How to Become a Medical Assistant

As a medical assistant, you’ll get to improve the lives of patients by providing empathetic and knowledgeable care. From day-to-day, your work will constantly change as new cases come in and as you switch between administrative and clinical tasks. If you’re interested in becoming a medical assistant, you’ll pursue on-site training in a healthcare facility or coursework to prepare you for your career. We’ve compiled answers to your most important questions on becoming a medical assistant so that you’ll be ready to get a job in this fast-growing field![1]


[Edit]What qualifications do you need to be a medical assistant?

  1. Earn a high school diploma or GED. While you don’t need an advanced degree to become a medical assistant, you do need a high-school diploma or similar credential.[2]If you didn’t complete high school, you can take the GED (General Educational Development) test. To prepare, you can enroll in a GED training course or study on your own. Once you feel confident in your high school reading, math, social studies, and science skills, you can take the GED.[3]
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  2. Take medical assistant courses to set yourself apart. Getting a degree from a school will increase your chances of getting hired. You can look for a dedicated medical assistant school or check your local community college’s website to see if it offers a medical assistant program. Most programs are split up into separate terms that go over general medical knowledge (like anatomy), administrative knowledge (like professional communication), and clinical skills (like giving injections).[4]
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  3. Find a doctor to train you as a Medical Assistant. Given that there are no legal requirements to becoming a medical assistant, on-site training is the easiest, cheapest, and fastest way to learn about medical assisting.[5] Search online for the phone numbers of local healthcare provider offices. When you’re just starting out, be open to working at any kind of practice. Call and introduce yourself. Ask if that healthcare facility is looking for medical assistants or if they’d be willing to take on a medical assistant to train.[6]
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    • If you are hired as a medical assistant without prior experience, you’ll receive substantial on-site training. As an added benefit, you’ll be paid to learn on the job!

[Edit]How do you choose a medical assistant school?

  1. Find an accredited program. Employers prefer medical assistants from accredited schools, and you’ll need an accredited education for certain certifications. Look for programs evaluated by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).[7]
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  2. Decide how long you’d like to study. If you do decide to go to school for a medical assisting program, you can take either of these tracks:[8]
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    • Medical Assistant Certificate/Diploma. Choose this option if you’d like to complete your coursework in 9 months to a year.[9]
    • Medical Assistant Associate Degree. Choose this option if you’d like more in-depth coursework and would like to study for 2 years.
  3. Consider your financial situation. Medical assistant programs can cost thousands of dollars. When you’re evaluating a program that’s out-of-budget, check the availability of academic scholarships and financial aid. [10]
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  4. Pick a program that’s respected in the industry. To get more info on a specific program’s success in job placement, talk to current students or faculty. Ask about connections between the program and healthcare facilities. Well-connected programs will make it easier to get an externship and/or job after graduation.[11]
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[Edit]Do you need to take a certification test to work as a medical assistant?

  1. You don’t need certification to work as an MA in most states.[12] However, certification might help you get a job. If you decide to pursue certification, you’ll need to have a certificate or degree from a medical assisting program. Once you’re ready to take a certification exam, choose a certification provider nationally accredited by the NCCA. The exam will test you on general knowledge of the healthcare field (like medical ethics and risk management), administrative practices (like patient scheduling and establishing records), and clinical knowledge (like anatomy and assisting providers).[13]
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    • Different certification providers have different eligibility requirements, costs, recertification requirements, and testing methods.[14]
    • Nationally accredited certification exams include certifications by the AAMA, AMT, NHA, and NCCT.[15]
    • Once you have enough work experience you may be eligible to take a nationally accredited certification exam without having to go back to school. Organizations like National Healthcareer Association, NCCT, and AMT offer some kind of work experience eligibility for their NCCA accredited MA exams.[16]

[Edit]How do you get a job as an MA?

  1. Connect with a potential employer during your externship. Complete an externship (part-time or temporary employment) by working 150 or more hours with a healthcare facility. You can find an externship through your MA educational program or by contacting local hospitals and doctors’ offices. If you take initiative, attentiveness, and professionalism (showing up on time, treating others with respect), your extern employer may hire you full-time. Many providers prefer to hire their externs because after completing an externship, you’ll already be familiar with the facility and protocols. Even if you don’t get hired by your extern site, you’ll have gained valuable experience for your resume.[17]
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  2. Search for jobs online or call local healthcare offices. You can use a job search engine to filter your search for entry-level positions at healthcare provider offices. If you don’t have experience or MA training, call local care providers to ask if they are willing to hire and train you. You can offer to start as a volunteer while you develop your skillset.[18]
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  3. Network to find a job. If you can’t find an MA position, try to find a position at a hospital or doctor’s office front desk doing clerical work to get to know the practice. Ask to shadow experienced MAs to learn what they do and see if you like where they work.[19]
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    • Make sure that your resume and cover letter are specifically tailored to each office to which you're applying. For instance, if you’re applying to work at a pediatric office, emphasize why you’d be a good fit to work with children.
  4. Volunteer in a healthcare facility to gain experience. Contact local hospitals, doctor’s offices, and clinics to see if they’ll allow you to volunteer as an MA. While you might not be able to work directly with patients, you might be able to observe other MAs and healthcare professionals while adding experience to your resume. More hours and more experience will make you a more compelling candidate![20]
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[Edit]What personal skills do you need to be an MA?

  1. Develop your multitasking and analytical skills. Medical assistants engage in a variety of roles from reading charts to preparing patients for appointments to answering hospital phones. Because of the role’s versatility, you’ll need to be responsible, resourceful, and able to pick up new skills very quickly.[21]
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  2. Practice empathy. The essence of your job, aside from the occasional administrative duties, is helping other people. Medical assisting might be a great career for you if you get satisfaction from the idea that your help makes a difference in other people's lives.[22]
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  3. Be prepared to stomach uncomfortable medical situations. Although they aren't common, serious medical interventions do occur around medical assistants. MAs occasionally need to push past the discomfort of wounds, blood, and obvious patient pain in order to do their jobs effectively. Depending on what kind of clinic you work in, you may have to deal with blood, urine, and other bodily fluids daily. You’ll keep patients comfortable with a nonjudgmental, professional attitude.[23]
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[Edit]How long does it take to become a medical assistant (MA)

  1. You can typically train to become an MA in 9 months to 2 years. If you know a doctor or healthcare provider who will hire you and give you on-site training, you can start as soon as you have a high school diploma or GED. However, for most people who take medical assisting courses or pursue an associate degree, you’ll take 9 months to 2 years depending on your program.[24]
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[Edit]What’s does day-to-day work look like for an MA?

  1. As an MA, you’ll do both admin and clinical work. Likely, you’ll be assigned to one clinician and their patients. You’ll bring patients to the proper exam room, take their vitals, and update their medical history. On the administrative side, you might take care of a doctor’s mail, input info from incoming patient forms, schedule appointments, and put in lab orders. On the clinical side, you might swab for strep or flu, test patients’ visual acuity, perform glucose finger stick tests, and more. At some healthcare facilities, you might give injections or draw blood, while at other providers, a CNA or RN will do that.[25]
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    • You can work part-time, full-time, during weekends, or night shifts.[26]

[Edit]What’s the difference between a medical assistant (MA) and a certified nursing assistant CNA?

  1. Become a CNA if you’d like to work more directly with patients. CNAs more frequently assist patients in activities of daily living (ADL) like bathing, transporting, and cleaning patients.[27]
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    • To become a CNA you likely do need state certification and a state-approved certificate program.
  2. Become an MA if you’re interested in the administrative side of healthcare. In addition to assisting patients, MAs might answer phones, schedule appointments, and compile charts. [28]
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    • On average, MAs are paid $2 more per hour than CNAs.[29]

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