The healthcare industry is growing fast, adding more jobs than any other occupational group in the United States. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), it is the aging baby boomer population that’s increasing the demand for medical services. Among the fastest growing careers is that of the medical assistant. Employment of medical assistants is expected to grow 18 percent between the years 2020 and 2030, translating to an estimated 104,400 job openings per year over the decade.
If you are looking to break into the healthcare field, becoming a medical assistant is an excellent career move. Medical assisting is fast-growing and one of the fastest tracks you can take towards a career in health and medicine. Unlike many healthcare careers out there, you can become a medical assistant — and start making a difference in patients’ lives — in just one to two years.
Medical assistants are an essential support system in every medical practice. They fulfill a variety of tasks that streamline the daily routine of physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, and patients alike. Medical assistants provide direct care to patients, as well as help manage their office or facility. They may perform routine procedures, collect lab samples, record vital signs, keep track of patient histories, as well as handle electronic health records (EHRs) and administrative work.
If this career path interests you, and you feel ready to take the next step, read on. Below we outline the various steps it takes to become a medical assistant today.
5 Steps to Become a Medical Assistant
1) Pursue a training program
Today, most medical assistants are required to have a postsecondary education award. This may be in the form of a certificate or associate degree. According to the BLS, “Although there are no formal educational requirements for becoming a medical assistant in most states, employers may prefer to hire assistants who have completed these programs.”
There is a reason for this expectation. Postsecondary training programs encompass a range of fundamental coursework in health and medicine. They also include laboratory and clinical components where students gain exposure to clinical practice.
For example, in Goodwin’s medical assistant program, students learn a number of important skills, including how to:
- Use medical terminology appropriately
- Describe the anatomy and physiology of the human body
- Engage in written and oral communication, with patients and team members
- Prepare patients for examination or procedures
- Assist physicians with patient exams and procedures
- Collect and prepare laboratory specimens, as well as perform basic laboratory testing
- Perform phlebotomy and other invasive specimen collection techniques
- Perform electrocardiograms and respiratory testing
- Work safely, ethically, and legally, with compliance to the regulatory frameworks of healthcare and the medical assistant’s scope of work
Not only this, but medical assisting education is essential for those who wish to pursue professional certification in future. For professional credentials, a medical assisting certificate, diploma, or degree from an accredited program is required.
To become a medical assistant, though, you do not need to commit to several years in school. Most medical assisting programs take about one year to complete. At Goodwin University, you can complete your medical assistant certificate in 12 months, or your associate degree in just 18 months’ time. As noted above, this is one of the fastest pathways into the healthcare field.
2) Build your medical assisting experience
A medical assistant training program will equip you with the knowledge and skillsets needed to launch a career. In addition to labs and coursework, though, you will also benefit from hands-on experiences through an internship.
An internship is typically required at the end of each medical assistant program. It will enable you to put all your learned skills to practice in a real healthcare setting. You will get the opportunity to work with real patients, learn under real medical assistants, use real medical equipment, and get used to the bustle of a medical facility. This experience will be invaluable as you prepare for a future career.
At Goodwin, medical assisting students are placed in clinical sites across Connecticut, where they are provided with hands-on training and career-related experience. Many of our internship connections are also prospective employers, enabling you to network and build career prospects along the way.
3) Sharpen your skills
Medical assisting skills can be learned through a training program, but it is important to take stock and ensure you are ready for the road ahead. As you near graduation day, you should be prepared with a solid understanding of medical terminology, medical coding, patient care etiquette, EHR operations, office management, and phlebotomy. Additionally, you should also ensure you meet the soft skills required of medical assistants, such as:
- Analytical skills, to understand medical charts and diagnoses
- Attention-to-detail, as this will come into play when taking patients’ vitals or administering medication
- Interpersonal skills, as you will need to communicate with patients and medical staff
- Precision and technique, as you will be expected to use basic medical equipment accurately
- Empathy and ethics, as you will work with a variety of patients in different circumstances
- Multi-tasking, as you may be expected to juggle multiple responsibilities at once
As you look to become a medical assistant, be sure to keep these skills top-of-mind in your training experiences and education. Look for opportunities to develop these skills, or highlight them when talking to future employers.
4) Earn professional certification
While licensing and certification is not always required, many employers today prefer to hire medical assistants with credentials. Professional certification highlights a medical assistant’s competency, credibility, and commitment to the field. It can set you apart from other applicants, increase your pay potential, and position you for more (or more advanced) job opportunities.
There are various pathways to professional certification as a medical assistant. One can pursue the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential, administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). Or, one may become a Registered Medical Assistant (RMA), administered by the American Medical Technologists (AMT). Aspiring medical assistants may also complete the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) credential, administered by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA). All three medical assistant certifications are widely recognized and valued among employers.
Pursuing certification as a medical assistant always requires preliminary education and training. CMA candidates, for example, must graduate from an accredited postsecondary medical assistant program. RMA applicants must also have graduated from an accredited medical assisting program, within the last four years, and with a minimum of 120 hours of clinical experience. Thus, the clinical component of your medical assistant training will come into play here.
Upon completion of Goodwin’s medical assisting certificate program, you will be eligible to sit for the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) examination, the Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) examination, and the Medical Assistant Certification (CCMA) examination.
At Goodwin, graduates of the medical assistant certificate program are not only eligible to pursue professional certifications, but also to earn college credits that count towards an associate or bachelor’s degree. If you wish to continue your education and qualify for advanced positions, this is always an option for you.
5) Start the job search
As detailed above, the medical assisting field is growing rapidly. Job openings will be available in a wide variety of healthcare settings. As you begin to explore your options, think outside the box. Don’t just apply at physician’s offices and healthcare clinics! Expand your search to include healthcare specialists like dermatologists, podiatrists, chiropractors, and more. These specialized fields are also in demand, and looking to hire certified medical assistants.
If you need help finding a position, do not hesitate to contact your college or university for support. Your previous program director, or Career Services department, may be able to connect you with employers and alumni. You can also leverage your previous internship experience when applying for jobs. Be sure to make the most of all your professional connections in your journey to becoming a medical assistant.
At Goodwin University, medical assisting students and graduates can always take advantage of our Career Services. We can help connect you with healthcare employers throughout the state of Connecticut, as well as help you refine your cover letters and resume.
Medical Assistant Requirements May Vary by State
As you consider the steps to become a medical assistant, remember that requirements can vary by state. Every state has different regulations regarding the licensing and scope of work for medical assistants. Do your research or contact a faculty member if you have questions about your particular state.
In Connecticut, for example, there are no formal education or certification requirements for medical assistants. However, medical assistants are expected to receive and maintain certification from certifying bodies like the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) and National Healthcareer Association (NHA). This, as discussed, requires time spent in medical assisting school.
State laws also pertain to a medical assistant’s scope of work. For example, in Connecticut, medical assistants can never administer medications to patients. However, they can collect data and samples to be evaluated by licensed professionals.
Becoming a Medical Assistant
Medical assistants work very closely with healthcare providers to ensure the timeliness and quality of a patient’s visit. They are one of the first faces a patient sees in the medical office, and handle everything from obtaining vital signs, to helping with examinations, to handling patient records and histories.
A great medical assistant program will help you learn exactly what you need to know to provide the best experience for those in need of care. It can prepare you for a successful career working with patients, qualify you for professional certification, as well as set you apart from other job seekers.
Why wait? With the demand for medical services growing at record levels, now is the time to launch a career. And you can get there fast, through a short-term medical assisting program. You can also do so in a flexible format. Starting in the Fall of 2022, Goodwin University’s medical assisting programs will be online focused — with a variety of online course offerings for added convenience. All the while, you can still gain hands-on laboratory and clinical experience through a handful of experiential courses, offered on-campus in Connecticut.