How to Become a Medical Assistant
Doctors and surgeons tend to get all the glory when critical care is portrayed in books or in television and movies, but everyone in healthcare knows that the true heroes are the nurses, orderlies and medical assistants. These professionals may not dominate the headlines or steal the cinematic scenes, but they are the scaffolding that keeps hospitals and other care centers from crumbling.
If the dictionary ever adds an official entry for "essential workers," rest assured that there will be a picture of a medical assistant alongside the definition. Healthcare doesn’t heal or care without them. That’s because a medical assistant handles the essential clinical and administrative work that keeps hospitals, medical offices, and clinics running smoothly. Duties can include taking medical histories, recording patients’ vital signs, administering medications under a physician’s supervision, scheduling appointments, handling billing, and more.
If you’re dreaming of a rewarding career that positively affects lives, becoming a medical assistant is a great choice. And a necessary one: The aging U.S. population will require a major influx of medical workers in the coming decade; approximately 2.4 million additional healthcare workers are expected to join the workforce before 2029, which is much faster than the average for all other occupations. Demand is high, and barriers to entry are comparatively low.
If deploying a wide range of skills, both people-focused and administrative, appeals to you, you might have questions about how to become a medical assistant), including how long does it take to become a medical assistant, what credentials do you need to become a medical assistant, and how long is a medical assistant program. Read on for more details about what to expect if you pursue education toward becoming a medical assistant.
What Credentials Do You Need to Become a Certified Medical Assistant?
To become a certified medical assistant, you need a high school diploma or equivalent, and proper training is required. How long depends on certain state regulations, but schooling can often be completed in less than a year. Florida, for instance, requires 900 hours of coursework and clinical experience to obtain medical assistant certification. For full-time students, this equates to roughly eight to 10 months of daily weekday classes. The curriculum is intensive because of the life-and-death nature of the business: Medical assistants must be able to prove that they can effectively handle all the nuances of providing care for a wide spectrum of patients.
What Are the Responsibilities of a Medical Assistant?
The duties of a medical assistant vary on a daily basis: If you like variety in your work, this is a profession that requires a nimble and flexible mindset because each day is different — in the morning, you’re aiding physicians with clinical procedures, and in the afternoon, you’re completing front-office administrative tasks. Or vice-versa. There’s rarely a set schedule, and that variety is a quality many medical assistants love about their profession.
As a certified medical assistant, you’ll have plenty of responsibilities when it comes to keeping your medical office running smoothly. After going over the day’s schedule of patients with the physician, you may need to fill out important forms, complete documentation and begin studying patient charts, restock any necessary supplies and get examination rooms ready. At any time, expect to be called on to help out with urgent administrative duties, such as responding to emails, setting appointments or sending faxes on behalf of physicians or other staff members.
Most important, you’ll act as the face of the practice or clinic when you greet patients, update charts, take vital signs and prepare the patients for whatever exam or procedure they’re undergoing. Once the patient leaves, you’ll transport any specimens you’ve collected to the lab for analysis. The more experience you gather, the more responsibilities you may be able to take on. Eventually, you may be tasked with starting IV drips, assisting with clinical trials or even negotiating supply contracts.
How Long Is a Medical Assistant Program?
The breadth of a medical assistant’s responsibilities means the majority of healthcare organizations and doctor’s offices prefer to hire certified medical assistants, which makes finding the right certification program such an instrumental early step in your career journey.
Community colleges and vocational schools are two popular options for attending certification classes. The best programs will teach you a host of front-office and back-end procedures to help round out your knowledge base — everything from digital charting and inventory control to drawing blood and reading vital signs. Ideally, the instructors will be active medical assistants, and you’ll have access to a simulated doctor’s office on campus as you practice the craft.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Medical Assistant?
Medical assistant programs at vocational schools typically take anywhere from nine months to one year due to their specialized nature, whereas obtaining an associate’s degree via community college can take two years due to the added element of general education coursework. Whichever route you choose, be sure to inquire about VA benefits or financial aid to help fund your education. Money is often there for the taking.
While in the program, you’ll learn critical life-saving procedures and earn certifications in several areas of expertise, including phlebotomy, EKG and basic life support. You’ll study insurance verifications, medical coding and how to use office software. Best of all, most schools have established relationships with healthcare organizations and physician’s offices and can help place you in a new career immediately upon receiving your certification. Want to know more about how we can help you fulfill your dreams of becoming a medical assistant? Visit our form to request more information, and we’ll be in touch soon!