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Obtaining an associate degree in medical assisting typically requires around 64 credits and takes approximately two years for full-time students to complete. Part-time students may take longer to graduate. While most medical assisting programs do not offer specific concentrations, some programs may have a slight emphasis on either clinical or administrative aspects.

An associate degree in medical assisting offers the most comprehensive course of study for a job as a medical assistant. The degree usually is defined as an Associate of Applied Science in Medical Assisting or an Associate of Applied Science in Health Science with a specialty in Medical Assisting.

Associate Degree vs. Certificate

While it’s possible to gain employment in medical assisting upon completion of a certificate program, an associate degree in medical assisting may be for you if you’re interested in studying a wider range of coursework and intend to pursue a bachelor’s degree at a later time.

Whether you graduate with an associate degree in medical assisting or a certificate, you’ll be qualified to apply for positions as a medical assistant. Depending on the accreditations of an educational institution, graduates of both types of programs may qualify to take examinations to earn national medical assistant certification.

The core coursework required for both an associate’s degree in medical assisting and a certificate generally are similar. Both types of programs typically require both classroom instruction and job-site internships in a physician’s office or medical center. Options for online courses are available for both.

In a certificate program, your curriculum is concentrated solely on the study of knowledge necessary to succeed in doing your job. The coursework is streamlined to emphasize the primary administrative and clinical skills specific to medical assisting. As such, certificate programs can be intense to allow for the graduation within 12 months, and sometimes sooner.

In addition to core medical assisting courses, an associate degree in medical assisting includes general liberal arts classes that give you a broader perspective and prepare you for further educational opportunities.

Taking the additional courses usually means that an associate degree will require a two-year, full-time commitment for completion. Associate degrees usually are more expensive than a certificate, since you are earning college-level credits and studying longer.

Both programs will prepare you for the combination of administrative and clinical duties performed by a medical assistant. For either a certificate or an associate degree in medical assisting, you’ll study these types of subjects:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Basic clinical procedures
  • Specimen collection and preparation
  • Computer healthcare applications
  • Medical terminology
  • Medical billing and insurance
  • Patient safety protocols
  • Medical laws and ethics

For an associate degree, you’ll also complete general liberal arts coursework in some of the following subjects:

  • Mathematics
  • English
  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • Communication
  • Speech

How do you Choose?

If you’re choosing between a certificate and an associate degree in medical assisting, you’ll want to consider several factors:

  • Cost: How much money are you able to invest in your education?
  • Time: How many months or years are you willing to commit to studying before graduation?
  • Career Goals: Are you planning to advance in the healthcare field and/or return to school to pursue a bachelor’s degree in the future?
  • Location: What are the job prospects in your geographic area for graduates of certificate programs versus associate degrees in medical assisting?

Advantages of an Associate Degree in Medical Assisting

In addition to preparing you for a career with a variety of job options, the advantages of an associate degree in medical assisting include:

  • You’re likely to have a broader range of employment opportunities because of your expanded education.
  • You may be eligible for more advancement opportunities or the option to pursue specialty areas of medical assisting more easily because of your diverse studies.
  • You’ll have an educational foundation on which you can build, should you decide to pursue a bachelor’s degree in areas such as: healthcare administration, nursing, or healthcare information technology.

Potential Higher Salary

Salaries generally vary according to location and type of workplace. Medical assistants employed in outpatient care centers and hospitals are likely to earn more than medical assistants employed in physicians’ offices, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

With an associate degree in medical assisting, you’re capable of assuming a wider range of job responsibilities because of your broader educational background. As a result, you may be able to command a higher starting salary or take advantage of higher paying advancement opportunities than a certificate graduate.

Cultivating a Greater Skill Set

The extended coursework required for completion of an associate degree in medical assisting can provide you with a greater skill set than a certificate program.

In addition to basic clinical and administrative medical assisting capabilities, your liberal arts studies will help you develop additional skills such as these:

  • Strong oral, written, and interpersonal communication skills
  • Critical thinking skills for handling issues related to effective patient care
  • Social skills appropriate for dealing with patients from a variety of backgrounds and cultures
    • Business skills for gathering and updating data across a range of data management systems

With an associate degree in medical assisting, you’ll be equipped to handle everything a certificate graduate can, and more. The time and commitment required to complete this course of study demonstrates to potential employers that you’re serious about your career choice, and prepared to expand your educational and career opportunities in the future.