A Beginner’s Guide on How to Become a Medical Assistant

The demand for healthcare workers (in all specialty fields) is at an all-time high, which means there’s never been a better time to start building your medical career.

If you want to break into the healthcare industry but don’t have formal medical education or experience, a medical assistant might be a great career option for you.

Medical assistants are at the core of all well-functioning healthcare organizations. If you’ve ever gone into a doctor’s office or some sort of health clinic (such as an imaging center, blood bank, etc.), you’ve probably already experienced medical assistance firsthand.

A fulfilling career field that always seems to have an abundance of open positions, medical assistance offers many benefits, including a rewarding career, an ever-growing job market, schedule flexibility, countless opportunities for career advancement, and a multitude of ideal job prospects for you to choose from.

What is a medical assistant?

A medical assistant is the glue of the office. 

They play a very important role in the medical field because they’re qualified to work in both a clinical and administrative role. They function both in a “front office” role and a “back office” role — so where do medical assistants work? You can find them at the front desk and in the exam room.

Think of the people working behind the front desk, helping you sign in, set up appointments, who follow up with you after appointments. Think of the people who lead you into the exam room and take your vitals before the doctor comes in.

Both of these roles (and many others) are performed by medical assistants; these healthcare professionals work with doctors and nurses to provide the highest quality of care to patients. 

What does a medical assistant do?

The duties and responsibilities of a medical assistant will vary, depending on the workflow of the office, the level of assistance needed by nurses and doctors, and where your strengths and weaknesses lie.

There are, however, some standard practices you can expect to engage in.

These responsibilities include:

  • Registering and checking-in patients
  • Scheduling appointments and following up
  • Billing and other office management duties
  • Performing routine service, such as measuring vitals
  • Assisting nurses and physicians with exams and procedures
  • Administering medications, IVs, and other injections
  • Recording patient history into electronic medical record systems (EMR)
  • Disinfecting and sterilizing medical instruments and equipment
  • Preparing samples to be sent to the laboratory

If this sounds like a job you’d be good at and enjoy, it’s time to become more familiar with the skills and education you’re going to need in order to build this career.

What kind of education do you need?

The good news is, there is no one kind of “medical assistant school,” so you have multiple education options available to choose from. In other words, if you don’t want to invest four years of time and an exorbitant amount of money into a college degree, you don’t have to (but we won’t judge if you do).

A formal education provided by an accredited institution or provider is required, and the three most popular options are four-year colleges, community colleges, and online learning providers (such as Health Tech Academy).

Before enrolling in a program, it’s important to confirm that you will be eligible for the CMA certification exam upon graduating, which most providers will either clarify in their description or be happy to provide if you reach out to their Admissions team.

Should I become certified as a medical assistant?

In most cases, you won’t be required to have a formal certification in order to be hired as a medical assistant. While some states do require medical assistants to be certified by an accredited institution or training provider, in the states where certification isn’t replied, you probably won’t run into a company expecting you to be certified.

It is important to note that many employers prefer certified medical assistants to those not certified, as certification shows the employer that you take initiative, are self-motivated, and that you’re driven to both excel on a personal level and succeed on a professional one.

While there are individual certification courses, the most effective way to earn a certification is to complete an approved training program — like Health Tech’s Medical Assistant Bootcamp — that will qualify you to become a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA).

Medical assistant career paths

Are medical assistants in demand? Absolutely. 

Just like with the majority of roles in the medical industry, medical assistants have a variety of specialty fields they get to choose from. Some of these medical assistant specialties include dermatology (skin), ophthalmology (eyes), chiropractic (neuromusculoskeletal system), pediatrics (children’s medicine), emergency medicine, family medicine, and more.

Should I become a medical assistant?

While plenty of people may want to pursue this career path, not all of them will, and even some of those that do, don’t have what it takes to fulfill this career’s responsibilities. It’s often not a measure of their capabilities, but their individual strengths and weaknesses. 

For instance, medical settings are often emotional and can be very high-stress. You’re working with a lot of different people in a lot of different capacities, and in addition to dealing with patients themselves, you also will be answering to and navigating nurses and physicians. So, someone who is uncomfortable around intense emotions, gets frustrated by people easily, or lacks stress management skills would not do well as a medical assistant.

Take the time to consider these aspects of the job and perform an honest (but not overly critical) self-assessment of your personality, soft skills, characteristics and more to better discern if medical assistance is an ideal career for you.

To better help you figure out what your next steps should be, we’re offering you a free career strategy session. You’ll have the opportunity to speak directly with one of our qualified career coaches who will help you more clearly identify your career goals as well as your next steps.

How to choose a medical assistant program

The good news is that most beginner-focused programs don’t expect or require their candidates to have prior industry knowledge or experience; the program itself is designed to provide foundational education and help you build your career from the ground up.

Some of the more advanced programs (such as a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or a more advanced bootcamp) might require a few prerequisites, such as a certain amount of years of experience, a certain field-relevant certification or a portfolio of past successful projects.

Which medical assistant training program is right for me?

Not all training programs are created equal.

Some programs are accredited (verified to meet a certain educational and/or industry standard), while others are not. Some programs qualify you to become a certified medical assistant, but others do not. Some programs incorporate hands-on training throughout the program, while others put your education to the test by throwing you into the deep end after graduation.

The truth is, there are a lot of great medical assistant training programs out there, but they’re not all going to be great for you personally. The best program for you is going to provide an ideal learning environment (online or in-person, depending on your preference), the level of support you need (self-teaching or one-on-one mentorship), and can fit into your lifestyle and schedule.

If you’d like some additional guidance as you navigate this discernment, send us a message.

Get a free strategy session today

Health Tech Academy’s Medical Assistant Bootcamp is designed to equip aspiring medical assistants with the education, skills, and experience they need to build a successful career.

This program begins with an expert instructor-led educational bootcamp; modules revolve around career-focused content and provide a direct insight into current industry trends. Upon completing the bootcamp, you’ll qualify for an apprenticeship where you’ll be given the opportunity to learn on-the-job clinical training. 

As you apply your knowledge to your practice, you’ll receive the resources you need to pass in order to pass a clinical competency checklist, which will earn you an industry-recognized certification. 

Upon completing this entire program, you’ll be fluent in:

  • Medical terminology, microbiology, phlebotomy, hematology, and pharmacology
  • How to take vital signs, provide wound care, assist providers
  • Administrative duties, such as data entry, billing, and record filing
  • Soft skills for interacting with patients, such as empathetic listening, clear communicating, and problem-solving
  • On-the-job training to prepare you for real-world scenarios

Schedule your free career strategy session today to speak with one of our expert coaches and concretely identify what your next professional steps should be.