How to Begin a Career Path in Medical Assisting

If you are thinking of a new career as a medical assistant, there are a few different ways to get your training. In the past it was common to enter the field with only a high school diploma or GED and to learn on the job. However, more and more employers are looking for medical assistants who have completed their training through a formal accredited program. Here we will take a look at the different paths to becoming a medical assistant.

Training Options

Get on the job training

The benefits of entering the medical assisting field through on the job training are that you can earn as you learn and don not have to wait until you’re completed a degree program to start being paid. The potential downside is that you may struggle to find a hospital or doctors’ office that is prepared to hire someone with no training or experience.

The first step is to make sure you meet the minimum education requirements, which is to have a high school diploma or equivalent. If you haven’t got this level of education, you will need to pass the GED exam.

The second step can be harder. You will need to find an employer willing to take you on with no experience and to provide you with on the job training. This is increasingly difficult to do, as most doctors would rather employ a qualified medical assistant that has received official training on an accredited program. It is important that you demonstrate your passion and enthusiasm for becoming a medical assistant when you go for interviews. If you do find a job this way, you can expect to gain valuable practical experience and hands-on training from physicians and other medical staff.

Complete an accredited training program

You are likely to find it much easier to find a job as a clinical or administrative medical assistant if you have completed an official training program with an accredited school. Most schools offer a choice of medical assistant training programs, where you can opt to either study online, on campus, or a mix of both, completing some classes online and getting laboratory practice on campus.

There are different types of medical assisting qualifications to choose from, and the length of your training will depend on which program you select. Studying for a certificate or diploma in medical assisting can take 9-12 months. Earning an associate’s degree can take 18-24 months. If you plan to become certified in the future, it is important you choose a program that is accredited with the CAAHEP or ABHES, as without this accreditation you will not be eligible to sit for the exam to become a CMA. There are pros and cons of each of these training methods and you will need to take into account your personal lifestyle and schedule in order to decide which type of program is best for you.

Campus Training Programs

If you choose to get your education with a traditional on campus program, classes and laboratory lessons will be held at set times. It is a requirement that you are physically present at these, unlike online medical assisting programs that allow you the flexibility to study on your own time.


  • A structured schedule for learning.
  • The availability of on campus resources, such as a library.
  • Chances to speak face to face with instructors and other medical assisting students.


  • The strict class schedule leaves little flexibility and may conflict with your family and work commitments.
  • You will need to spend time and money traveling to and from campus.

Online Training Programs

A growing number of students choose to study online medical assistant programs. Taking a course on the internet is a great way to complete the training needed for a new career while still working full time or taking care of a family. Online programs give you the convenience to study from home in your own time. However, you will still need to gain practical clinical experience before you graduate, with an externship or a healthcare facility local to you.Studying can be done when it suits you.


  • Studying can be done when it suits you.
  • You can continue to work or look after family while you complete your education.
  • Study resources, including lectures, presentations and interactive discussions are available online.
  • No need to spend time or money commuting to a school campus.


  • You will need to be self-disciplined, motivated and organized to keep up with your classes.
  • You may miss having face to face social interaction with other students or instructors.
  • You will still need to find time to get practical experience in a clinical setting.

Hybrid Training Programs

Hybrid medical assistant programs involve a combination of online classes and on campus practical training. By signing up for a hybrid online training program, you will get some flexibility in being able to structure your own online class schedule, but with the benefits of on campus clinical training and lab practice.


  • The flexibility of online classes to fit around your personal schedule.
  • No need to spend a lot of time commuting to campus.
  • The availability of both online and on campus resources.
  • Some face to face interaction with other medical assisting students and teachers.


  • Unlike online programs, hybrid training programs do impose a set schedule for on campus clinical training, so you won’t be entirely free to set your own hours.
  • You will need to be organized and self-disciplined to follow online classes.

Becoming Certified or Registered

You can hope to get an entry level medical assistant’s job soon after graduation. There is no requirement for medical assistants to become Certified or Registered and there are many clinical and administrative medical assisting jobs that don’t require this standard of qualification. However, CMAs and RMAs typically earn a higher salary or hourly wage, and hospitals and doctor’s offices tend to prefer to hire Certified or Registered applicants.

For these reasons, it is recommended that you consider taking the Certification exam after you finish your training program. To do this, you will need to have done your training on an accredited program before applying to take the exam. Alternatively, if you have completed a medical assisting degree program accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), you could apply to become Registered. This would give you a similar professional status to being Certified. There is no difference between the status of Registered or Certified medical assistants, the title just depends on which certifying organization you’re a member of.

Creating Your Resume

To give yourself the best chance of getting a good job soon after graduation, you will need a stand out resume. Both your resume and cover letter will give employers their first impression of you, so it’s important to take the time to present yourself well.

Finding a Medical Assisting Job

You may need to think quite creatively when you start looking for your first job once you have completed your training, since you will have little to no experience of real life clinical procedures for medical assistants. As well as applying directly to local general clinics and physicians’ offices, don’t forget to apply to more specialized healthcare facilities like chiropractors, podiatrists or obstetricians. The school that ran your training program may be able to help you find a work placement.

It is also a good idea to become a member of a professional organization such as the AAMA, through which you can network and make useful contacts in the medical assisting profession. Healthcare facilities also advertise medical assistants’ positions online on or and other recruitment sites.

Interview Tips

Once you have landed an interview, you should think about the types of questions you’re likely to be asked and practice your responses. In order to help you with this, we have put together a detailed guide to medical assistant interview questions and answers. Also, be sure to research the employer online to familiarize yourself with their values and goals. Dress smartly and present yourself well.

By following the above steps, you can begin a great new career as a medical assistant. The first step is to get your training under your belt, so start researching on campus and online medical assistant degree programs as soon as you can to find the best one for you.