Medical assistants work with physicians and other healthcare providers and must have a good baseline of medical knowledge to be able to care for their patients. There are multiple options for medical assistant training including online courses, technical colleges, and universities.
Regardless of the type you choose, there are many courses that are common among medical assistant programs. This guide will go over the most common medical assistant courses, what you'll learn in medical assistant school, and how to succeed in your medical assisting program.
Most Common Medical Assistant Courses – What You'll Learn
While they may have different names, most medical assisting programs include courses that cover the same important topics. Here are some of the subjects that you'll learn in medical assistant school:
In an anatomy course, medical assistants will learn about the structure of the body. Anatomy courses cover the scientific names of body parts, usually starting at a cellular level.
Most anatomy classes require their students to memorize the name and location of all 206 bones, the major muscle groups, large organs, and other specific body tissues.
While anatomy covers the name and description of certain body parts, physiology courses cover how those tissues and structures come together to function.
Students in physiology classes learn about metabolism, digestion, respiration, circulation, digestion, cellular and large tissue injury and healing, and other bodily functions.
Medical terminology is an important part of a medical assistant's education.
In order to communicate well in a healthcare setting, all healthcare providers should have a thorough understanding of medical terminology. Failing to use correct medical terms can lead to confusion, errors, and even harm to the patient.
Medical Coding & Billing
Medical assistants are often heavily involved in administrative duties around a healthcare facility.
This includes handling costs and dealing with insurance companies.
Each procedure, diagnosis, and patient symptom have a different medical code. These codes are then submitted to insurance companies so that the facility can be paid for them.
Learning how to accurately code and bill for healthcare ensures that all parties are treated fairly.
>> Learn More: Medical Assistant vs Medical Coding & Billing
Clinical Patient Care
Clinical patient care classes cover the practical skills needed to be a successful medical assistant. These courses teach students how to do things like take vital signs, give injections, take accurate measurements, and perform simple wound dressings.
These classes also help new medical assistants feel comfortable being hands-on with their patients.
All healthcare providers need to be well-trained in infection control. Unfortunately, there are over 1.7 million healthcare-acquired infections in the United States every year.
Healthcare-acquired infections are a serious consequence of poor infection control practices in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities.
Medical assistants must understand good handwashing technique, proper personal protective equipment use, sterile techniques, and how to adequately clean rooms and equipment in between patients.
Learning phlebotomy means using a small needle to draw blood from a person's vein. Medical assistants learn to draw blood without injuring the patient or contaminating the blood sample.
Even though the needles are small, using them without proper training can cause pain, bruising, and even nerve damage to the patient.
Blood samples are important for diagnosing all kinds of problems. Blood can be tested for simple nutrition imbalances, hormone problems, and even some cancers.
An EKG is also known as an electrocardiogram. An EKG measures the electrical activity in the heart and can be used to diagnose heart problems like atrial fibrillation, heart attacks, and other abnormal heart rhythms.
To obtain an EKG measurement, the medical assistant uses 12 stickers placed on specific spots on the body. Correct placement of these stickers is essential for obtaining an accurate measurement.
Patient Care Coordination
Healthcare can be difficult to navigate. Patient care coordination classes teach medical assisting students to manage complex patients who need referrals to specialists, therapy, rehabilitation, or hospital care.
Patient care coordination courses should also include some information about social work, community resources, and how to help patients get their basic needs met.
Medical Law & Ethics
All healthcare personnel must maintain good ethics in their practice and make sure they are obeying healthcare laws.
This means treating all patients equally regardless of race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. It also means causing no harm to the patient and acting in their best interest.
Medical law courses should also cover laws like HIPAA, the scope of practice, and reporting laws for malpractice and abuse.
The medical assistant is usually the first person a patient will see when they walk through the door. In addition, medical assistants are responsible for answering phone calls, scheduling appointments, and dealing with billing problems.
Customer service classes teach medical assistants strategies to help patients feel welcome, handle conflict, and problem-solve with customers.
A big part of a medical assistant's job is to assist with bedside procedures. This might include stitches, applying casts, taking skin biopsies, or wound debridement.
Note that medical assistants are often just assisting with these procedures, not doing them by themselves.
Still, medical assistants need to learn the names and functions of basic surgical instruments as well as how to keep a procedure area sterile.
While medical assistants cannot prescribe medications, they still need to have an understanding of basic pharmacology.
Patients often come in or call the doctor's office with questions about medications, and medical assistants who understand pharmacology can help ask clarifying questions or identify safety hazards.
Some medical assistants can administer medications and need to have a thorough understanding of the medications they are giving.
A good medical assistant helps to ensure the entire doctors office is organized and that things run smoothly. Office administration tasks are a big part of a medical assistant job.
Office administration tasks include keeping patient charts organized and up-to-date, ordering supplies, coordinating referrals for imaging or specialists, and dealing with vendors.
Extra Medical Assistant Courses You’ll Take in an Associate Degree Program
Medical assistant associate degree programs are typically longer than certificate programs and include more general education courses. Here are some other courses you may take and what you'll learn:
Writing programs in a medical assisting program cover basic writing skills and often teach about scientific writing including using APA formatting and using only high-quality, peer-reviewed articles as sources.
Healthcare-related fields often require more advanced mathematics courses and often include at least some content covering statistics.
Sociology courses cover topics like social structure, social changes over time, family interactions, organized crime, and issues surrounding gender, race, and religion.
What to Expect in Medical Assistant Courses
Medical assisting courses cover a lot of complex material and it can be intimidating to get started. Knowing what to expect will help you feel confident as you begin a medical assisting program.
Here are some things to consider:
- Program length. Medical assisting programs can last anywhere from six weeks to nine months for a certificate program, to two years for an associate degree.
- Required supplies. To complete a medical assisting program, you’ll need to purchase books as required by your program. In addition, you might want to invest in a medical assisting exam study guide to help you prepare for your test. You will need access to a computer, especially for online courses. You may also need to purchase a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff.
- Study location. Didactic coursework can be completed in a classroom or online from the comfort of your own home. An externship or clinical hours are done in doctors offices, clinics, or even long-term care centers. Certification exams must be taken at a testing center.
- What you’ll wear. Most medical assisting programs require students to wear scrubs while in the classroom and while participating in externship hours. Make sure you also have supportive shoes that will keep you comfortable for long hours on your feet.
- Class and study time. The length of each class depends heavily on the type of program and schedule you choose. Generally, students can expect to spend 2-3 hours per week studying for each course credit hour.