification at a community college or technical school.

Online Options

It is very rare for community colleges and technical schools to offer online options. However, as technology progresses, some are now considering offering the theoretical part of the certificate online. Furthermore, there are various practice examinations and other interesting material that can be obtained online. It is very important, however, to ensure that the sources of this information are credible and that any nursing related programs that are offered online are fully accredited. Meanwhile, various colleges offer evening and weekend programs to facilitate studying for those who are already employed.

Getting Licensed

After program completion, medical assistants can become certified through an exam. The American Association of Medical Assistants offers three examinations per year. Once certified, medical assistants must renew their certification every five years. It should be noted that certification is not required by law. However, most employers will look more favorably on those who do hold the certification, which means job prospects are much better.

Prerequisites for Studying

In order to take part in a medical assistant certification program, students must at least hold a high school diploma or an equivalent thereof. Furthermore, they must be proficient in mathematics and English. Certain colleges also have an introductory course that is a prerequisite before being admitted to the certification course.

Program Accreditation

Certified medical assistant programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. Programs that have this accreditation must include classroom learning as well as lab experiences in a supervised environment. This guarantees that prospective medical assistants are able to take vital signs, can assist in various medical procedures and understand all the necessary guidelines.

Becoming a Certified Medical Assistant

It is not a requirement to gain certification to get to work as a medical assistant. However, it is highly recommended to do so through the American Association of Medical Assistants. Once a student has passed this exam, their certification remains valid for 60 months. In order to keep the certificate valid, students must take part in continuous education through clinical, general medical assisting and clinical courses.

The programs that lead to certification provide basic training that will enable a student to enter this field of work. However, it is also possible for medical assistants to go more in-depth in certain parts of their work. Further certification programs for specific areas of work exist, including in radiology, phlebotomy and medical coding.

The Cost of Becoming a Certified Medical Assistant

The cost of becoming a certified medical assistant can be hard to accurately determine. Different colleges and technical schools have different tuition fees. Additionally, there are various other costs to consider, such as books, the cost of living, medical insurance, travel and so on. Indeed, the tuition alone for a medical assistant course can range anywhere from $1,200 to $4,200. Costs are often higher for out of state students, and those who want to obtain an associate’s degree can expect to pay the most as this is a longer course and goes more in depth. At the higher end of the scale, the cost of a full program can be as high as $10,000.

Scholarships for Certified Medical Assistants

Scholarships and grants also exist for certified medical assistants. In many cases, these are given to people who meet specific requirements, such as gender, ethnicity, age or financial background. In many cases, these grants and scholarships do not cover the full cost of the degree program but are there simply to provide some financial assistance towards it. Some of the most popular scholarships and grants for certified medical assistants include:

In addition, each state also has its own scholarship program. Students and prospective students should take the time to research what is out there for them and what they can apply for. Although full scholarships are rare, the overall cost can be significantly reduced.

Working as a Certified Medical Assistant

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that the career of certified of medical assistants is one of the fastest growing professions in the country. It is expected that growth rate between 2008 and 2018 is 34%, far above the national average and even above the average in the field of health care and nursing. It is believed that more and more medical assistants will be needed since the population is aging, as is the medical workforce. Most medical assistants work in primary care and their job outlook is highest if they are certified.


How much they will be able to earn will depend greatly on the industry they work in. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary was $29,760 in 2010. The top 10% earned $40,190 and above, and the bottom 10% earned $20,810 or less. The highest paid states are Alaska and the District of Columbia. The greatest need for medical assistants is in California, where there are currently some 83,000 jobs.

As a medical assistant, you will do both clinical and administrative work, although some settings focus on either or. They often work in podiatrist, physician and chiropractor offices. The exact duties depend on geographical location, their specialty and the practice itself.

Typically speaking, a certified medical assistant will:

  • Take a patient’s personal information and patient history and record this.
  • Help in the measurements of vital signs.
  • Help in examinations.
  • Give patients injections if requested by the physician.
  • Schedule appointments.
  • Send blood to laboratories for testing.
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