Medical Assistant Degree Programs and Training
Degree programs and training: medical assistants
Medical assistants are the infantry of the health care world, the crucial boots-on-the-ground engaged in the day-to-day business of patient care. In hospitals, clinics, and private practices, medical assistants perform a wide variety of vital administrative and clinical duties, from taking patient histories and scheduling appointments, to measuring vital signs and administering injections. While no postsecondary education or accreditation beyond on-the-job training is required to become a medical assistant, the most competitive candidates for the best jobs are generally graduates of one- and two-year certificate and associate's degree programs. The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov) reports suggests that, as hospitals and clinics have moved to adopt computer-based electronic health records, demand for well-trained medical assistants with certificates and degrees has been on the rise.
Medical assistant degree programs
Traditionally, medical assistants -- not to be confused with physician assistants, who require a master's degree and are licensed to diagnose, prescribe, and treat patients -- have not been required to attain anything beyond a high school diploma. The BLS notes that high school-level course work in biology, chemistry, and anatomy, along with on-site training, can qualify candidates for jobs as medical assistants. But, as work in both the administrative and clinical areas of health care has become more challenging, employers have increasingly sought out medical assistants who have completed one-year certificate or diploma programs. Candidates who have obtained a two-year associate degree are even more highly prized. Both types of programs are offered at a wide range of community colleges, vocational and technical schools, and universities.
Larger hospitals and health care organizations often screen for candidates who have specialized training and degrees in clinical or administrative work. Some states do require medical assistants to obtain certification and/or successfully complete an exam in order to attend to clinical tasks, such as taking x-rays and administering injections. The BLS lists five types of formal accreditation for medical assistants that are recognized by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies:
- Certified Medical Assistant, from the American Association of Medical Assistants
- Registered Medical Assistant, from American Medical Technologists
- National Certified Medical Assistant, from the National Center for Competency Training
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant, from the National Healthcareer Association
- Certified Medical Administrative Assistant, from the National Healthcareer Association
Medical assistant training
Because medical assistants fill a wide variety of roles in the health care industry, specific areas of study and training can vary from program to program. However, the American Association of Medical Assistants highlights a number of areas that are generally covered by graduates with a one-year diploma or two-year associate degree. These areas generally include:
- Human anatomy, physiology and pathology
- Medical terminology
- Keyboarding and computer applications
- Recordkeeping and accounting
- Coding and insurance processing
- Laboratory techniques
- Clinical and diagnostic procedures
- Medication administration
- First aid
- Office practices
- Patient relations
- Medical law and ethics
In addition to passing an exam, medical assistant certification by the AAMA requires some form of internship, or on-the-job training, in the form of a practicum, and most accredited certification and degree programs for medical assistants do include work experience in an ambulatory health care setting. More targeted course work and internship opportunities are available to students interested in areas of medical assistant specialization, including podiatry, chiropractic, ophthalmic, and optometry practices.
Career outlook for medical assistants
Salary: The BLS paints a rosy picture for candidates interested in entering the medical assistant field, where the latest numbers, from May of 2013, add up to an average annual wage of $30,780 nationwide.
Growth: Due to the increased health care demands of an aging baby-boomer population, a growing focus on preventative medical care, and the large number of administrative tasks associated with an expanding health care system, the BLS projects a much faster than average growth of 29 percent in employment of medical assistants from 2012 to 2022.
While medical assistants will continue to fill their traditional roles, aiding nurses and physicians as they tend to the needs of patients in clinical settings, scheduling appointments, and preparing blood for laboratory tests, the BLS notes that the responsibilities of medical assistants will continue to change as technological advances continue in health care, particularly as electronic data processing becomes an industry standard.
American Association of Medical Assistants, "What is a CMA?", 2014, http://www.aama-ntl.org/medical-assisting/what-is-a-cma#.VEVkBuddQhc
Medical Assistants, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm
Medical Assistants, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/OES/current/oes319092.htm