Home » Program Types for Medical Assistants


Medical assistants are a vital part of the healthcare organization. They are there to help with clinical and administrative work and are the ultimate medical multi-taskers. It’s no surprise then, that you’ll need a strong academic background to become a part of this growing field. There are program types to consider when you research medical assisting careers and schools Before you start any program, make sure that it is fully accredited. When you have a degree or a certificate from an accredited institution, you qualify to sit for the American Association of Medical Assistant’s professional certification program and then become a Certified Medical Assistant after graduation. The accrediting agencies you need to look for are as follows:

  • Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)

Either of those will endorse your academic work and qualify you for a professional credential designation. But first, consider your options for programs types to earn your degree. Here are the different education paths to consider.

Associate Degree in Medical Assisting

An associate’s degree in medical assisting is a great way to enter the field. An associate degree program will take approximately two years to complete. You might be able to receive a one-year certificate in medical assisting, but an associate degree will put you ahead of other job seekers who earned the certificate, and may help prepare you for a bachelor’s degree program later on.

Having an associate degree under you belt will make your bachelor’s degree program doable in half the time it normally takes to complete. When you take a two-year course of study, you can expand your learning with other courses that will prepare you for success.

You can take clinical medical classes or medical billing and coding. These extra courses will become valuable as you progress. Further, if you are more drawn to one aspect of medical assisting work, you can strengthen your skills in that area. For instance, if you enjoy administrative jobs, you might take additional courses in accounting or management. If you’re drawn to clinical work, you might consider taking more courses in anatomy, biology and physiology.

Certificates in Medical Assisting

If you are eager to enter the medical assisting field quickly, a certificate program may work for you. Certificates give you the basic medical assisting education you’ll need to start without adding liberal arts courses or any other frills. You may complete a certificate medical assisting program in under a year, though some will train you in nine months.

Certificates are perfect if you don’t have a lot of time for a full degree program. You may have a family to provide for and so don’t want to spend a lot of time in school. You may also decide that taking a certificate might be a great first step in your career, a step that will enable you to get to work and allow you to go back to school later on, if you desire.

When you apply to a certificate program, make sure you ask your admissions counselor about how your work will apply to later schooling. It is best to have the option to add onto a certificate by transferring the credits to a community college or associate’s program.

Online Medical Assisting Programs

These days, you can pursue your schooling online. This is an excellent option for those who must continue to work while they attend classes, or who have families to tend to. You can seek employment in a doctor’s office or a hospital while working on your online program in your spare time. That way, you can apply your learning every day. You may also see how your daily work in healthcare applies to your coursework.

An online program offers integrated learning in a way that is difficult if you attend classes traditionally. You can find online MA programs that are fully accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).

Accreditation is essential for online classes, and employers look for graduates of accredited programs over non-accredited to hire. Accreditation also ensures your credits transfer later, and that you may receive federal financial aid.

Medical Assistant Training

Many medical assistant program types include on-the-job training in the form of an externship. This experience will put you in the thick of the profession working with doctors, nurses and patients in real-world settings. During this externship period, you can integrate your academic experience with the actual work. In fact, make sure that your program includes an externship. Talk with your advisor and discuss what relationships your program has with hospitals, clinics or doctor’s offices in your area. Some externships are structured to ensure that your experience exposes you to specific learning outcomes.

Specialized Medical Assisting Schools

Specialized medical assisting schools are one way to get your career off to a great start. The focused curriculum and dedicated instructors will put you on a path to success. More frequently, these institutions will offer a certificate which you can add to your list of credentials when seeking a job.

Medical Assisting schools are found both in real-world locations and online. They may be part of community colleges or act as stand-alone programs dedicated solely to the profession if the school is fully accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Then when you complete a certificate or degree program from a qualifying institution, you can move on to sit for the CMA exam and add a nationally-recognized professional credential to your resume.