Frequently Asked Questions About Medical Assisting

Before committing to a medical assistant degree program, you’re likely to have a lot of questions about whether this is the best career move for you. We’ve put together these answers to some of the most common questions, to help you decide if training to become a medical assistant is the right path for you.

What Different Medical Assisting Fields are There?

Once you’ve completed a medical assistant training program, either a diploma course or a degree, you’ll be qualified to work in any medical field that has doctors’ offices. Administrative and clinical medical assistants work in all kinds of fields, including family practice, cardiology, dermatology and pediatrics. You don’t need to take specialized classes to work in a particular area, but if you do have the desire to specialize in a certain field, then you could look at getting an externship or voluntary experience before you graduate.

What do Medical Assistants do?

The type of duties that medical assistants do depends to a certain degree on the type and size of the doctor’s office where they work and their specific job description. Generally medical assistants perform a mix of administrative and clinical duties. They will be closely involved in office management, performing clerical tasks such as scheduling appointments, maintaining patient records, insurance billing and coding. In addition, medical assistants will be expected to carry out basic clinical procedures such as drawing blood and collecting specimens, as well as preparing exam rooms for patients.

Are There Different Types of Medical Assistants?

Yes. General medical assistants perform a mixture of clinical and clerical duties. Alternatively, it is possible to work as either an administrative or clinical medical assistant, where your work will focus predominantly on tasks in one of these areas. Certified or Registered medical assistants may work in any of these areas, but having this credential allows them to use the title CMA or RMA. You may also choose to specialize in a medical field that interests you, such as cardiology or pediatrics for example.

Which is Better, a Medical Assistant Degree or a Diploma Certificate?

Although both diploma and degree programs will give you the training needed to get an entry level job as an administrative or clinical medical assistant, an Associate’s Degree will look more impressive on your resume. With a degree in medical assisting, you are more likely to be offered the best jobs with a higher salary or hourly pay.

What is the Pay Like for a Medical Assistant?

Most medical assistants earn an hourly wage. The 2013 figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics show the national average hourly pay is $14.80, or a yearly salary of $30,780. Of course, how much you will be paid depends on all kinds of things; your previous experience, your job description, your level of education, which state you live in and the type of healthcare facility or doctors’ office you work for. Bear in mind that in addition to your wages, you will get a number of benefits from being employed as a medical assistant, including healthcare insurance, a retirement plan and paid time off.

How Long Does it Take to Train to be a Medical Assistant?

It is possible to complete your medical assistant training in under a year on a certificate or diploma program. It usually takes between 18 and 24 months to study for an Associate’s Degree program, as this involves a higher level of education.

What Should I Look for When Choosing a Training Program?

You can choose to study for a medical assistant degree with either a traditional campus based school or an online program. Online medical assistant degrees are becoming more common, as they offer students the flexibility to access online classes at a time that suits them, allowing them to carry on working full time or caring for a family while getting their training. You will need to decide whether you have the self-discipline required to study online, or whether you’d prefer the structure of a campus based course and the interaction with other students and teachers. The most important thing to look for in either a traditional or online program is that the degree is accredited through either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). This is essential if you plan on becoming a Certified Medical Assistant.

What’s the Difference between a Certified Medical Assistant and a Registered Medical Assistant?

Both these titles (CMA and RMA) are voluntary credentials that can be acquired by meeting certain criteria and passing an exam. There is no national or state law requiring medical assistants to be either certified or registered, but many doctors prefer to hire applicants with this level of qualification. There is no difference between them – the titles just reflect the description used by whichever professional medical assisting organization awarded the qualification. Both certification and registration are nationally recognized credentials that demonstrate a medical assistant has passed the relevant certifying exam and is qualified to perform the clinical and clerical duties of a medical assistant.

How Easy is it to get Certification?

There is no requirement to become certified, but many medical assistants choose to get this credential to enhance their career prospects. In order to become a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA), you will need to meet certain requirements and then pass the certification exam. The most important thing is to make sure you get your training on a CAAHEP or ABHES accredited medical assisting program. To be eligible to take the exam you must be either a student graduating within 30 days, or a recent graduate within 12 months from graduation. The exam will test your knowledge of the topics you will have covered on your training courses, such as medical terminology, patient examinations and office management. The exam questions themselves are not designed to be easy, but by preparing with practice tests and studying hard, you should be able to pass and gain your certification.

What Happens if I Move? Will my CMA Credential be Recognized in Another State?

The AAMA’s Certified Medical Assistant credential is nationally recognized, so there is no need to become re-certified if you move to another state.