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Physicians’ offices and hospitals need versatile, knowledgeable medical assistants to handle both administrative and clinical tasks. If you’re thinking about becoming a medical assistant, you are headed toward a challenging, diverse and appreciated career. You should find job opportunities all across the healthcare spectrum. These critical workers are found in hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices and long-term care facilities. You may even find that you want to specialize and work within a particular area of medicine, such as cardiology or with diabetics. It will all start with a medical assistant degree.

Getting Prepared for Your New Career

To prepare for a career as a medical assistant, you must complete the required education. There are programs that offer certificates, and you can likely finish these in a year. If you want to invest more in your future and know you have ambitions beyond medical assisting, you can enroll in an associate’s degree program in medical assisting. An associate’s degree takes up to two years, but will create a foundation on which you can build education-wise as your career progresses.

Finding the Best Program

When you go looking for a medical assisting degree program, one of the main criteria you will want to consider is the school’s accreditation. If you are looking at a community college, you may find that the school is accredited but it’s important to look closer. To ensure that your career kicks off properly, ask your admissions counselor what the accreditation status of your medical assisting program is. It must be accredited by either the Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). You could also find the information on the school’s website. When you find the right accredited program, you could be eligible for federal financial aid to help you pay for school, and you’re ensuring your credits will transfer if you decide to go back to school later and earn a bachelor’s degree. After you graduate, you can then prepare to take the national certification exam given by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA.) Their exam will test your knowledge and skills, but once you pass you will earn the professional designation Certified Medical Assistant.

Benefits of a Medical Assistant Degree

While a certificate program is tempting because of the short amount of time it takes to complete, consider the long-term big picture and the benefits an associate’s or bachelor’s degree can bring. Though a degree program takes up to twice as long to complete as a certificate program, you will also be able to learn twice as much. You can take extra elective courses in psychology, accounting or healthcare administration that will benefit you later when you’re trying to advance into higher roles. Those extra elective courses may help you specialize later on. Depending on your school, you might be able to focus on the administrative side of healthcare, or take courses that will grow your clinical skills. If you are able to take an extra course in laboratory diagnostic procedures or phlebotomy, for instance, you might find that gives you an edge when seeking a position that focuses on the clinical side of your profession. After you have completed your degree, you will always it as the groundwork to build upon. Not only will the physicians you support appreciate that you went the extra mile for a full degree, but you will have the option to return to school and complete higher-level degrees, if you wish at an accelerated rate. It’s well worth it to land a degree for your immediate job and for your long-term career goals.

Online or Traditional Campus Medical Assisting Degree?

Online Programs

When you start looking for a program, one of the first things you’ll notice is the wide range of online and traditional medical assisting programs available. However, if you start to narrow down your list of potential programs according to accreditation, it will help to streamline your decision-making process. An online course of study is helpful in a number of ways:

  • It will allow you to study while you continue to work.
  • You can maximize the advantage with a full, or part-time job in a clinic or hospital.
  • You can study at your own rate on and your schedule.
  • If you have a family to tend to, you can go to school and take care of your children too.

Traditional Programs

As for traditional campus programs, they have lots of strengths. You may have more access to laboratory courses for instance, or you enjoy campus life. A campus program may also have contact with the medical community to help you land externships—which provides hands on clinical experience with professionals as supervisors and mentors—or interviews for full-time work once you’re ready to graduate.

Getting Started

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the medical assistant field is growing far faster than all other career fields combined, and the trend should continue over the next decade. If you’re thinking of getting started in your first career, or changing careers altogether, medical assisting is a great choice, with plenty of options for future advancement. Why not get started researching medical assisting degree programs today?