Medical Assistant Programs & Courses: Steps to Beginning Your Career

Choosing the right medical assistant program is individual to everyone.

Is it better to take a quick and direct route to the job market by earning a diploma or certificate or spend more time and obtain an associate’s degree?

None of the options for medical assistant training are better than another, so it all comes to which one is the right for you.

What to Expect

The medical assistant training program will prepare you for various tasks in a clinic, hospital, or private medical practice institution.

Your tasks will range from scheduling appointments to taking patient vital signs, so you need to find a medical assistant program that covers a variety of administrative tasks and patient care procedures.

You will also get hands-on training during your externship in a doctor’s office or hospital.

Medical Assistant Training

A medical assistant in the most versatile health professional who balances between clinical and administrative duties.

Becoming a medical assistant includes the following steps:

Ask Yourself: Is This Career Right for Me?

Medical assistants initiate medical appointments by bringing patients to examination rooms, taking their vital signs, and preparing the room for the next medical professional.

They are also tasked with various office tasks, such as scheduling appointments or coding medical records.

Medical assistants need strong interpersonal skills since they work with patients who may be in pain and distress.

They also work closely with other members of the medical team and may have to work under great pressure.

They also need analytical skills, which are essential for interpreting diagnoses and medical charts and be detail-oriented.

Enroll in a Medical Assistant Training Program

To start this career, you typically need a certificate or diploma.

Most states don’t require you to have formal education, but employers prefer medical assistants who have some training.

You can enroll in a medical assistant training program in a career college, local college, or online.

Training includes lab or clinical work that brings you hands-on experience in taking vital signs, drawing blood, and assisting with procedures.

Make the Most of Your Medical Assistant Courses

If you have graduated from high school a long time ago, you can attend an orientation session for your program, which is available in-person or online.

Be sure to organize the following essentials before the first day of your class:

  • Calendar – Keep track of due dates for assignments and other milestones, such as exams.
    Set the time for your study in your schedule.
  • Notebook or laptop/tablet – Organize files or tabs for every class.
    You won’t waste time looking for your notes if you need them.
  • Parking pass – If you enroll in a program on-campus, plan your parking strategy and commute beforehand to avoid delays.

Optional: Become Certified as a Medical Assistant

You can obtain a certification in medical assisting to make a better impression on employers.

To become a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA), you need to attend a program accredited by an outside agency and pass the exam administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants.

You can perform some duties only if you are certified.

For example, in 2012, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services set a regulation that only credentialed medical assistants may enter the lab and diagnostic imaging, medication orders in the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record Incentive Program system.

Online Medical Assistant Programs

If you have family commitments and currently work, the best option for you can be online medical assisting programs.

You won’t have to commute to campus.

You will need to log in, listen to lectures, or stream videos – either at set times or your own pace – download slideshows and lectures, etc.

You can also engage with other students and instructors through an online forum.

Online students can do their homework at the times that work best for them, whether it’s early in the morning while everyone is still asleep or while waiting for their kids to return from soccer practice.

Most online programs have some sort of partnership with local facilities where you can complete your clinical hours to gain hands-on experience.

It will include practicing such skills as measuring blood pressure or performing basic lab tasks and even record-keeping and insurance processing.

Your certificate or degree won’t state that it has been earned online.

Potential employers are mostly concerned with your mastery of the material, not how you learned it.

Before enrolling in any program, you have to ensure it’s accredited.

This proves that the course provider meets the quality and rigor requirements.

Besides, only students enrolled in accredited schools can obtain federal aid.

Medical Assistant Courses

The purpose of online and traditional programs is the same: to prepare you to take on essential clinical and administrative tasks in a clinic, hospital, or another setting.

Medical assistants typically study the following:

  • Patient Care – Medical assistants are usually the first professional to see a patient in a medical setting.
    So they learn the basics of delivering care, including recording vital signs, basic physical exams, charting, and record keeping.
  • Intercultural Communications – Medical assistants study basic psychology since it related to healthcare and how to recognize a variety of cultural perspectives on stress, illness, and caregiving.
  • Clinical and Diagnostic Procedures – Medical assistants need to know how to administer an electrocardiogram, from the correct positioning of the patient to placing leads that measure heart rate.
    They study the cardiac cycle and how to recognize and interpret emergency conditions.
  • Anatomy & Physiology – You will study the ins and outs of the human body while gaining fluency in the language of anatomy.
    Diseases and related tests for the body systems are also covered in the course.
  • Front Office 101 – Medical assistants learn the systems and procedures to keep an office running, from scheduling appointments to maintaining records.
  • Sterile Techniques – After you complete this course, you will be able to assist physicians with minor surgeries.
    You will learn sterile principles and procedures, patient preparation and follow-up, as well as surgical instruments.
  • Intro to Medical Billing and Insurance Coding – You will learn how to navigate medical insurance coding to decipher and submit claims.
    The course covers an overview of all types of medical insurance, from Medicare and Medicaid to HMO.
  • Medical Law and Ethics – You will learn the legal concepts and terms in a healthcare setting.
    The course covers risk management, confidentiality, medical records, and more.
  • Medication Administration – In this course, you will learn all factors related to calculating medication dosages and correct delivery of them.
    They include drug labels, hands-on practice in giving oral meds, injections, the six rights of drug administration, and more.
  • Pharmacology – You will study the principles of this area, including properties, effects, and uses of drugs, and their origin.
    You will also learn legal classifications and regulations, proper handling and storage of the medication.
  • Disease and Pathology for Medical Assistants – Medical assistants learn the anatomical structures and terminology, the most common disorders and diseases of various body systems.
  • Phlebotomy for Medical Assistants – This course teaches the theory and practice of blood collection, including the physiology and anatomy of the cardiovascular systems.
    You’ll also practice interaction with patients, finding the right site, and selecting various methods of collecting blood.

Types of Medical Assistant Programs

Certificate or Diploma Program

Duration of program:

Nine months to one year.

Offered at:

Career colleges and community colleges.

What the program offers:

A diploma or certificate in medical assisting will provide you with the essential skills necessary to join the workforce.

The courses are designed specifically for the career of a medical assistant and won’t waste your time with liberal arts classes that don’t directly relate to your career goals.

The programs cover physiology and anatomy, medical terminology and law, clinical procedures, and office administration.

After finishing the program, you will be prepared to assist in the medical setting taking vital signs, assisting in minor surgeries, administering injections, recording EKG, and maintaining patient records.

If the program is accredited, you can qualify for the Certified Medical Assistant exam.

Associate’s Degree in Medical Assisting

Duration of program:

Two years.

Offered at:

Career colleges and community colleges.

What the program offers:

You will gain basic skills essential to the position of a medical assistant, similar to what a certificate program teaches.

The program will also cover the general curriculum to improve your knowledge and marketability with future employers.

For example, Lake Washington Institute of Technology’s 90-credit Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree in medical assisting covers:

  • Human Biology with Lab – This course teaches human physiology and anatomy, so you will be able to identify and name organ systems, structures, and interrelationships between them.
    You will learn about human diseases and pathologies.
  • Phlebotomy and Bloodborne Pathogens – In this course, you will study the circulatory system and blood collection as well as lab safety procedures and infection control.
    You’ll practice blood collection, learn about patient education on AIDS, and proper handling of specimens.
  • Medical Computer Applications – You will learn how to navigate the medical computer systems, including scheduling and managing appointments, tracking prescriptions, lab orders, insurance, and more.
  • Written Communication – You will practice writing well-organized and clear prose while improving your critical thinking skills.
  • Quantitative Reasoning – You will learn how to communicate your ideas through numbers.
    Whether you study statistics, calculus, or algebra, you will learn to collect, interpret, and organize data.
  • Social Science – You can choose courses from criminal justice, business, psychology, economics, civic engagements, or sociology.
    You will learn the discipline of analyzing social issues focusing on cultural diversity.
  • Humanities – Humanities classes cover a wide range of subjects from printmaking to public speaking.
    You will improve your creative inquiries through the lens of literature, visual art, or Spanish, learning modern methods, and historical perspectives in the process.

With an associate degree in medical assisting, you can pursue more advanced education in the future.

You can transfer the credits earned in the associate’s program to a bachelor’s or master’s degree if you decide to advance your career.

If your school is accredited, you can also take the Certified Medical Assistant exam.

Medical Assistant School Accreditation

Despite the place where you take your medical assistant training, you have to be sure your school is accredited by one of the following organizations if you want to obtain certification:

  • Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools.
  • Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.

Only those who graduate an accredited program can qualify for the Certified Medical Assistant exam.


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