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Medical assistants take on a big role no matter where they choose to work. They tackle duties on both the administrative and clinical sides of the allied health world.

Their jobs are vital to the smooth running of every doctor’s office, clinic, hospital and long-term care facility. They answer phones, enter billing information, assist patients and advise on prescriptions. They are on the front lines of the healthcare industry.

If you are considering this field, you are in for an exciting career. If you work long enough as a medical assistant, you’ll likely begin to specialize in either the clinician or administration areas of the profession. If you find that the clinical side is your cup of tea, you might find yourself taking various samples, performing lab duties and assisting the provider with examinations—as well as working with patients.

Getting an Education: Degree or Certificate?

If you have decided on a career as a clinical medical assistant, you will want to begin with the right education. The first decision should involve what sort of education you’d like to pursue–a six-month to year certificate or a two-year associate’s degree program for example. Here is some information about your options.

Certificate Programs

A certificate program is the quickest path to take. These programs may be found at your local community college or you might find a program online. You can plan on investing approximately one of your time studying to earn a medical assistant certificate. Your coursework will be focused strictly on what you’ll need to know to perform your medical assistant tasks successfully.

Associate Degree

Another option is an associate degree, which is a two-year academic degree where you major in courses such as insurance verification, phlebotomy, EKG and ECG skills, lab procedures, triage and administrative and office management functions.

The key advantage to earning a degree is that if you graduate from an accredited program your credits will transfer when you decide to earn a bachelor’s degree, or even a master’s degree after being in the field for a while. An advanced degree can help you move into management roles or senior administrative positions.

If you already know that you would like to pursue a medical assistant career that focuses on clinical work, your degree program will most likely offer extra elective courses that will give you the additional academic experience you need. You might even be able to arrange an externship through your school where you can focus exclusively on clinical work.


No matter if you are seeking a certificate or a degree, make sure that your program is accredited by either the Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). This way you are not only assured the very best education, but you will be eligible to take the American Association of Medical Assistants’ (AAMA) Certified Medical Assistant examination.

There are many non-accredited programs available, but they will not provide you with the quality education recognized by certification boards, and you may find that you are not eligible for federal financial aid. As stated before, your credits may not transfer to a higher degree program or another school if you relocate and you haven’t attended an accredited school or program.

Certified Clinical Medical Assistant

The AAMA exam will give you the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) designation, which is a respected credential for a medical assistant. You may find yourself given more responsibility at work and if you choose to specialize in clinical work, you may be able to transition into that role sooner. Some programs offer education that results in your preparation to earn the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) credential, a designation offered by the National Healthcareer Association. These prep programs are approximately three months long and will ready you to take the examination that earns this more advanced professional certification.

Why Not Begin Today?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that the medical assistant field is expected to grow faster (13.9% through 2032) than all other careers combined over the next decade, making this an ideal time to earn your degree or certificate. The BLS says medical assistants earn the most in outpatient care centers and hospitals, and with the kind of growth predicted for the profession, the time is right to seriously consider enrolling in an accredited program and preparing for a better future. We can help you find the right school—you’ll need to provide the ambitious and motivation to succeed.