Medical assistant training programs normally last from 9 to 24 months, ending in a certificate or associate’s degree in medical assisting. These programs are geared for the quick accumulation of job-related skills, including the basic medical procedures, sciences and terminology necessary for the occupation. Programs can be found at career colleges, trade schools and health care institutes. (See a list of popular medical assisting programs here.)
Most medical assistant programs train students for both the clerical and the clinical aspects of the job, though it’s also common to find programs geared especially for one or the other.
Medical Assisting Course Content
Courses can vary from school to school, but typical medical assistant class subjects include subjects such as anatomy and physiology, medical terminology and minor clinical procedures, as well as administrative skills such as bookkeeping and medical transcription.
Students who have taken high school courses in similar topics — health, biology, typing, bookkeeping — and those who have volunteered in hospitals have a distinct advantage in medical assistant programs. More information on specific course content can be found at What is a Medical Assisting Program Like, and specific course descriptions can be found at Medical Assistant Classes.
Most programs include a classroom portion, where students participate in a lecture and take notes, and a laboratory portion where they apply the subjects they learn in a hands-on, simulated clinical setting. Programs typically end in a clinical externship, where the student works for a period of several weeks in a live medical environment, performing the job functions expected of a medical assistant under the supervision of a physician or nurse.
Here you can find out more about what a medical assisting program is like.
Medical Assistant Certification
Upon graduation from a medical assistant program, students may choose to earn professional certification as a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) by taking a test administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), or one of several other certifying organizations. This certification is optional, but greatly beneficial in finding employment and advancing.
To be elligible for this certification, the student must have graduated from a program accredited by one of the two organizations that accredit medical assisting programs. These organizations are:
- The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
- The Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
After graduating, completing the externship and receiving optional certification, medical assistants are fully prepared to find entry-level employment. (see: medical assistant job description) A step-by-step guide to the entire process can be found at How to Become a Certified Medical Assistant.