Although formal training and certification in medical assisting is not absolutely required, it is much preferred by employers. Some medical assistants are hired with just a high school diploma or equivalent and trained on the job, but this is becoming less and less common. High school students interested in this career should take courses in math, biology, health, keyboarding, bookkeeping, and office skills. Gaining experience through volunteering in the health field is also highly recommended.
Programs in medical assisting are offered in vocational-technical high schools, postsecondary vocational schools, community or junior colleges, as well as colleges and universities. Postsecondary certificate or diploma programs usually take one year to complete; associate’s degrees usually require two years of study. Investing in one of these options is the usual route to an entry-level medical assistant position.
What Can You Expect Your Curriculum to Cover?
Accredited medical assistant training programs teach the technical, administrative, and interpersonal skills necessary for a position as a medical assistant.
Clinical courses include anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology. Clerical courses cover keyboarding, transcription, recordkeeping, insurance processing, and accounting. Your curriculum will likely include laboratory techniques, clinical and diagnostic procedures, administration of medicine, pharmaceutical principles, and first aid. Quality programs also teach office practices and medical law and ethics, including regulatory requirements such as the HIPAA privacy rule.
You will also study the basic principles of psychology and patient relations. Learning to recognize verbal and nonverbal communication cues is crucial to success in this field, as is learning the appropriate responses. Graduates from these programs know how best to provide instructions for maintaining health and preventing disease, obtain and record patient histories, perform telephone and in-person screening, and follow up with test results.
Students attending accredited programs are also required to participate in an internship that provides hands-on experience in a healthcare facility.
What to Look for When Choosing a Program
When choosing a medical assistant training program it is important to research thoroughly all the schools you are considering, for your training will have a significant impact on your future career and job prospects.
Most importantly, you should check that any program you are considering is accredited. Accreditation is a guarantee for both you and your potential employers that a particular course meets rigorous standards for both quality of teaching and breadth of study. It is thus also an assurance that a graduate will have the knowledge and practical skills to be successful in the field.
There are two organizations that accredit medical assisting training programs: the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES), and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs(CAAHEP). Both the CAAHEP and the ABHES list accredited programs on their websites, with more than 790 medical assistant training programs accredited between the two of them.
Earning a certificate or degree from a program accredited by one of these organizations will also make you eligible to take the American Association of Medical Assistants certification exam or the Registered Medical Assistants exam. This further certification is highly desirable: it is highly respected, so makes you significantly more employable.
In addition to national accreditation, a good training program will involve an internship in a medical setting to provide hands-on practical experience. The cost of tuition and financial aid options are also important to consider. Potential students should call the financial aid office of the school they plan to attend and ask what type of financial assistance is available. The American Association of Medical Assistants offers an endowment that students may apply for through the website. Looking elsewhere on the Internet for scholarships is a sensible strategy to help fund your education.