Medical Assistant Externship: What It Is & How To Find One

If you are interested in a medical assistant career, you may have come across the word “externship.” During an externship, you will shadow medical assistants in healthcare settings. This means that you will observe them as they interact with patients and perform their job duties.

Most accredited medical assistant training programs include an externship component. The main goal of these medical assistant externships is to help you experience what the job is like. In addition, you will have the chance to apply your medical assistant education beyond the classroom.

In this article, we will go over what a medical assistant externship is, how long it generally takes, how to find one near you, and some benefits of participating in one. 

What is a Medical Assistant Externship?

Think of an externship as an opportunity to learn what working as a medical assistant is really like. You will shadow and interact with medical assistants and other healthcare professionals. You may also have the chance to practice some of your skills under close supervision. 

An externship can also help you decide what medical assistant career path is the best fit for you. It is a great way to find out whether you are more interested in clinical or administrative tasks. In addition, it can help you decide what type of environment you want to work in.

Because medical assistants work in a variety of locations, an externship can take place in different environments. For example, externships can be found at hospitals, outpatient clinics, private practices, and other healthcare settings. 

The following sections will go over various aspects of medical assistant externships in more detail.

How Many Hours & How Long is a Medical Assistant Externship?

If you participate in an externship, there will most likely be a required number of hours you need to complete. A typical amount is 100 hours total. This is usually divided into a certain number of hours per week, such as 15 hours.  

If you do the math, you can expect a medical assistant externship to take around 2 months to complete. However, this will vary depending on the particular requirements of the externship and program.

If the medical assistant program is taken through a community college, an externship will generally take a semester to complete. There will be a weekly time commitment, such as twelve hours per week. 

In many cases, you will participate in your externship as you take your classes. Though, some programs may place you in your externship after classes are completed. 

Responsibilities During a Medical Assistant Externship

Although most of your time during an externship will be spent shadowing medical assistants, there are several things that you are responsible for, including:  

  • Helping medical assistants with daily tasks. You will get the opportunity to help medical assistants with various clinical and administrative tasks, under close supervision, of course. 
  • Asking questions. Active participation during an externship is essential. Asking questions is a great way to learn and gain a stronger understanding of the medical assistant profession.  
  • Completing the required number of hours. An externship is a significant time commitment, so it is important to satisfy all the requirements so that you can fully enjoy all of the benefits of the program. 

Expectations During a Medical Assistant Externship

A medical assistant externship takes place in a professional healthcare environment, where real patients come in to get care. As a result, students in their externship are expected to be:

  • Professional: This includes dressing appropriately for a clinical setting, being courteous to staff and patients, and following all workplace policies. 
  • Observant: An externship should be taken seriously. Although students may not always be directly performing tasks, they are still expected to be focused and present while shadowing.
  • Willing to learn: It can sometimes be challenging to apply knowledge gained in the classroom to a real-life environment. Sometimes mistakes can occur. It is important to keep an open mind and be willing to learn from them. 

Are Medical Assistant Externships Required?

Externships are not formally required to become a medical assistant. However, many medical assistant programs require an externship to complete the program. 

Even though it generally is not required, participating in an externship is certainly worth your time. An externship will help you find a job. Many employers will prefer to hire applicants who have gained real-life experience from an externship over candidates who did not complete one. 

Are Medical Assistant Externships Paid?

The vast majority of the time, medical assistant externships are unpaid. There are a few programs that offer paid externships with varying wages.

How to Find a Medical Assistant Externship Near You

If you think an externship may be right for you, you may be asking yourself "how can I find a medical assistant externship near me?"

If you choose to take a medical assistant program at a postsecondary institution like a community college, the school will likely help you find an externship. They usually partner up with various healthcare facilities, which makes the process relatively smooth.  

Online medical assistant training programs like Stepful’s include an externship as part of their curriculum. They will work with you to find an externship, so that you can be as prepared as possible for your future career. 

Other good ways to find medical assistant externships in your area include contacting your local medical assistant association, getting in touch with healthcare facilities, and speaking with community colleges that offer medical assistant programs. 

Benefits of a Medical Assistant Externship

Participating in a medical assistant externship is beneficial for both your education and your future career. Some benefits of an externship include:

  • Deciding if it's the right career for you. By participating in an externship, you can get a better idea of if medical assisting is right for you. While you may be able to get a decent idea by reading about responsibilities and experiences of others, actually being there in person shadowing a medical assisting can help you see things you weren't aware of before.
  • Learning the necessary skills to succeed.  It is important to apply the skills you have learned in the classroom to a real-world setting. An externship gives you the chance to “put it all together” so that you can be a successful medical assistant.
  • Networking and interacting with other professionals. An externship is an excellent opportunity to network and gain a stronger understanding of the profession. Knowing how to work well with others is an essential part of healthcare. Networking is also one of the most powerful ways to find a job. 
  • Gaining practical experience with patients. Communicating with patients is one of the most important skills a medical assistant can have. However, it is almost impossible to fully simulate patient interaction in a classroom setting. An externship will provide you with the opportunity to sharpen your communication skills before you start working. 

Medical Assistant Externship FAQs

How many hours are required for a medical assistant externship? The required number of hours will vary depending on the program. Typically, you can expect a requirement of around 100 to 160 hours. 

How long does a medical assistant externship take? It will usually take around 2 months to fulfill the required number of hours to complete a medical assistant externship.

Is a medical assistant externship paid? Most of the time, medical assistant externships are unpaid.

Is a medical assistant externship required? They are not formally required to become a medical assistant. However, some medical assistant training programs require an externship to complete the program.

Are medical assistant externships hard to find? It depends, but in general, they are not too difficult to find. If you are participating in a medical assistant training program, finding an externship is a relatively smooth process. In some cases, you will need to take the initiative and reach out to healthcare facilities or medical assistant organizations to find an externship.

Do you have to be certified to do a medical assistant externship? No, you do not need a certification to do a medical assistant externship. 

What is the dress code for a medical assistant externship? The specific dress code will vary depending on your externship site. However, typically you will need to wear clinic-appropriate attire. 

Will a medical assistant externship help me get hired? Many employers prefer to hire applicants that have experience. Participating in an externship is an excellent way to strengthen your resume. 

Does a medical assistant externship lead to a job at that hospital or healthcare facility? Making a great impression during your externship can potentially lead to a future job offer from your externship site. However, it is not a guarantee that this will happen. 

How can I find a medical assistant externship near me? To find a medical assistant externship near you, you can contact local hospitals and other healthcare facilities, join a training program that includes an externship, or talk to local medical assistant associations.

Other Medical Assistant Career Resources

Here are some of our other medical assistant career guides that you may be interested in:

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