How to Become a Medical Assistant
New jobs are being added to healthcare facilities on a continual basis, as new hospitals, clinics and long-term-care facilities are built. In fact, most fields within the industry are seeing rapid growth and higher salaries. This is all fueled by demand from the aging WWII baby boomers, as well as the rapidly expanding population. For these reasons, you might want to consider how to become a medical assistant.
Medical assistants are valuable members of any healthcare team. They are cross-representational workers, performing both administrative and clinical functions. This page is dedicated to showing you how to enter and thrive in this challenging, yet rewarding, career field.
Four Steps to Becoming a Medical Assistant
Though becoming a medical assistant may seem like a straightforward process, there are a few steps to consider along the way. When you follow this process, you will be preparing yourself for a fulfilling career in healthcare that not only helps others—but your own quest to better your and your family’s life.
Determine that this is for you
Ask yourself if you want to work with sick people every day. Do you have the empathy and patience it takes to work with people who are struggling very hard? A few items to consider include the following:
- Are you squeamish around blood or other bodily fluids? You will probably need to collect blood samples.
- Are you interested in science and laboratory procedures?
- Can you communicate with a broad range of personalities? You’ll interact with everyone from doctors, nutritionists and administrators to other clinicians such as nurses and lab techs.
- Are you a multitasker? Medical assistants wear a variety of hats every day.
Though you might be able to find a position that will train you on the job, when you have a solid education, no one can ever take that away. While you can get started with a post-secondary certificate, if you complete an associate’s degree, you will have a solid set of credentials that you can build on later.
Sit for the professional CMA examination
When you can call yourself a Certified Medical Assistant, your earnings, opportunities and overall job satisfaction will improve.
Find a job
You can start looking for your first job as soon as you have completed your education. Your program should have resources to help you prepare your resume and get ready for the interview process.
Why Become a Medical Assistant?
If you’re on the path to returning to school, you know that you’ve chosen to do so because you want to improve your life, earn more money and have a trusted skill set under your belt—one that you enjoy performing on a daily basis. If you like to help people, a medical assisting career presents lots of opportunities. Here are just a few good reasons for getting an education to become a medical assistant:
- Your education takes less than two years—including certification.
- You’ll enjoy a much faster than average job growth, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In fact, the BLS predicts a 23 percent job growth for medical assistants, which far surpasses the national average for jobs in general (7 percent).
- With the Baby Boomer generation approaching retirement and beyond, you’ll find career stability. The healthcare industry needs qualified medical assistants—as well as other healthcare professionals—all year round to satisfy demand for top notch care.
- If you have an itch to travel, a medical assistant career post could provide that opportunity. Because of the demand for healthcare professionals you can find a position in just about any state or perhaps even another country.
- If you don’t want to work in a hospital, consider this: you can find medical assisting positions in private practice doctor’s offices, clinics, outpatient care facilities, and emergency clinics.
- You can move up. Once you become a CMA you’ll have the option to continue your education and think about other career possibilities, such as administration or becoming an RN. A medical assistant certification is a solid foundation for your future and can help open doors to other types of roles within the industry.
Paths to Becoming a Medical Assistant
There are two main ways you can become a medical assistant. It doesn’t require a lot of education, and some even forego post-secondary education altogether. However, it is advised that you work on completing as much education as you possibly can to increase your value as an employee and open opportunities for your future.
Learn On the Job
Once you graduate from high school, or get your GED, you can seek work in a doctor’s office. This way you can quickly get to work on your career path without spending time in a classroom. However, it may be difficult to find a doctor willing to hire an untrained worker.
It may be difficult to find a doctor willing to take you on without any formal medical assistant education, but this might be overcome with the right amount of persistence and tenacity. If you are driven to be a medical assistant, you can seek an entry-level job in the administrative side of a medical office and learn as you go. You’ll need to show an interest in the clinical work, have some knowledge of medical procedure and be eager to take on new tasks.
This is by far the more accepted route and these days there is an expanding number of educational institutions that offer programs for aspiring medical assistants. There are two different routes you can go: certificate or diploma.
Certificate programs are the quicker route, as they only take about a year to complete. You might find a suitable program through your local community college, or online or classroom-based university. These certificates should teach you everything you need to know about your chosen career.
If you work through a two-year program, you’ll earn an associate’s degree. With a two-year degree or diploma a from an accredited college, you’ll lay the groundwork for more education later. Your future schooling might result in a four-year bachelor’s degree, or an additional certificate.
One thing to keep in mind when pursuing formal education is whether your school is accredited. You should be able to find this information on the school’s website. If not, discuss this issue with your admissions counselor. Make sure that you ask about the medical assistant program itself, not the school as a whole. In particular, make sure that the program is accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). When your program has this level of accreditation, you will be sure to have both the knowledge and skills you need to thrive, but also a strong foundation upon which to build a career. Accreditation will also make you eligible to apply for federal financial aid to help you pay for your education.
It’s also important to note that you must be a graduate of a CAAHEP or ABHES program to qualify to sit for the national certification. The Certifying Board of the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) only recognizes appropriately accredited programs. However, once you have your education, you can sit for the AAMA examination which, once you pass, allows you to use the title Certified Medical Assistant (CMA). Once you add those professional credentials to your resume, you will have proven that you care about your career field and agree to follow its rules,ethics and standards.
About CMA Certification
The exam offered by the AAMA is a rigorous, broad, and up-to-date exam consisting of general medical, clinical and administrative topics. The exam consists of 200 multiple choice questions which will be given in four 40-minute segments. You must verify with the board that you are eligible to take the exam and then follow the steps to sit for the test itself.
Steps include the following:
- Gather the appropriate documentation in your eligibility category.
- Review the CMA exam policies and provisions and accept the terms.
- Determine the exam date for your 90-day testing period.
- Monitor your email to receive notification.
- Apply to take the exam and download the official handbook. The handbook contains the application form you’ll need to fill out prior to taking the exam. The exam fee is currently $125 for AAMA members and $250 for non-members.
- Schedule your exam date as soon as you print your scheduling permit.
- Study, study, study!
- Take the test and check your pass/fail notification.
- Get your official score report, which will arrive within 10 weeks of taking the exam.
- Watch for your certificate.
- As a CMA you will need to continue your education by earning CEUs. In fact, your certificate must be renewed every five years either by earning continuing education units or re-taking the exam.
Other Medical Assistant Certification Options
The CMA designation is just one certification you can earn in the medical assisting field. Take a look at some of the other credentials available to ambitious medical assisting professionals:
Registered Medical Assistant (RMA): This credential is offered through the American Medical Technologists association and you must have worked as a full time medical assistant for five of the past seven years before you are deemed eligible to take the RMA exam.
National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA): You must meet one of the National Center for Competency Testing criteria to sit for this exam. Criteria choices include being a current student or recent graduate from a medical assistant program authorized by the NCCT; a foreign physician or RN; a medical assistant instructor with 10 or more years’ experience; or two years of full-time medical assistant practitioner experience within a 10-year period.
Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA): The CCMA exam is offered through the National Healthcare Association, and to qualify you must have successfully completed a medical assistant training program or have one year of verifiable work experience in the field.
There are also specialty certifications available for medical assistants, if you choose to focus on one area of expertise. These can include areas such as podiatry and ophthalmology.
When you become a medical assistant, your days will be full and there may also be hardships to witness, but even those experiences can be valuable to you as a professional and as a human being. If you want to pursue this career, start today. There’s no time like the present to begin!
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