Medical assistants are very important within the healthcare industry. As the name suggests, they assist doctors by carrying out administrative and clinical tasks. This includes things like greeting patients, updating medical histories, and taking blood for tests.
The tasks involved are very varied and you need to be well-prepared to enter this field of work. That’s why finding the right medical assisting school is crucial.
In this guide, we’ll cover the things you need to consider before you choose a medical assisting school. We’ll also take a look at how to properly research a school and give you some tips on making your decision.
7 Factors To Consider When Choosing A Medical Assistant School
The medical assisting program that you choose should have some form of accreditation. This ensures that the program will have high educational standards, institutional accountability, and professional training.
One of the most widely recognized organizations is the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). The US Secretary of Education approves this organization as a non-profit, private, and independent organization.
If you’re planning to take a national certification exam once you’ve completed the medical assistant program, then the course you take needs to be accredited. Although you don’t need certification to go into medical assisting, it will significantly improve your job prospects.
This is because employers are much more likely to trust your abilities if you hold a medical assisting certificate.
In order to take the CMA exam which is issued by the American Association of Medical Assistants, the program you choose must be accredited by the ABHES or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
If you choose a medical assisting program that isn’t accredited by either organization then there will still be certification options available to you, such as:
- National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) accreditation from the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)
- Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) accreditation from American Medical Technologists (AMT)
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) from the National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
When choosing your medical assisting program, bear in mind that not all accreditations are respected in the field. Some organizations, known as accreditation mills, may give this program that essentially means nothing. So, be sure to steer clear of these programs.
2. Program length and structure
Both the length and structure of medical assisting programs vary depending on the type of program you choose. The two most popular options are to enroll in a medical assisting certificate program or an associate degree.
A medical assisting certificate program gives you all the medical assistant training you need to work in the field and take a certification exam. The length of these courses usually ranges from several weeks to a year. These programs teach you through a combination of medical assistant classes and hands-on training.
If you already have some experience working as part of a healthcare team, then a shorter course may be best for you. If you’re completely new to the medical field, then a longer course might be a better option.
A medical assisting associate degree usually takes around two years. There are two types of associate degrees for prospective medical assistants to choose from:
- Associate of Science (AS) degree: this is best for students who plan to take a four-year degree at a college in the future.
- Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree: this is designed to prepare students to find a job as soon as they leave medical assistant school.
3. Curriculum and course offerings
The ideal curriculum for you depends on your career plans. If you’re planning to take the CMA exam after graduating then you need a curriculum that will prepare you for it. The subjects covered on the exam are:
- Medical terminology
- Patient relations
- Clinical procedures
- Lab procedures
- First aid
- Office practices
So, prospective medical assistants who want to take the CMA exam need to make sure all of these subjects are covered in the curriculum.
As well as checking the accreditation of the medical assisting program, there are other questions you should ask an admissions representative. For instance, you can ask them how many of their graduates go on to pass the CMA exam.
4. Clinical experience and externship opportunities
One of the most important things to consider when choosing a medical assisting program is the hands-on experience you’ll gain. This experience is usually gained via an externship in an ambulatory healthcare setting. Any reputable medical assistant program will offer supervised, unpaid externships.
The healthcare facilities where these take place include physicians’ offices, hospitals, and clinics. If you do well during your externship then it could lead to a job offer at the end of your medical assisting program.
There are also some certification boards that require medical assistants to have completed an externship before they can become certified. This includes both American Medical Technologists and the American Association of Medical Assistants.
If a medical assistant program doesn’t offer externships then you need to ask how they give their students hands-on clinical experience. This experience is absolutely vital for the progression of your medical assistant career.
5. Faculty and staff qualifications
You should also consider how qualified the faculty and staff are at any prospective school. Many schools require their staff to have an associate degree and to be certified by a widely recognized accreditation organization, such as the AAMA. They also usually require their staff to have several years of experience in the field.
A medical assistant program has little chance of properly training its students if the teaching staff aren’t properly qualified for the role. You should be able to find out a school’s staff qualification requirements by visiting its website.
6. Student-to-faculty ratio
It’s a great idea to find out how many staff there are per student in the medical assisting program that you’re interested in. If there is a very large number of students and only a small number of staff, then you’ll probably get very little one-on-one time with the program leaders.
Generally, it’s best to find a school that has relatively small classes. This way, you can ensure that you’ll have good access to your instructors whenever you have any concerns or questions.
7. Cost and financial aid options
The costs of a medical assisting program will most likely have a big impact on your decision-making. Remember, the costs don’t just include the tuition fees. You also need to take into account the costs of books, living expenses, and school supplies.
You might be able to work during the classroom stage of the program but not when you’re doing your externship or practicum.
Many schools offer financial aid options. So, be sure to enquire about this when researching the course.
Researching And Evaluating Schools
The quickest and easiest way to research medical assistant schools is to do so online. You can visit the websites of many different schools and find detailed information about all aspects of the programs they offer.
You’ll also be able to find contact information for the schools so that you can ask any questions you have.
Campus visits and open houses
Before deciding on a medical assisting school, you should make sure that you visit it. This is the best way for you to make a detailed evaluation of its suitability. To do this, find out when the school is hosting open houses and campus visits. You can use these visits to assess the school’s equipment, facilities, and atmosphere.
It will also allow you to interact with the staff and students that you’ll be working with during your medical assisting program.
Talking to current and former students
Try to speak to medical assistants who took the course you’re interested in, as well as current students. They’ll be able to tell you all about the program including its strengths and weaknesses.
You can ask them how satisfied they are with the program and what tips they could give you if you were to enroll.
Consulting with industry professionals
Medical assisting professionals are some of the best people for you to speak to about a school. As industry insiders, they’ll be aware of the reputation of medical assistant schools and the programs that they offer. This means they can tell you whether a specific medical assisting school or program is a good choice.
You can also ask industry professionals how likely they would be to hire graduates from a certain school. This will give you an idea of how much a specific school can enhance your career prospects.
3 Tips For Making A Decision
1. Prioritizing personal preferences and goals
Whichever medical assisting school and program you choose, it needs to be the perfect fit for you. You need to decide what your preferences are and the goals that you want to achieve. Then, you need to ensure that the school you choose will actually help you to achieve these goals.
2. Weighing the pros and cons of each option
There’s no such thing as a perfect school and there will always be both positives and negatives. Make sure that you go in with your eyes wide open. You need to be aware of any downsides to the school as much as any upsides before making your decision.
3. Considering the long-term benefits of each school
A medical assisting school isn’t just there to teach you about things like medical terminology. It also exists to prepare you for a long career in the medical assisting field. So, you need to weigh up how each school will be beneficial to you in the long term.
One school may have really high-quality externships that are likely to lead to job offers. Another may be renowned for the quality and experience of its faculty who can then impart knowledge to you.
You need to consider in which ways the school is going to help you have a successful future in the industry.
The medical assistant school you choose will have a big impact on your future career. This is why it’s so important that you make the right decision. If you want to gain certification at the end of your medical assisting program then you need to make sure the school is accredited.
You also need to be certain that it provides you with the right level of hands-on experience. Be as thorough as possible with your research and compare many different options. This is the best way to find the medical assistant school that’s perfect for your needs.
Do medical assistants need to have good communication skills?
Yes, a medical assistant needs to have excellent communication skills. This is because you’ll be communicating with nurses, doctors, and patients on a daily basis. You need to be able to relay medical information clearly and concisely. You also need to be able to listen and pay attention to complex information.
What skills does a medical assisting student need to have?
The skills you’ll need as a medical assisting student are usually divided into two categories, hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are the technical skills you need and soft skills are what are often referred to as ‘people skills’. Soft skills include things like bedside manner, empathy, organization, active listening and problem solving.
Hard skills include things such as office skills, medical administration, vital signs and basic procedures, infection control, and CPR.
What is the annual salary of a medical assistant?
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for medical assistants is $38,190. However, this is greatly affected by which state you work in. For example, the mean annual wage in California is $44,780.