When considering a medical assisting career, you have two degree choices: a certificate or an Associate degree. Many junior or technical colleges offer both. Medical assisting certificate programs are typically 9-12 months long, while an Associate degree program can be 24 months long. Before deciding on a program, be sure to weigh the benefits of both education types to see what best fits your needs and lifestyle.
How do you choose?
It can be confusing to figure out whether an Associate degree in medical assisting is better, or simply a certificate. Here are some questions to help:
- How many months can you commit to an education program?
- What is the job market like for MAs in your area?
- Do local employers prefer one degree type over the other?
- Do you plan to return to school to further your education within five years?
- Do you plan to “try out” the medical profession to see if it’s for you?
Taking a look at your local medical assisting job market may be a good indicator of what employers are requiring in your area. If you plan to work in another state or location, research the job market in the area you are moving to. If job ads don’t specifically state degree requirements, consider calling medical facilities and asking. This will help you prepare for the future job market before you commit to a medical assisting program.
Medical assisting certificate programs are generally one year in length or less. This education type is very focused on the specific knowledge and skills you’ll need to work as a medical assistant. You’ll complete requirements for graduation as a medical assistant and also become prepared to take MA certification or registration credentialing tests. These programs are often very fast-paced and intense. You can expect to spend dedicated hours studying and completing externships.
- You’ll complete school sooner so you can enter the job market quicker
- A focused program that doesn’t make you take extra courses that you don’t need
- Usually less expensive than an Associate degree program
At the end of this type of program, you will have earned a certificate in medical assisting. This simply shows that you have completed the school’s requirements for graduation. One major drawback of a certificate program is that classes you’ve taken may not be eligible for credit should you choose to continue your education. Because many certificate courses are not recognized as college credits, you may have to repeat them when entering higher education programs.
Benefits of an AAS Degree
Associate degree programs in medical assisting are a bit more in-depth than a certificate program. You’ll be required to take general liberal arts classes, as well as core clinical and administrative courses. You may be required to take language and writing courses, business communications and sociology or speech classes as part of your liberal arts requirement. General education classes may also be a requirement, including basic math and English courses. The foundation of an Associate degree in medical assisting is similar to those found at any college or university.
- Your college credits are more likely to transfer to a Bachelor degree program or other higher education
- Employers may view you as a more well-rounded and educated candidate for employment
- You may receive a slightly higher starting salary, or be eligible for advanced employment
- You may be more likely to land a job in specialty medicine as these jobs can require a higher knowledge base that general medicine.
If you plan to further your education—say to go on to a registered nurse program—an Associate degree in medical assisting is a great choice. You’ll have more college credits to apply to your education and may feel more academically prepared for challenging classes.
One drawback of an Associate degree is the cost. These programs can cost several thousand dollars in program, externship and graduation fees.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that medical assistants typically earn about $28,000 per year. Depending on employer requirements for education, medical assistants with an Associate degree may make a higher yearly salary. The more education a medical assistant has, the more she shows her employer that she values her career and job. Overtime, medical assistants who also gain experience can expect to earn about $33,000 per year.