Becoming a certified medical assistant (CMA) can be an exciting and rewarding career move. Here is a simple, 5-step guide to getting your medical assistant training and finding employment to become a certified medical assistant.
1. Enroll in an accredited medical assistant school – The first step in becoming a medical assistant is enrolling in a professional medical assistant training program at a college, junior college or career school. These programs provide the medical and professional background skills needed for a productive career in medical assisting. (see: medical assistant job description)
Any professional medical assistant training will prepare you for entry-level employment, but to ensure you receive the best training and have the best opportunities for advancement, it is recommended that you enroll in a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). This accreditation will ensure you can receive your certification later on. Though certification is optional, it is a good step to take in your professional career. See our list of popular medical assistant schools for more information on training.
2. Complete the curriculum of medical assisting classes – Your training as a medical assistant will involve hands-on medical subjects such as patient care, lab procedures, first aid and minor clinical procedures, as well as medical office skills such as recordkeeping, terminology, transcription and insurance processing. In some cases it may also cover phlebotomy (drawing blood) and radiology. Click to see a detailed description of some of these classes. These classes will provide you with real-world skills you can apply directly to a medical work environment, as well as the background knowledge you’ll need to become an expert in your field. (see: what is a medical assistant program like?)
3. Do the medical assisting externship to graduate – most medical assisting programs end in a clinical externship, where the student uses the skills and knowledge learned in the classroom portion to perform the duties of a medical assistant in a real-world medical setting. The medical assisting student works under the supervision of a nurse, manager or head medical assistant, who reports their performance back to the instructor to contribute to the final grade. The externship normally lasts from a few weeks to a few months, and in some cases the medical assistant may return to the externship site after graduation to work as a full-time staff member.
4. Become certified – After graduation, medical assistants often choose to become certified. Certification is voluntary, though certified medical assistants generally earn more, advance faster, and are hired more quickly than medical assistants who choose not to become certified.
Medical assistant certification usually involves passing an examination administered by a certifying organization, such as the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), American Medical Technologists (AMT), or another organization. Details on becoming certified can be found at the certifying organization’s web site.
5. Look for employment as a certified medical assistant – Medical assistants can find employment in the same places other jobs are found, such as job boards, online job sites and classified ads. For more information on medical assistant job hunting, see our article on 10 places to find medical assistant jobs.