Medical assistants are allied health professionals who assist doctors at clinics, medical offices, and outpatient medical facilities. The main roles of them are collecting patient information, and preparing doctors and patients for medical visits.
Medical assistants work to fulfill these roles by taking the vital signs of patients, checking the height and weight of patients, scheduling appointments, organizing medical records, and more. For these reasons, they are incredibly important in the healthcare industry.
They often serve as the glue that holds a physician’s office together. This is because they liaise between medical staff and patients, and keep the required paperwork in check.
If you want to become a medical assistant, you should keep in mind that it will take between nine months and two years to complete a MA program, and then it will take less than a year to study for and take the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) exam.
Timeframe to Become a Medical Assistant
As noted above, the length of a med assistant program will differ, depending on the type of program you go through. It is also possible in some cases to get on-the-job training, which will usually be a lot quicker. Let’s jump into the length for various programs:
Online med assistant programs
One of the quickest and cheapest ways to achieve medical assistant certification is by going through an online training program. Online medical assisting programs often take between four and nine months to complete. However, there are some fast-track programs that will allow you to achieve medical assistant certification within six weeks.
Trade School med assistant training program
The medical assistant programs offered by trade schools last for about nine months. These programs are more comprehensive than online programs, as they provide hands-on training that will better prepare you for the job market.
Community college med assisting programs
The medical assistant training programs offered by community colleges are normally 12 months long. They usually provide both hands-on training, as well as some classroom time.
Community college Associate Degree in Medical Assisting
It is also possible to earn an associate’s degree in medical assisting from some community colleges. This is the longest type of medical assistant training program, as it takes two years to complete. This is also why it is also the most comprehensive program.
A large portion of the program consists of classroom time where topics like physiology, anatomy, administrative assisting, and clinical medicine will be covered. Hands-on training and laboratory classes will only take place during your externship near the end of the course.
Timeline for on-the-job training
The timeline for on-the-job training can vary hugely for medical assistants. This is because the actual tasks you will need to be trained to do will vary depending on your employer, and the facility you work at. On-the-job training for medical assistants can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few months.
It is important to note, though, that employers prefer candidates that have gone through a medical assistant program, and received certification.
Certification and licensing requirements
The only state that requires you to have medical assistant certification to practice is Washington. In every other state in the US, technically, the only qualification needed to practice as a medical assistant is a high school diploma or a GED.
As we mentioned above, employers will always prefer to hire certified medical assistants over less-qualified candidates. So, it will be in your best interests to become certified.
3 Factors Affecting Timeframe
There are quite a few factors that could affect how long it will take you to become a certified medical assistant.
Part-time versus full-time online education
If you decide to go through a medical assistant program on a part-time basis, it will take longer for you to complete it. Online medical assistant training programs provide students with the most flexibility. While it is possible to complete these courses in as little as four months, taking on an online program on a part-time basis will likely take you nine months to complete it.
Length of clinical externship
Clinical externships entail shadowing medical assistants while they work in order to gain experience in the industry. If you take on an associate’s degree at a community college, then your externship will likely be included in the two years it takes to complete the program.
However, if you decide to go through one of the other types of programs, you may need to find an externship on your own. Medical clinical externships are typically 100 hours long, and these hours are usually spread across a few weeks.
This means that in most cases a clinical externship will take around two months to complete.
Prior education and work experience
If you already have experience working as a medical assistant or in another similar role, you likely won’t need to complete an externship. This means you may be able to complete your medical assistant program around two months sooner.
Similarly, if you have completed another healthcare training program with similar coursework, you may be credited for it. This may reduce the amount of time you spend in the classroom and will allow you to complete your medical assistant program sooner.
How much do medical assistants earn?
The national average annual salary of a medical assistant in the US ranges between $35,671 and $41,780.
Are medical assistant courses difficult?
Not particularly, medical assistant training programs are much easier to complete than many other healthcare degrees and programs.
So, in closing, it will take you between a few months and 3 years to complete a medical assistant training program and become certified. However, it is still possible to pursue a career in medical assisting with only a high school diploma or a GED if you can find an employer willing to provide you with on-the-job training.
So, if you want to get into the healthcare industry without studying for years on end, you should become a medical assistant! It will allow you to help patients indirectly, and you’ll get to meet people from all walks of life.
If you want to learn more about what it takes to become a medical assistant, you should check out the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) for more information.