Below are the educational requirements to become a medical assistant (or even a certified clinical medical assistant):
High School Diploma or Equivalent
If you want to continue your career as a med assistant, at the very least you will need a high school diploma or GED.
Unfortunately, many employers will not consider you for a position without medical assistant certification, and training.
Interestingly, there are a few employers who offer on-the-job training. So, you should be able to find a handful of employers like this due to there being a high demand for medical assistants in the US.
Accredited Medical Assistant Programs
Once you have received a high school diploma or GED, you have a few training options available to you. One of these options is an online medical assistant program.
There are a large number of these programs online, but before you enroll, you need to make sure you are signed up for an accredited medical assisting program (or another one of the allied health education programs).
Otherwise, you will not be eligible to take one of the four medical assistant certification exams. Going through an online MA training program is the quickest and cheapest way to become a national certified medical assistant. This is because these courses take between four and nine months to complete, and usually cost between $2,000 and $5,000.
Degree and Certificate Programs
If you would prefer to receive more hands-on experience from a training program, then there are three options for you to choose from. These options include:
- Trade school medical assisting program
- MA certificate program from a community college
- Associate degree in medical assisting from a community college
Trade school medical assistant programs normally take nine months to complete but can be quite costly, as you will need to pay between $5,000 and $15,000 to get into a program.
At community colleges, you can choose between a certificate program, or an associate degree program. Certificate programs take about a year to complete, and cost between $5,000 and $10,000. Associate degree programs take two years to complete, and can cost between $7,500 and $25,000 per year.
Ultimately, the program you choose to go through is not extremely important, as you will only become a certified medical assistant once you have passed one of the certification exams.
All of these programs will include the same course material, just in varying degrees of detail. Normally the required courses for medical assistants include:
- Medical terminology
- Procedures at medical offices
- Medical laws and ethics
- Clinical tasks and procedures
- Anatomy and physiology
- Communication and interpersonal skills
If you get an associate degree in medical assisting, you will likely be required to get some hands-on training through a clinical externship to complete the program. Externships provide medical assistants with valuable hands-on experiences at places like medical offices, and other healthcare facilities.
If you go through a different program, you will need to find and apply for a clinical externship on your own. It’s worth noting that a clinical externship is not required for you to become a certified medical assistant, but it will help you when you start applying for jobs.
Scope of Practice
Most medical assistants help doctors with administrative and clinical tasks. However, their actual tasks and duties will differ, depending on the state they practice in and their specific employer.
There are some limitations that apply to what medical assistants can do regardless of the state they are in and who they are employed by, as even certified medical assistants are not able to:
- Attempt to diagnose patients in any way.
- Prescribe any medications to patients of their own accord.
- Explain to a patient what their test results mean.
- Treat patients in any way. (Some states will allow medical assistants to perform basic tasks like giving injections if they are trained to do so, and specifically told to do so by a physician).
Both certified medical assistants and non-certified medical assistants need to comply with The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). As a medical assistant, you will need to complete HIPAA training before starting your job. Complying with this act as a medical assistant means:
- Ensuring medical records are protected from unauthorized access.
- Protecting and regularly changing passwords used to access medical records.
- Never leaving your computer unattended when accessing medical records.
- Shredding sensitive paperwork that is no longer necessary.
- Ensuring keys to filing cabinets are kept safe.
- Sending sensitive information with a cover sheet and HIPAA disclosure documents.
Medical assistants will also need to both understand and comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations while on the job. Complying with OSHA as a medical assistant means:
- Ensuring exit routes are clear at all times in case of a fire. in some cases, medical assistants are also tasked with helping mobility-challenged patients get to these exits.
- Reporting any fire and electrical hazards to management, such as frayed wiring.
- Being cautious around medical equipment contaminated with blood, and knowing what to do in case you come into contact with it.
- Being cautious around areas exposed to radiation, and knowing how to protect yourself if exposure is unavoidable.
- Reporting work-related injuries and illnesses.
Washington is the only state that requires you to be a certified medical assistant in order to practice. However, some other states like Rhode Island, only require medical assistants to be certified if they want to perform certain tasks.
What is HIPAA, and why is it important for medical assistants to comply with it?
The HIPAA was created to ensure that patient information is properly stored via electronic health records. Medical assistants must comply with this act, as it ensures that sensitive patient medical records are kept safe so that the privacy of patients is not infringed upon.
What are OSHA regulations, and how do they apply to medical assistants?
The OSHA regulations relate to health and safety standards in the workplace. These regulations apply to medical assistants in the ways that we have mentioned above, but they basically relate to helping to make the workplace a safe environment.
What are some state-specific regulations for medical assistants?
Interestingly, in New Jersey, medical assistants only need to be certified in order to give injections. Whereas in New Mexico, even an uncertified medical assistant can perform almost any task if it has been delegated by a licensed provider. That licensed provider will also be held responsible for the delegated task if anything goes wrong.
Technically, all you need to become a medical assistant is a high school diploma or a GED if you want to practice in any state other than Washington. But, certification will allow you to perform more tasks in some states, and help with employment opportunities.
Some of the benefits that aspiring medical assistants may enjoy include a short training period, the ability to work in any state if you are certified, and decent working hours.
So, if you want to become a medical assistant, sign up for a medical assistant program, and get going, as there are jobs just waiting to be filled!