How to Become a Medical Assistant

A medical assistant is a professional who works in the medical field and helps nurses and doctors with clinical and administrative tasks. Medical assistants work in doctors offices, healthcare clinics, rehabilitation centers, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities.

When you become a medical assistant, you get a lot of opportunities to grow in your career. If you want to become a medical assistant but don't know how, this article is for you.

In this guide, we go over how to become a medical assistant, what types of certifications are available, benefits of becoming one, and much more.

How to Become a Medical Assistant

Here are the steps to become a medical assistant:

Step 1: Obtain a High School Diploma or GED

The first step to becoming a medical assistant is to graduate from high school. If you did not or cannot graduate from high school, you can get your GED as an alternative. This is the bare minimum for becoming a medical assistant.

Step 2: Compare Different Medical Assistant Programs (Optional)

While it's not required to attend a medical assistant training program or obtain your certification, it can make getting a job easier and may lead to higher pay.

There are numerous medical assisting programs to choose from. To pick the best one, there are various aspects you should consider which we go over in the next section.

Certification programs are available at various educational institutions, including vocational schools, technical schools, community colleges, and online programs. You typically will either complete a certificate program that lasts 4 months to a year OR a2-year associate's degree in medical assisting.

The cost of these medical assistant certificates/degrees vary greatly, ranging anywhere from $2,000 to $60,000.

Stepful has an Online 4-Month Medical Assistant Training Program that helps you prepare to be an MA and earn your CCMA certification.

You can also opt to get an associate's degree in medical assisting. You can learn more about the differences between medical assistant certificates and degrees here.

Learn more about Stepful's Medical Assistant Programs:

Step 3: Apply & Enroll in the Program of Your Choice (Optional)

Once you've identified a program that meets your needs and interests, the next step is to complete the application. Note that there may be an interview component. Make sure to choose whether you want to be in person, online, or hybrid, if you have the choice.

If you're accepted, you'll likely have to fill out some basic paperwork to enroll. You can learn more about paying for medical assistant school below.

Step 4: Pass Your Medical Assistant Certification Exam (Optional)

After taking your medical assistant courses, you'll be ready to test for your certification.

Most medical assistant programs will lead to one of the main certifications: CMA, RMA, or CCMA. To obtain your certification, you'll have to pass an exam that should test you on the material you learned throughout the course.

If you don't pass the exam on your first try, you can typically retake it for a small fee.

If you want to work as a specific type of medical assistant, you may need more specific training and certifications as well.

You can learn more about medical assistant certification requirements here.

Step 5: Consider a Medical Assistant Externship (Optional)

A medical assistant externship allows you to get real-life, hands-on experience that can not only help you improve your skills but can also help you get hired.

During an externship, you will shadow a current medical assistant, allowing you to get insight into what a day in the life looks like, what skills are the most important, and more.

If you do end up completing an externship, be sure to highlight that on your resume.

Step 6: Craft Your Resume

Once you take the certification examination, it's time to put yourself out there.

Start by developing a solid resume that highlights your newly acquired professional skills and showcases your abilities. You'll also want check medical assistant job descriptions and job posts to make sure you cover as much of the requirements on your resume as possible.

Many others will most likely apply for the job, but you will need to demonstrate why you are the best choice.

Here are some tips for making your medical assistant resume stand out:

  • Customize it: Tailor your resume to the job you're applying for. Highlight the skills and experiences that are most relevant to the position, such as what type of facility the job is in.
  • Highlight your accomplishments: Use specific numbers to show the impact you've had in previous roles or what you accomplished in medical assistant school.
  • Use a clean and modern design: Make your resume visually appealing and easy to read. Use a modern font and avoid cluttered layouts.
  • Keep it concise: Limit your resume to one or two pages. Focus on the most important information and don't include irrelevant details.
  • Include a personal statement: Use a brief statement at the top of your resume to summarize your skills and experience that are relevant to medical assisting.
  • Show your personality: Use your resume to show your personality and highlight what makes you unique.
  • Include relevant extracurricular activities: If you have relevant extracurricular activities or volunteer experience, include them on your resume. This can show that you're a well-rounded candidate.
  • Proofread: Make sure to proofread your resume for spelling and grammatical errors.
  • Have someone else review it: Don't just review your resume yourself. It's important to get a second set of eyes on it to catch any errors you missed and to point out any confusing or awkward sections.

Step 7: Apply for Jobs & Interview

To find jobs to apply for, check out sites like ZipRecruiter, Indeed, and SimplyHired. These sites show you open positions in your area, including their requirements, responsibilities, and more.

You can also look into companies specializing in healthcare staffing that can help place you in jobs.

When interviewing, remember to look up common medical assistant interview questions and prepare some answers. Be ready to talk about your experience in medical assistant school as well as what you did before.

>> Read More: Skills Required to be a Medical Assistant

How to Choose the Right Medical Assistant Program

There are many different programs to consider if you want to become a medical assistant. Some things to consider include cost, length, accreditation, and whether you want an online or in person program.

Here’s a look at each: 

1) Accreditation

If a school is accredited, that means that they have been assessed by an agency and that they uphold certain educational standards.

Look for programs that are accredited by organizations such as the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Graduates from these programs are eligible to take their certification exams.  

2) Certification Statistics

Of the accredited schools, look for one with high certification exam passing rates. For example, the CMA certification exam has a 62% passing rate. In this case, you should try to find a school with a passing rate of at least 62% or higher to find an average or above-average school.

You’ll also want to look at the school's graduation rates and retention rates. Low graduation or retention rates may signal a problem with the school's program or policies. 

3) Cost

Cost is one of the most important things that you should look at when deciding between medical assistant schools. 

Online medical assistant progams like Stepful’s cost as little as $2,000 to complete. 

In comparison, a certificate program through a university typically costs $3,000 to $5,000. Getting a two-year associate's degree can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $60,000.

If you plan on making a career out of medical assisting, certificate programs make a lot more sense than degree programs—especially since they often lead to the same certifications.

>> Read More: Cost of Different Medical Assistant Programs

4) Length

Medical assisting programs typically take anywhere from 4 months to 2 years to complete—though there are some that only take 6 weeks. If you would like to graduate with an associate’s degree, plan on 2 years. If you would like the certificate only, you can complete an accelerated program in just a few months. 

Keep in mind that you’ll have to focus and work hard through the accelerated programs to keep up with the workload required. It may be difficult to do these while working a full-time or even part-time job.

5) Online vs. In-Person

Some people learn better in person. Medical assisting requires a lot of skills like giving injections and taking vital signs. This may make an in-person program more appealing for you. If you learn better with more guidance and like to have more dialogue with your instructors, find something in person. 

On the other hand, online programs provide more flexibility and save travel time. If you are self-motivated and organized, an online program might be a good choice. Some online programs may also help you get an externship to help you get some hands-on experience.

6) If an Externship is Included

An externship is an opportunity for you to shadow a specialist in your chosen field and learn more about what they do. Medical assistant externships are great for learning and future employability. They can also help you decide if the career path is right for you.

Look for a program that provides these kinds of opportunities for their students. 

7) Help With Employment

Lastly, find out if your chosen program or school helps its graduates find a job after they complete the program. 

Some schools will help you build a resume and introduce you to recruiters or companies that are hiring. They may have opportunities to practice interviews and give letters of recommendation.

Some programs—like Stepful— even provide a guarantee that you will find work after you graduate. 

Paying for Medical Assistant Schooling or Training

Medical assistant school and training programs can be expensive. Going to school takes up a lot of time that could normally be spent working, and it can be hard to get a well-paying job without any education or training. 

Luckily, there are some ways students can get help paying for medical assistant school or training, as well as medical assistant classes that you can use financial aid to pay for.

1) Scholarships

There are plenty of medical assistant scholarship opportunities available if you know where to look. There are opportunities available for people of all different backgrounds and situations. You don’t have to have perfect grades to get a scholarship. 

Scholarships are available simply for choosing to enter the healthcare workforce. Others are available for people with certain income levels. There are also specific scholarships for people with disabilities and illnesses. 

Scholarships are great because they’re free money to pay for college that you don’t have to pay back. They just require a good amount of effort in searching for opportunities and completing the application process.

You can also fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) which will let you know if you’re eligible for certain scholarships, grants, student loans, and federal work study.

2) Grants

There are both federal grants—called Pell Grants—as well as private grants. Grants are typically reserved for lower-income students that need help paying for college.

Grants are available for both 4-year programs and certificate programs. 

3) Student Loans

In addition to grants, you can qualify for federal student loans through FAFSA. 

After filling out the application, you will get a notification explaining how much of a loan you are eligible for and what types. If you’re offered subsidized student loans, you should take advantage of these first as the government pays the interest while you’re in school and during periods of deferment.

You can also apply for a private student loan through a bank or credit union. You should exhaust all your federal student loan options before turning to a private student loan as they often have higher interest rates and less protections for borrowers.

Make sure you read the terms of your loan carefully and understand how the interest works. Many people unknowingly make interest-only payments and end up carrying their student loans well past the standard 10-year repayment plan.

4) Employer-Sponsored Programs

Some employers provide tuition reimbursement for certain specialties. Most of these programs require that you work for them for a specified amount of time after they pay for your school. Large companies are more likely to participate in these programs. 

When there is a shortage of good employees, companies are more willing to provide benefits like tuition reimbursement in exchange for a commitment to one job. 

Different Medical Assistant Certification Options

There are three main medical assistant certifications to consider. Many clinics will accept any kind of certification, but it is important to know the differences. 

Certified Clinical Medical Assistant – NHA

The National Healthcareer Association offers a CCMA certification exam to those who have completed an accredited program or have 1 year of medical assisting experience. 

The certification and exam focus on a few categories: Anatomy & Physiology, Clinical Patient Care, Patient Care Coordination, Administrative Assisting, Communication & Customer Service, and Medical Laws & Ethics.

Note that Stepful’s online medical assistant program prepares you for the CCMA exam.

Certified Medical Assistant – AAMA

You can become a certified medical assistant (CMA) by passing an exam offered through the American Association of Medical Assistants. This is a nationally recognized title that is accepted by almost all doctors offices, hospitals, and clinics. The CMA exam can be taken after completion of an accredited medical assisting program. 

Registered Medical Assistant – AMT

You can become a registered medical assistant (RMA) by passing an exam offered by American Medical Technologists.

This is also a nationally recognized title that is accepted by most employers. 

You can qualify for the RMA exam by completing an accredited program or having 3 years of experience as a medical assistant. 

>> Read More: CMA vs. RMA vs. CCMA

Is it Possible to Get a Job With No Experience or Certification?

Although it might be more difficult, it is possible to get a medical assistant job with no experience or certifications. 

Medical assistants are in high demand. There is currently a shortage of medical assistants in the United States which means that more companies are willing to hire inexperienced or uncertified medical assistants and train them on the job

If you want to become a medical assistant without certification, you may have to be willing to work potentially undesirable hours for less pay. 

You may also need additional certifications such as CPR and phlebotomy. 

Working as a medical assistant in the military is one way you can get started as a medical assistant right after high school.

Salary You Can Expect After Becoming a Medical Assistant

The average medical assistant salary in 2021 was $37,190. The top 10% of medical assistants earned $48,170 or more, while the bottom 10% of medical assistants earned $29,070 or less.

Medical assistant salaries can vary depending on the type of healthcare facility you work in. The highest paid medical assistants worked at outpatient care centers, where they earned an average salary of $38,270. In contrast, medical assistants who worked at chiropractic clinics tended to earn the least, with an average salary of $30,100.

Medical assistants working at hospitals or physician private practices tended to earn around the average salary of $37,190.

The average salary for medical assistants also vary based on location of work. In general, more densely populated metropolitan areas paid the highest salaries. The highest paying states in 2021 were Washington, Washington D.C., Alaska, California, and Massachusetts. You can compare medical assistant salaries by state here.

>> Read More: Highest-Paying Medical Assistant Specialties

Benefits of Becoming a Medical Assistant

Becoming a medical assistant is a great choice for your future. Medical assistants are well respected, earn a good living, report good job satisfaction, and help others. 

Other reasons to become a medical assistant include: 

  • Decent salary. A medical assistant can earn about $18 per hour. This increases with experience and certifications.
  • Flexibility. While most medical assistants work in clinics from 9-5 on weekdays, opportunities for weekend and night shifts are also available. You can make extra money if you are willing to work nights, weekends, and holidays.
  • Job Security. Job opportunities for medical assistants are expected to increase by 23% in the next 10 years. 
  • Fulfilling Career. Medical assistants work in a fast-paced environment while helping others live better, healthier lives. As a medical assistant, you’ll get to work with patients every day and help doctors do examinations and administrative work. 
  • Growth Opportunities. While medical assisting is a great career choice, it can also be a springboard for other opportunities. Many registered nurses, nurse practitioners, and physicians assistants started out as medical assistants.

>> Read More: Deciding If You Would Make a Good Medical Assistant

Skills Required to Become a Medical Assistant

Here is a general list of skills needed to become a medical assistant:

Careers You Can Advance to After Becoming a Medical Assistant

Many medical assistants advance to other careers after working for some time. Here are some guides where you can learn more:

Note that advancing to a more career as a medical assistant may require more schooling. Becoming a registered nurse, for example, requires you to obtain an associate's or bachelor's degree while becoming a physician assistant requires you to get a master's degree.

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