If you want to work in healthcare, medical assisting is a great career. It is especially good if you want to start working without a college degree.
You can start working as a medical assistant right after earning your high school diploma or GED. However, most employers prefer to hire medical assistants who have gone through a training program and have earned their certification.
Washington is the only state that requires all medical assistants to be certified.
There are a few different ways to earn a medical assisting certification. Online medical assistant certification programs can be completed in as little as four months, and many technical schools offer certification programs that can be completed in a year or less. Some people choose to get an associates degree in medical assisting, which takes about two years.
There Are Typically No Medical Assistant Education Requirements Besides Having a High School Diploma or GED
Except for Washington, the only thing required to become a medical assistant is a high school diploma or GED. High school graduates who want to work right away can look for medical assistant jobs that offer on-the-job training.
While medical assistants help physicians care for patients, they do not do anything invasive or anything that requires special training to keep the patients safe from harm. The scope of practice for medical assistants includes only things that cannot cause harm if they are done incorrectly.
Medical assistants are also closely supervised by the physicians that they work with. If a medical assistant does give any medication or place a dressing over a wound, they only do so after confirming the medication or procedure with the physician. Medical assistants do not make any big decisions regarding patient care.
Because they perform only basic healthcare tasks, they can get by with a high school diploma and some on the job training. It also only takes around 4 to 6 months to complete a training program and get certified.
How Having Formal Medical Assistant Education Can Help Your Career
Even though it is not required, you can imagine why most employers prefer to hire those that have earned their medical assistant certification before starting on the job.
It is important that medical assistants are proficient at taking vital signs, understand basic terminology, and can perform basic tasks without too much direction.
Working in medicine is a big responsibility. When you work as a medical assistant, your patients should be able to trust that you can care for them efficiently and safely. Getting certified can help you feel more confident that you can do your best at work each day.
Certified medical assistants also earn more money than their non-certified peers. In fact, earning your certification can help you get a 5% to 10% raise.
Being certified can also put you first in line for promotions and better job opportunities. Having your certification makes you more competitive among other job applicants, making it more likely that you’ll land a job or get hired in a specialty medical assistant role.
You can learn more about the most common medical assistant certifications and their exams in the following guides:
- Most Popular Medical Assistant Certifications
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) Certification
- Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) Certification
- Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) Certification
- National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) Certification
- CCMA vs. CMA vs. RMA
Types of Education for Medical Assistants
There are a few different types of education you can choose if you want to become a medical assistant, including:
Certificate programs do not include a degree, but they are usually faster and less expensive than degree programs. Most employers do not have a preference about where a medical assistant earns their certificate.
Stepful’s online medical assistant certificate program, for example, is great for people who need flexibility and don’t want to attend an expensive program. Our program can be completed in just four months, includes an externship, and offers a 100% job placement guarantee.
Associate Degree Programs
If you want to earn a degree, there are several medical assisting associate degree programs you can choose from. These typically last 18 months to two years and can cost up to $10,000.
Earning an associate degree is a good option for medical assistants who want to continue their education to become a registered nurse or physician's assistant, although you will need to make sure that your degree will lead to a relevant bachelor's degree.
How to Become a Medical Assistant
If you want to become a medical assistant, here are the steps you have to take:
- Get your high school diploma or GED. Medical assisting programs require a high school diploma or GED to get started.
- (Optional) Enroll in a medical assisting course. If you choose an online certificate program, you can have your certification in as little as 4 months. If you would prefer to graduate with a medical assistant degree, it’ll take around 2 years in school.
- (Optional) Get work experience. You can take a CCMA or RMA exam and become certified by gaining work experience instead of going through a program. You’ll need at least one year of work experience to be eligible to take the CCMA or RMA exam.
- (Optional) Take your medical assistant certification exam. After you complete medical assistant school or gain work experience, you can take your certification exam. If you pass, you will be a certified medical assistant and will be well-positioned to apply for jobs.
- Apply for jobs. Since medical assistants are in such high demand, you should be able to find a job quite quickly. There are many jobs for medical assistants that offer on-the-job training, as well. Wondering how much you'll make as a medical assistant? Check out our medical assistant salary guide.
- Start work! You can begin working right away without becoming certified if you would like.
FAQs About Medical Assistant Education
Do I have to go to college to become a medical assistant? A college degree is not required to become a medical assistant. You can start working as a medical assistant with only a high school diploma or GED, although having your certification is preferred. You can take the CCMA, RMA, and NCMA medical assistant certification exams without going to school.
Do I have to have work experience to become a medical assistant? You do not have to have any work experience to become a medical assistant. There are some things you can do to increase your chances of getting a medical assistant job without any experience.
Do I have to be certified to be a medical assistant? In most states, you do not have to be certified to become a medical assistant. Washington state is the only place that requires certification for all medical assistants, although some states like New Jersey require certification in order to give injections.
What is the fastest way to become a medical assistant? The fastest way to become a medical assistant is to start applying for jobs as soon as you graduate high school or earn your GED. If you want to become certified quickly, an online certification program is the best choice. There are some accelerated medical assistant programs but they are much harder as you have to learn a lot of information in a short period of time.
How old do you have to be to become a medical assistant? Most offices and clinics will not hire medical assistants who are younger than 17 years old.
Does a medical assistant bachelor’s degree exist? A medical assisting degree is an associate degree. Although a medical assistant could continue on to earn a bachelor's degree in health sciences or something related if they chose to.
Is it hard to become a medical assistant? Becoming a medical assistant is not extremely hard, but it does require some discipline and studying to finish training and be great at your job.