Medical Assistant Training
Medical assisting programs are offered by community colleges, career and technical schools and universities. Most require students to attend classes and lectures on campus, although some lessons can be taught online.
How Long is Medical Assistant Training?
How long it will take to complete a program will depend on the curriculum offered by each school, but typically a certificate or diploma program can be completed in around 1 year.
Associate’s degrees take longer to complete, usually on a 2 year program. Many institutions offer a flexible schedule of day and evening classes, or a part time option, which will affect how long it will take to finish.
Medical Assistant Training Requirements
In most states there are no formal training requirements on how to become a medical assistant. In some states medical assistants have to meet certain criteria in order to perform advanced duties like taking x-rays or administering injections, either being a graduate of an accredited program or passing a specific exam, or both. The majority of medical assistants receive their training on a post-secondary education program, although some have only a high school diploma and become trained by learning on the job1.
Healthcare practices generally prefer to hire graduates from a post-secondary education program rather than individuals with just a high school diploma who are willing to learn on the job. With regards to the personal qualities necessary to be a competent medical assistant, you will need good communication skills, an analytical mind to understand medical charts and diagnoses and for coding patient records, and accurate attention to detail, especially when recording patient information and vital signs.
What is Taught on a Medical Assistant Training Program?
Exactly what you will learn will depend on the courses covered by the curriculum of the program you enrol on, but you will receive training in how to perform both administrative and clinical tasks expected of a medical assistant. Classes will be a mix of theory and practical skills and may cover the following topics:
- Medical terminology
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Medical office procedures
- Medical insurance
- Medical Billing and Coding
- Medical assisting clinical procedures
- Medical law, ethics and professionalism
- Electronic Health Records
- EKG skills
Externships and Internships
As well as looking at their education and level of qualifications, employers like to hire medical assisting graduates with practical hands on experience of working in a doctors’ office or clinic. For this reason, many schools and colleges offer internships or externships as part of the training schedule.
Internships are located on campus or at clinics affiliated with the school or college and give students the chance to try out their clinical skills. Externship placements involve being placed in a real world medical office where you will perform real tasks under supervision.
This practical unpaid work experience will enhance your resume and help your employment prospects when you start looking for your first medical assisting job. You will learn how to apply the skills you have been taught in a classroom setting and improve your confidence. You will be guided by qualified staff, who are there to offer instruction and support when you need it.
Internships and externships are usually undertaken after students have completed all other coursework, so they should be equipped with the theory and knowledge needed to put their skills into practice. Students will usually shadow other medical assistants employed in the clinic or medical office, to observe their work.
They are also likely to be given some responsibilities to help them feel comfortable in the role, such as answering phones, taking patients to examination rooms, or drawing blood. The best performing medical assistant schools, in terms of job placement rates, have close relationships with their internship and externship sites, which often offer students a full time position after graduation if an opening is available.
How Much Does Medical Assistant Training Cost?
The cost of training to become a medical assistant will depend greatly on which educational institute you choose and whether you enrol on a diploma, certificate or degree program. To give you an idea of the costs involved, the College Board’s recent survey “Trends in College Pricing 2015”2 shows that a “moderate” average budget for an in-state public college education for the 2015-2016 academic year is $24.061. Bear in mind that this is an average figure including all costs, such as tuition, fees for services, room and board, books and supplies, transport expenses.
If you want to consider just the price of tuition and fees, the 2015-2016 average was $9,410 for state residents at public colleges, $23,893 for out-of-state residents at public universities and $32,405 at private colleges. Remember, these figures are averages and are intended as a rough guide only. You will need to confirm the exact cost of completing your training with your chosen school. Do not be put off by the advertised cost, as financial aid is available, including the Medical Assistant Degree’s Healthcare Scholarship.
What is an Accredited Medical Assistant Training Program?
It is important to check that a program is accredited, so that you will be eligible to take a certification exam when you have graduated. Becoming certified is not compulsory, but many employers do prefer to hire people with a credential. Accreditation is awarded by the professional organizations CAAHEP (the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs) and ABHES (the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools), so look for a program that is accredited by either of these. This shows that the program meets or exceeds certain standards.
Certified Medical Assistant Training
Many graduates of diploma, certificate and degree programs begin their career in an entry level medical assisting role without gaining a certification credential. Becoming certified is not a legal requirement, but many employers prefer to hire job applicants with this credential. A nationally recognized certification from a professional body demonstrates that an individual has the competencies and knowledge to perform the duties of a medical assistant.
Another reason to consider becoming certified is that the CMS Meaningful Use regulations require medical assistants to be credentialed in order to enter orders into the Computerized Physician Order Entry (CPOE) system. As healthcare facilities can get financial incentives for switching to Electronic Health Records (EHRs), more physicians’ offices, clinics and hospitals are seeking to employ certified medical assistants to perform these duties.
There are a number of professional bodies that offer certification exams for graduates of accredited training programs. The top performing schools actually include training for the exam and preparation classes as part of the curriculum. Once you have passed the exam, you will be awarded the relevant credential and will have to meet certain conditions to renew or recertify in order to keep your title valid. The certifications available are:
- Certified Medical Assistant, CMA (AAMA) from the American Association of Medical Assistants
- Registered Medical Assistant, RMA (AMT) from the American Medical Technologists
- National Certified Medical Assistant, NCMA from the National Center for Competency Testing
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant, CCMA from the National Healthcareer Association
- Certified Medical Administrative Specialist, CMAS from the National Healthcareer Association
As outlined here, there are a number of things to take into consideration when finding the best medical assistant program for you, such as accreditation, certification options, externship or internship opportunities, length of training and the cost. Completing your training is the first step to a rewarding career in medical assisting.