A career as a medical assistant will allow you to work in the exciting healthcare industry without going through a grueling four-year degree program. You can quickly enter the field and start working with patients and other medical professionals, preforming a range of duties in physician offices, outpatient care centers and hospitals. If, however, you want to improve your career potential then an associate’s degree in medical assisting may be for you.
Advantages to Earning an Associate Degree in Medical Assisting
What are the Requirements for Becoming a Medical Assistant?
Most states have no or few requirements for beginning a career in medical assisting, but you do need some level of education, training or both to get started. A lot of employers now require certification, often through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA).
One requirement of this certification is the completion of a post-secondary program approved by the proper accrediting agency. As you search through these programs, you’ll find those that take less than two years to complete and confer diplomas or certificates as well as two-year associate degree programs. The latter is not usually required, but there are some benefits to earning a degree that should be considered:
Get a more complete education.
A certificate or diploma program will be focused solely on the skills and knowledge needed to work as a medical assistant. An associate degree in medical assisting will include general education courses, such as math, English and communications. You’ll have a more well-rounded education. A broader college education will also equip graduates with stronger oral, written, and interpersonal communication skills, critical thinking skills, social and business skills which will be of lifelong value.
Beat the competition in the job market.
Depending on where you seek your first position as a medical assistant there may be some competition. Having a degree may give you a leg up over candidates with just a diploma or certificate. Many employers look for job candidates with well-rounded skills and a thorough education that includes more than just basic medical assisting skills. The degree conferred is typically an Associate of Applied Science in Medical Assisting or an Associate of Applied Science in Health Science with a specialty in Medical Assisting. This will look great on your resumé.
Continue your education.
One of the biggest benefits of choosing a degree program is that you can probably apply those credits toward a four-year degree in a related field. If you aren’t sure you want to stick with this career forever, a degree is a great steppingstone to more education and another career.
For example, you may want to consider transferring your skills to becoming an LPN or even an RN. The college credits you earn in your two-year associate degree program can count in programs for these qualifications.
You may also consider progressing to a four-year bachelor’s degree in healthcare management.
Enjoy more career options.
A degree can also help you advance within the medical assisting field. For instance, if you have a degree you may be eligible for leadership or management roles in a medical setting. As a medical assistant with a degree, you may also qualify for other jobs, including medical office administrative assistant or administrator, medical transcriptionist, medical office receptionist or medical assisting instructor.
Earn more money.
You are not likely to see any big difference in salary starting out as a medical assistant whether you have a degree or not. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, that’s around $16.16 per hour. Some employers may pay a little more for candidates who hold degrees. Annual salaries ranged from $29,070 to $48,170 as of May 2021, and one would hope that graduates of a degree program would have a better chance of getting to the higher end of this scale.
More importantly, having that degree gives you more options for advancement and changing careers, which means you can earn more in the future.
What are the Differences between a Certificate Program and an Associate’s Program?
Both program types will equip you to work as a medical assistant and will set you on course for national certification if approved by the appropriate agency. Neither will make you a certified medical assistant on completion. A further external exam is required.
The core coursework content will also be broadly similar: both will prepare you in anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, clinical procedures, medical billing and insurance coding, computer healthcare administration applications, patient safety, specimen collection, medical ethics, patient privacy and other administrative aspects of the role of the medical assistant. You can expect the associate degree program to provide more depth in each of these areas of study.
The key difference is that an associate program will provide a broader education with additional general education coursework that will include humanities (such as English, Sociology, Psychology and Behavioral Sciences), Mathematics and Communications. There may also be a requirement to take additional healthcare electives. In many ways, an education that goes beyond the purely vocational is what going to college should be all about.
For this reason, an associate’s degree will typically take two years, while diploma or certificate programs may be completed in months. Added to this, you can expect an associate program in medical assisting to cost significantly more than a certificate program.
In deciding what type of program to complete for your career as a medical assistant, keep these factors in mind. It will cost more money now, and take longer, to complete a degree, but if you are hoping for advancement in your career, that degree is essential.