How to Become a Certified Medical Assistant

certifiedMedical assistants work alongside doctors most commonly in outpatient settings, such as medical practices and urgent care clinics. They perform a variety of tasks including clinical and administrative in order to help a medical practice or clinic run efficiently.

What is a Medical Assistant?

Medical Assistant Salary and Job Demand

medical-assistantSalaries for medical assistants may vary based on whether an assistant is certified. Your level of experience and geographic area also play a role in earnings. According to a 2014 compensation report conducted by the American Association of Medical Assistants, the average starting salary for medical assistants in 2014 was about $13.77 an hour. As assistants gain experience they can also expect to see an increase in salary. The report found that the average hourly rate increased to over $18 an hour after 16 years of experience.

If you are considering a career as a medical assistant there is no time like the present to get started. Medical assisting appears to be a career which is in demand and has significant predicted job growth. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for medical assistants is expected to increase by about 29 percent through the year 2023. A 29 percent growth rate is much higher than that of other occupations.

Some medical assistants work in family practices or clinics, but others choose to specialize. Medical assistants may choose to work in areas such as podiatry, ophthalmology, and pediatrics.

What Opportunities for Advancement Do Medical Assistants Have?

medical-assistant-promotionAs medical assistants gain experience opportunities for advancement may develop. Medical assistants may move into supervisory roles such as medical records managers, clinical team leaders, and office managers.

Medical assisting is also a good starting place for other healthcare occupations. For example, some medical assistants gain experience in the field and pursue additional training to become physician assistants.

Physician assistants work under the direction of a doctor to diagnose and treat patients in various types of settings. Most PA programs require applicants to have a certain amount of experience providing direct patient care, and medical assisting fits the bill.

the need for medical assistants is expected to increase by about 29% through the year 2023

What Do Medical Assistant Do?

Specific responsibilities of a medical assistant may vary based on the type of medical practice they work in. For example, an assistant in a podiatry practice may have different responsibilities than an MA in an urgent care clinic. In general, common duties of a medical assistant can be broken down into either clinical or administrative tasks.

Medical assistants may also perform clinical tasks which involve direct patient care. Responsibilities include the following:

  • Taking medical histories
  • Recording vital signs
  • Removing dressings and sutures
  • Assisting the doctor with procedures
  • Performing EKGs
  • Drawing blood
  • Giving injections such as immunizations
Administrative tasks do not involve direct patient care. Instead, the responsibilities involve operating a medical practice. Tasks include:

  • Completing insurance forms
  • Book-keeping
  • Reception duties including answering phones and greeting patients
  • Ordering supplies
  • Updating and maintaining patient's charts

Medical Assistant Training and Requirements

schoolCurrently medical assistants are not licensed to practice, but it can be difficult to get a medical assisting job without completing a medical assisting program. MA programs are offered through vocational schools, community colleges, and adult education centers. There are also online programs (which can be completed full or part-time).

Some medical assistant programs include both aspects of the profession and teach clinical and administrative responsibilities. Other medical assisting programs may focus on just clinical assisting or administrative medical assisting.

Medical assisting programs usually can be completed in one to two years. Classes often include administrative medical billing, principles of patient care, medical terminology, and medication administration. Some medical assisting programs also include classes on how to draw blood and other aspects of phlebotomy.

Most programs also include an internship. Medical assisting internships usually involve working at a clinic or doctor’s office performing the duties you would on the job. During your internship you are still learning and work under the direction of a preceptor. The length of your internship varies by program.

If you become a certified medical assistant it shows you have a certain level of competence in the profession.

What is a Registered Medical Assistant?

certificationCertification for medical assistants is voluntary and offered through a few different professional organizations. The most well know organization offering certification is the American Association of Medical Assistants.

If you become a certified medical assistant it shows you have a certain level of competence in the profession. Medical assistants who earn certification are usually paid higher wages than those who are not certified. In addition, you may have an easier time getting a job and have more opportunities if you earn certification.

What is the AAMA?

The American Association of Medical Assistant is a professional organization established in 1955 in order to provide certification, professional development, and educational opportunities to medical assistants. The AAMA is the most well know organization to certify medical assistants.

The AAMA also offers memberships to medical assistants. Professional membership benefits include exam discounts, opportunities for networking and continuing education, and job leads. The AAMA also holds annual conferences, which provide networking opportunities for professional growth.

What is CAAHEP and ABHES Accreditation?

The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools are two of many organizations which accredit medical assisting schools. Accreditation means the school has been evaluated, and the MA program reviewed to be sure it meets a certain standard. The program’s classes, instructors, and internships are all carefully evaluated. The accreditation process can take months.

While you do not have to understand the entire accreditation process, it is essential to determine if your MA program is accredited by either CAAHEP or ABHES. In order to be eligible to take the AAMA Medical Assisting Exam you must complete an MA program which is accredited by either the ABHES or CAAHEP.