A medical assistant is a type of allied health professional who does both clinical and administrative work. Medical assistants ensure the smooth and efficient operation of a medical facility, such as a physician's office.
These allied health professionals have a promising job outlook. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that medical assistant job growth will be as high as 19 percent through 2029, compared to the average 4 percent growth rate for all occupations.
If you're thinking about becoming a medical assistant, you might be wondering how long it takes.
It typically takes between 4 months to 2 years to become a medical assistant, depending on what type of school/training program you attend and if you pass your certification exam on the first try or not.
This guide goes over how long each type of medical assistant program lasts and everything else you need to know about medical assistant schooling and training.
Overview – How Long Medical Assistant School & Training Programs Last
If you are looking to become a medical assistant, there are many education and training options available.
When it comes to cost and length, each of them has their own advantages and disadvantages. It is important to weigh these when deciding which option is the best fit for you.
The minimum requirement for becoming a medical assistant is a high school diploma or GED. The length of medical assistant programs can vary depending on the institution. In general, you can expect them to take anywhere from four months to two years to complete.
Online medical assistant programs are the quickest way to become a medical assistant. Here at Stepful, for example, we have an Online Medical Assistant Program that only takes 4 months to complete and costs just $1,999.
Before we dive into the length of specific medical assistant programs, note that you'll first need to earn your high school diploma or GED.
After that, most aspiring medical assistants usually complete a specific medical assistant training program and obtain their certification. It is also sometimes possible to get a medical assistant job with no experience or certification in which case you'll receive on-the-job training. With that being said, employers typically prefer candidates who have completed a medical assisting program.
Vocational schools, community colleges, and universities all offer medical assistant training programs. Students can easily earn a diploma, a certificate, or an associate's degree. As previously stated, the length of these educational paths varies. Learn more about the program lengths associated with each path by reading on:
How Long Online Medical Assistant Training & Certification Take
Length: 4 to 9 months
The fastest and cheapest way to learn the skills required to be a medical assistant and obtain your certification is through an online training program. Online medical assistant programs typically last from 4 to 9 months—though it is possible to become a medical assistant in 6 weeks through an accelerated program.
Online medical assistant training programs provide the most flexibility of any of the options. Many of them are self-paced, meaning you can cover the material at a comfortable pace.
These types of medical assistant programs are usually cheaper than other options, such as trade school or community college. You can expect tuition to cost anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000
You will learn about essential topics such as clinical medicine and administrative assisting. Some programs will also dedicate time towards helping you earn your certification. In addition, they may also help you find a job.
Stepful's online medical assistant training program, for example, lasts 4 months and can be done completely online. It also only costs $1,999, which is much cheaper than earning your Associate's degree.
When choosing a certificate program to become a medical assistant, look for one that is accredited from one of the main medical assistant certification organizations.
How Long Medical Assistant Trade School & Certification Take
Length: 9 months
Trade schools emphasize practical training for people looking to get started on their careers. In general, a medical assistant program at a trade school is shorter than associate’s degree programs, taking about 9 months, on average.
The cost of tuition will vary. You can typically expect a trade school program to cost around $5,000 to $15,000 in total.
During the program, you will cover topics such as anatomy, clinical medicine, and administrative assisting. You may also participate in an externship where you shadow working medical assistants to help you get some in-person experience.
How Long a Medical Assistant Certificate from a Community College Takes
Length: 12 months
You can think of medical assistant certificate programs as a fast-paced associate’s degree program. Medical assistant certificate programs at community colleges usually take half as long—about a year in total.
You will earn a certificate instead of an associate’s degree. Tuition for these programs is usually around $5,000 to $10,000.
These programs are a way to quickly get a solid grasp of the foundational knowledge needed to be a medical assistant. The accelerated pace allows you to spend more time learning practical skills. In addition, you will be able to enter the workforce more quickly than you would with an associate’s degree program.
How Long an Associate’s Degree from a Community College Takes?
Length: 2 years
You can earn an Associate's degree in medical assisting through a community or technical college in 2 years.
Associate’s degree medical assistant programs are the most comprehensive option. The longer duration allows you to refine your knowledge and skills before you enter the workforce while also studying more general topics.
These programs, along with trade schools, are typically among the most expensive options. Tuition for an associate’s degree program can cost anywhere from $7,500 to $25,000 annually.
You will spend extensive time covering topics such as clinical medicine, anatomy, physiology, and administrative assisting. You will also learn practical skills in your laboratory classes and during your externship. The program may also help prepare you to take a certification exam to become a certified medical assistant. Compared to a medical assistant certificate program, you may take more general classes (such as English, Biology, etc.) as well.
>> Learn More: Medical Assistant Degree vs. Certificate
How Long Each Step of Becoming a Medical Assistant Takes
Here is a general timeline for becoming a medical assistant. Keep in mind that the actual time it will take may vary depending on the program you enroll in.
- Earn your high school diploma or GED (4 years). This is the minimum requirement for becoming a medical assistant. You will need to satisfy this in order to enroll in a program.
- Register for a medical assistant training program or school (1 day). Make sure that you have all the needed paperwork and that you pay all the necessary fees.
- Take the program (4 months to 2 years). Work hard and study hard so that you can successfully complete the program. Putting in the work early will help you immensely in your future career as a medical assistant. You may also participate in an externship, where you can gain real-world job experience.
- Start your job search (1 month). Once you finish your program, it is time to start looking for a job!
If you’ve already earned your high school diploma or GED, the total time it will take to become a medical assistant is about 4 months to 2 years.
Is Medical Assistant School Worth It?
It is a wise move to consider the advantages and disadvantages when deciding to enroll in a medical assistant program at a postsecondary school. Because people come from different life experiences and backgrounds, going to school to become a medical assistant may not be the best fit for everyone.
The biggest advantage of medical assistant school is the setting. Some people learn better in an in-person environment where they can work together with their classmates. Because the program length tends to be longer, it is likely that the pacing will also be slower.
One disadvantage is medical assistant program costs. Compared to the other options, medical assistant schools tend to be the most expensive. This is especially true if the program is offered at a private institution.
Another disadvantage is program length. Programs offered at schools tend to take longer, with the longest taking two years. If you are looking to get your career started as soon as possible, then these types of programs may not be your best option.
If you want the most value for your money, online medical assistant programs are the way to go. Typically, doing an online program is shorter and cheaper. In addition, they are viewed by employers as equivalent in quality to other types of programs as you'll take the same core medical assistant courses. So, you can still land the same kinds of jobs as people who enroll in longer programs and get medical assistant degrees.
Is Medical Assistant School Hard?
Medical assistant school is generally considered fairly easy when compared to programs for other healthcare careers like physician assistant, nursing, or dentistry.
However, because it is a healthcare program, medical assistant school can still be challenging. Though, you will find that it ends up being quite manageable if you study hard, stay on top of things, and give it your best effort.
You will take classes that cover topics such as medical terminology, clinical medicine, administrative assisting, billing, and anatomy. In addition, you will also learn practical skills in laboratory classes. If you are good at math and science, it is likely that you will do well in these classes.
How Long Does It Take to Get Your Medical Assistant Certification?
Medical assistants have the option of becoming certified. Medical assistant certifications are offered by organizations such as the National Healthcareer Association (leads to CCMA), American Medical Technologists (leads to RMA), and American Association of Medical Assistants (leads to CMA).
Each of them has slightly different requirements to become eligible to take their certification exam. You can learn in our guide that compares CMA, RMA, and CCMA.
In general, you can become eligible to take the certification exam by completing an approved medical assistant program. Another option is to have already worked as a medical assistant for a certain amount of time (typically for at least a year within the last three years).
Once you are eligible, you can schedule your exam. After you take your exam, you will receive test results that show whether you have met the standards for certification. The whole process will end up taking a month or two, including time for studying.
Once you earn your certification, you will need to recertify every two years. Again, this process will differ depending on the type of certification. In general, you will need to satisfy continuing education (CE) requirements and pay a recertification fee.
Working Hours of Medical Assistants
According to recent BLS data, the majority of medical assistants work full-time. Because some medical facilities are open 24 hours a day, certified medical assistants can work evenings, weekends, and holidays.
When determining hours and scheduling, the work environment is an important factor to consider. The vast majority of medical assistants work in physicians' offices during standard clinical hours.