Considering Medical Assistant School

What is the Difference Between Medical Assisting School and Nursing School?

questionBoth nurses and medical assistants are valued members of the healthcare team. Depending on where they work nurses and medical assistants may have some responsibilities which overlap. For example, both may take vital signs, give injections and record medical histories. Although there are some similarities, there are also many differences between the two professions.

For example, nursing school is usually longer than medical assisting school. Registered nursing programs take a minimum of two years to complete and while it can take longer, many medical assisting programs can be completed in a year.

During school, medical assistants are cross-trained so that they can perform both clinical and administrative duties. In nursing school, students mainly focus on clinical skills involved in caring for patients.

Once on the job there are also differences. Nurses are required to have a license to practice while medical assistants are not licensed. Although nurses can work in various settings, many work in in-patient facilities, such as hospitals and nursing homes. Medical assistants mainly work with doctors in out-patient settings, such as doctor's offices, clinics and ambulatory care facilities. Although various factors affect salary, medical assistants do not generally earn as much as nurses.

Medical Assistants

  • Often do not earn as much as nurses, but usually work regular hours
  • Are not required to have a license to work
  • Education is usually shorter
  • May have more administrative duties
  • Often work in outpatient settings, such as clinics and doctor's offices


  • Earn more than medical assistants working much longer hours and evening shifts
  • Must be licensed to work
  • School is usually longer; about two years
  • Focus is often on clinical skills
  • Often work in inpatient settings, such as hospitals

How Do I Find a Medical Assistant School in My Area?


As life expectancies continue to increase in the United States it incrementally increases the demand for nearly all medical and healthcare careers, particularly in the area of medical assisting.

How Do I Choose a Good Medical Assistant Program?

If you are considering becoming a medical assistant choosing the right program is your first step. The right program will help you develop the skills you need to be successful in the field. With all the schools out there it can be difficult to decide which medical assisting program is right for you. Consider some of the following factors to evaluate a medical assistant program.

Exam Pass Rates:

Medical assistants who become certified may have an advantage when applying for jobs. In order to become a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA), you must pass the exam offered through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). Before selecting a medical assisting program, ask what percentage of students pass the exam and how that compares to the national average.


If you want to be eligible to take the CMA exam you must attend a program accredited through the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Program.

Online Classes:

Online classes offer the convenience that some students require when attending school. Medical assisting programs may offer some or all of their classes online. If this is important to you, make sure you determine if online classes are an option.

School Workload/Curriculum:

Before selecting a program, decide whether you are interested in earning a certificate or an associate degree in medical assisting. It is also essential to determine how long the program is and what classes you are required to take.


Various factors, such as the length of the program, school and geographical location all play a role in the cost of a medical assisting program.


Some students may prefer to attend a program close to their home while this may not be an issue for others. Decide how far you are willing to travel to attend medical assisting school.

Financial Aid:

If assistance paying for school is a concern determine if the school participates in the federal financial aid program. Some schools may also have someone at the school who can help you navigate the financial aid process.

Course Taken Credits:

In some cases, you may be able to get credit for classes you took in high school, the military or other colleges. Credit for courses taken may help you get through the program quicker and reduce tuition cost.

Job Assistance:

After you complete a medical assisting program assistance finding a job, such as resume workshops and job referrals, can help you land a job faster.

Paying for Medical Assisting School

payingforschoolThe cost of medical assisting schools can vary. Don't let concerns about finances stop you from pursuing your goals. There are several ways to pay for medical assisting school.
Loans: You have several options when it comes to student loans from federal programs to private loans. Be sure to review interested rates and repayments terms before taking out a loan.


You're in luck if your parents have a college fund for you! If not, you still have options for using cash. Consider working during high school, or taking a year off before starting a medical assisting program to work full-time and save cash.


Scholarships are financial aid which may cover all or part of your tuition. Scholarships are awarded based on academic or athletic merit. Some scholarships are also need-based. There are several ways to find scholarships to apply for, such as through the financial aid office at your prospective school, your state grant agency and your high school counselor.


You may be eligible for various types of grants to pay for medical assisting school. In addition to federal and state grants, public and private organizations as well as professional associations award grants to individuals. Grant money does not have to be paid back, so it never hurts to apply.

Work-Study Program:

Many colleges have work-study programs in which you work a specific number of hours at the school you are attending in exchange for some of your tuition being paid.

Medical Assistant School Prerequisites

In order to get into a medical assisting program, a high-school diploma or GED is required. You may also be required to obtain CPR certification before enrolling in classes.

Medical Assisting Course Prerequisites

Medical assisting courses usually do not have prerequisites. Once accepted into the program you may be required to take certain courses in a specific sequences. Additionally, prior to clinical work, you may have to obtain certain immunizations or sign a declaration of refusal.

Medical Assisting School Application Process

applyingforschoolThe first step in the application process is usually submitting an application, which is commonly completed online. Most schools have an application fee that is submitted along with your application. You will also likely have to submit copies of your transcript from high school or other colleges you attended.

Some medical assisting schools may have a placement test as part of the application process. There are many different types of placement tests. For example, the Test for Adult Basic Education scores an applicant's aptitudes and skill level and is sometimes required prior to admission to a medical assisting program.

Although not all medical assisting schools will require an interview, some might. If you are invited for an interview keep the following things in mind:

  • Practice answering common interview questions before your actual interview
  • Be prepared by researching the school so you can answer questions on why you are interested in their program
  • Dress professionally, preferably in business attire
  • Be friendly and polite
  • Eye contact and a smile can go a long way

Program Acceptance or Denial

acceptedAfter you submit your application comes the hard part; waiting to hear if you were accepted. When you submit your application find out what the timeline is to hear back. While you are waiting it may be helpful to work as much as possible so you can save some cash. Once you start school you may have to cut back on your work hours.

You may be notified either by mail or email on whether you are accepted. If you are accepted, additional information, such as when to register for classes, will likely follow.

If you do not get into a medical assisting program try not to get discouraged. Some programs have many more applicants than spots. While there is usually not an appeal process for admission you can contact the school to determine why you did not get accepted. Gaining insight into why your application was denied may help you make improvements when you reapply.

Keep in mind, some schools use a lottery system for qualified applicants. Your name may just not have been selected this time around. You may have better luck the next time you apply.

Medical Assistant School Supplies

Once you are accepted into a medical assisting program there are supplies you’ll need. Information on what you need will usually be provided in an orientation packet or available online. You will likely need a stethoscope, blood pressure cuff and scrubs. A medical dictionary may also be a good investment.