A medical assistant is a healthcare worker that helps other staff by performing both clinical and administrative tasks. They are an essential part of the healthcare system.
A medical assistant career is flexible and fulfilling and allows you to play a role in many parts of the patient care experience.
The path to becoming a medical assistant is much shorter compared to other healthcare careers. Two common questions that aspiring medical assistants ask are “Is there such a thing as a medical assistant degree?” and, if so, “Is it required to become a medical assistant?”.
Yes, medical assistant degrees exist!
However, they are not a requirement to work as a medical assistant. Even though a degree is not required, you may still be looking for a way to acquire all the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in your career as a medical assistant.
There are several alternatives to getting a degree such as online programs, certificates, and trade schools. All of these can prepare you for working as a medical assistant. Keep on reading to learn more about these options.
What are Medical Assistant Degrees?
Medical assistant degrees are offered through community colleges. They are usually associate degrees that are awarded after successful completion of the school’s medical assistant program.
They can take anywhere from 9 months to 2 years to complete. During the program, you will learn about topics such as clinical science, medical terminology, and medical coding. In addition, you will have the opportunity to learn and practice skills in-person. Typically, you will also participate in an externship to gain more hands-on experience.
Medical assistant degree programs vary widely in cost, depending on the institution. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average tuition for a public two-year college program in 2020-2021 was $3,781. However, it is not uncommon for degree programs to cost significantly more.
>> Learn More: Is Medical Assistant School Hard?
Are Medical Assistant Degrees Required?
A medical assistant degree is not required to become a medical assistant. In fact, besides having a high school diploma (or equivalent), there are no formal education requirements needed to become a medical assistant. It is possible to get a medical assistant role with on-the job-training even if you have no experience or certification.
That being said, employers tend to view applicants with additional education more favorably during the hiring process. So, having additional education, such as a bachelor’s degree, a certificate, or a medical assistant degree will improve your chances of being hired. Both medical assistant degrees and certificates lead to similar jobs.
>> Learn More: Medical Assistant Degree vs. Certificate
Alternatives to Getting a Medical Assistant Degree
When considering costs and program length, getting a medical assistant degree may not be the best option for everyone. Fortunately, there are several alternatives that provide just as strong a foundation for future success in a medical assistant career.
Online Medical Assistant Training Programs
The biggest advantages of online medical assistant training programs are their length and cost.
Unlike medical assistant degree programs, online programs typically take a few months to complete. This allows you to quickly get started on your career, while learning the same content you would cover in other types of programs.
The cost of these online programs can vary. Typically, the cost is comparable to other medical assistant programs. However, because online programs tend to be shorter in duration, they offer a lot more value for your money. Most of the cheapest medical assistant training programs are online.
Stepful’s Medical Assistant Training Program
Stepful offers a comprehensive online medical assistant program that provides excellent preparation for your career. Stepful’s program takes 4 months to complete and costs only $1,999, which is much cheaper than the average associate’s degree program.
Another benefit is that the program can help you earn a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) certification. A CCMA certification shows that you have met the highest standards for excellence in the medical assistant field.
Trade School for Medical Assistants
Trade school programs are another alternative to a medical assistant degree. A trade school (or vocational school) focuses on preparing students for a particular career.
These programs tend to be shorter than associate’s degree programs and usually take around 9 months to complete. Tuition varies depending on the institution but will generally cost up to $6,000. Private institutions may cost more.
Many of these programs offer education through a hybrid format that combines online instruction with in-person skills-based instruction. The curriculum covers essential knowledge and skills, including clinical and administrative assisting.
Medical Assistant Certificate Program from a Community College
These programs are geared towards preparing students for a successful career as a medical assistant. They provide a structured curriculum that covers topics such as clinical skills and administrative assisting. In addition, they prepare students to earn a certification by taking the medical assistant certification exam.
The cost and duration of these certificate programs vary depending on the institution. In general, they take around 10 months to complete. Some examples of medical assistant certificate programs and their length are:
- North Orange Continuing Education Medical Assistant Certificate Program (8-10 months)
- University of Providence Medical Assistant Certificate Program (10 months)
- Baker College Medical Assistant Certificate Program (1 year)
Is Getting a Medical Assistant Degree Worth It?
Because a medical assistant degree is not required, getting one may not be the best fit for you and your goals. Some factors to consider when making your decision are cost and program length.
One important theme in this article is that the cost of programs can vary a lot depending on the type of institution. It is important to research programs that you are interested in and determine which best fits your budget and career goals.
Degree programs offered at community colleges tend to run longer than the other options. For some people, this type of pacing and structure is a better fit for their learning style. In contrast, others may desire the quicker pacing that online programs offer.
Overall, online programs provide the most bang for your buck. They provide a comprehensive education and are shorter than degree programs, allowing you to enter the workforce as soon as possible. Many of these online programs are seen by employers as equal in quality to other alternatives.
In addition, they prepare you for earning a certification and provide help with searching for jobs. They are an excellent option for getting your medical assistant career started.
One exception is if you decide to pursue a more advanced profession as a medical assistant. In this case, having a degree can help you be eligible for one of those jobs or make your further schooling shorter.