How Long Does it Take to Become a Medical Assistant?

If you are considering beginning a career as a medical assistant – you have made a good choice. According to the United States Department of Labor, the ten-year projection for medical assistant jobs in America will increase “much faster than average” compared to other jobs.

This career path is forecasted to grow by as much as 31% over the next decade. However, before you embark on this occupation, understanding the training requirements and time needed to acquire the necessary skills will allow you to become well-informed regarding your options as a medical assistant.

What Do Medical Assistants Do?

Medical assistants work alongside other healthcare professionals, such as physicians and nurses, in various environments. As a vital member of the healthcare team, medical assistants conduct the following tasks:

  • Assist doctors with patient examinations
  • Measure vital signs
  • Schedule patient appointments
  • Arrange for laboratory tests
  • Collect laboratory specimens
  • Complete patient insurance forms
  • Update patient records

The above duties often depend on where the medical assistant is employed. Nevertheless, well-rounded medical assistants will be properly trained to perform all the duties within the scope of their practice.

Medical Assistant Certification Programs

While certification is not required to become a medical assistant, a professional certification program will help you stand out in a sea of candidates. It will also give you the confidence and competency to succeed in the workplace.

According to the American Association of Medical Assistants, it is becoming increasingly necessary for medical assistants to have a certification background to compete for the best jobs. In the United States, four organizations regulate and administer certifications for medical assistants:

  • Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) – The American Association of Medical Assistants backs this program. The CMA certification test is offered at nationwide testing centers for students who have successfully passed an accredited medical assistant program. These programs must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).
  • Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) – This certification is administered by the American Medical Technologists (AMT) agency. Eligible participants must possess five years of experience or have completed a program at a CAAHEP or ABHES-accredited school.
  • National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) – The National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) administers this certification. The NCMA is a third-party organization that relies on a certification test for prospective medical assistants.
  • Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)—The National Health Career Association (NHA) governs this certification program, which offers two specialties: Certified Clinical Medical Assistant and Certified Medical Administrative Assistant.

How Long Does it Take?

Now that we understand what medical assistants do and the different certifications, let’s explore the time it takes to become one.

There are two succinct educational paths – a medical assistant certification/diploma or an associate’s degree. Depending on your chosen plan, most educational programs take about nine months to two years to complete.

Diploma in Medical Assisting

This program is generally provided at vocational schools and community colleges. Some schools require students to take prerequisite courses before enrollment. Students seeking a medical assisting diploma will need to take anywhere from 30 to 40 credits in a variety of courses, such as:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Medical terminology
  • Disease procedures
  • Computer applications
  • Medical coding

The diploma program may also include an externship to help the student gain practical experience working in affiliated hospitals, clinics or doctor’s offices. For most students, the medical assisting diploma/certification program takes approximately nine months to one year.

Associate’s Degree in Medical Assisting

Students seeking a broader education can participate in the associate’s program, which typically takes approximately two years to complete. Most associate’s programs are offered at community colleges and generally require completion of approximately 175 to180 credits in courses such as:

  • Disease identification
  • Pharmacology
  • Clinical skills
  • Anatomy
  • Laboratory procedures

After the program, students participate in an externship program to practice their skills in an actual medical setting.

The associate’s degree program often costs more than most certifications; however, it affords students a broad foundation for future advancement. Students can also apply some credits toward a bachelor’s degree or other advanced program.

Whether you choose a nine-month certification program or a two-year associate’s degree, you’re on your way to a rewarding career as a medical assistant.

As you advance in your career, remember that, like many professions, the more time you dedicate toward career advancement, the greater the outcome will be on both a professional and personal level.

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