Medical assistants help physicians and other health care specialists with office duties and clinical work. In large offices, some assistants specialize in the administrative tasks, while others become clinical medical specialists, preparing rooms and patients for procedures and helping with patient care within the boundaries of state law. Although some medical assistants learn on the job, many positions require post-secondary classes. Assistants can also take an examination for national certification.
High School Classes
A career as a medical assistant requires a minimum education of a high school diploma or the equivalent. While still in high school, take classes in both business and science. Suggested courses include math, biology, health science, computers, keyboarding and accounting. Volunteer in a hospital, clinic or doctor's office to get experience working in health care.
Medical Assistant Courses
After high school, enter a medical assisting training program. Although some assistants learn on the job working with an experienced medical assistant, many offices prefer candidates with formal training. You can find medical assisting classes in vocational schools, colleges and community colleges. Certificate programs usually last one year. If you wish to become certified, take a two-year associate degree program accredited by the the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. In addition to business classes like keyboarding and medical insurance procedures, you will study subjects like medical terminology, clinical procedures, medical law and ethics, pharmacology, anatomy, physiology and first aid.
Formal educational programs in medical assisting usually include a period of clinical practice in a doctor's office or other heath facility. For example, Virginia College grants six credit hours toward its Associate Degree in Medical Assisting for a required externship class, in which students do clinical work in a variety of health facilities.
Becoming certified will help further your career as a medical assistant. The American Association of Medical Assistants offers the Certified Medical Assistant certification to those who complete its requirements. In addition to completing an accredited program and clinical work in medical assisting, you must pass the CMA examination. Every five years, you must renew your certification through continuing education classes or by passing another exam.
Other Certifying Organizations
In addition to the AAMA, other professional organizations offer certification to medical assistants who complete their education and examination requirements. These include the American Medical Technologists and the National Registry for Medical Assisting. In addition, assistants in podiatrists' offices can apply for certification from the American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants.
2016 Salary Information for Medical Assistants
Medical assistants earned a median annual salary of $31,540 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, medical assistants earned a 25th percentile salary of $26,860, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $37,760, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 634,400 people were employed in the U.S. as medical assistants.