Career Guide | How to Become a Medical Assistant

medical assistant at work

When exploring new careers it can be helpful to understand the steps necessary to enter into a profession.

Explore this Career Guide:

About Medical Assistants

The primary function of medical assistants is to assist in the daily functions of healthcare facilities. The duties of a medical assistant are both administrative and clinical. Though some medical assistants can also specialize in certain areas of medicine as well like optometry or podiatry.

Different Kinds of Medical Assistants

Just like with any medical career, there are a lot of opportunities for specialization as a medical assistant. There are so many parts of the human body that need specialized attention from professionals with the right set of skills. These medical specialists also require the specialized help of medical assistants who know what they’re doing.

Administrative Medical Assistants

Medical assistants manage a lot of the office work around a medical facility. They are in charge of files, records, appointments, scheduling, and any other clerical type work that might need to be done.

  • record patient history
  • record patient personal info
  • schedule appointments
  • manage medical records
  • manage electronic health records (EHRs)
  • use EHR software
  • handle insurance forms
  • answer telephones
  • medical coding
Clinical Medical Assistants

Depending on where they work and how much training they have, medical assistants might also practice some basic medicine. Some medical assistants work in labs doing tests or doing minor procedures like changing bandages or drawing blood.

  • measure vitals, like blood pressure
  • help physicians perform routine exams
  • administer shots or medication
  • perform lab tests
  • clean medical equipment
  • x-rays
  • assist in surgeries
  • change bandages
  • draw blood
  • remove stitches
Other Medical Assistants

There are many different expertise within the medical field and medical assistants can specialize in many of them. Medical assistants can work in different fields of medicine, for different kinds of doctors, and for different types of healthcare facilities.

If you are interested in becoming a medical assistant and have an area of study you prefer, there’s a chance you could work for a doctor or medical facility that specializes in that area. Here are just a few examples of medical fields you could choose from:

  • Psychiatrist
  • Nephrologist
  • Optometrist
  • Dermatologist
  • Neurologist
  • Dentist
  • Pediatrician
  • Cardiologist
  • Obstetrician/Gynecologist

How to Become a Medical Assistant

To become a medical assistant you’ll need to learn about topics like anatomy, physiology, and chemistry. Start learning these topics while in high school by signing up for classes that can help you later in your medical assistant training.

Step 1: High School Diploma

The very first thing you’ll need to do in order to become a medical assistant is to finish high school. A career as a medical assistant is one of the few careers left that doesn’t require a college degree as a must-have. But that doesn’t mean you can forego your general education as well.

While many employers looking to hire medical assistants won’t care if you’ve been to college, they will care if you have a high school diploma or GED.

Step 2: Medical Assistant School

After you’ve received your high school diploma you can go straight to getting a job as a medical assistant. But if you really want to up your chances of getting a job, or to specialize in a certain area, then you can complete a medical assistant program.

Medical Assistant programs are only 1 to 2 years to complete. They’re short and focus on everything you will need to know how to do as a medical assistant.
Having a medical assistant program under your belt will make you exceptionally hirable. That, and the time and cost of medical assistant school are still a lot less than a 4-year college degree.

Step 3: Medical Assistant Certifications

As a medical assistant, some states or employers will require you to also receive a special medical assistant license or certification.

Medical assistants can get their certification with the National Commission for Certifying Agency. This agency offers the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA), Registered Medical Assistant (RMA), National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA), Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA), and the Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA).

How Long Does it Take to Become a Medical Assistant?

The career of a medical assistant is one job that doesn’t require a degree. No degree jobs are great for students who want to start their career path in medicine as soon as possible, or who don’t want to spend years of their lives and thousands of dollars on college.

You can potentially get a job as a medical assistant right after high school! This means it potentially takes no time at all to become a medical assistant.

You will of course need to be trained on-the-job as a medical assistant for whatever healthcare facility hired you, but a 4-year degree is not necessary.

How to Become a Certified Medical Assistant

Become a certified medical assistant by visiting the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) website to sign up to take the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) exam. Passing this exam is how you can become a certified medical assistant.

The CMA exam includes 200 questions that are given in 4 different 40 minutes time frames.

In order to qualify to take the CMA exam you will have to meet one of the following exam requirements: Be a student or graduate of a CAAHEP- or ABHES-accredited medical assisting program or be recertifying as a medical assistant.

How Much Does it Cost to Become a Medical Assistant?

Medical assistants can potentially get jobs without going to medical assistant schools. If you are able to get hired as a medical assistant without having to go to medical assistant school then becoming a medical assistant will cost you nothing!

More than likely you’ll still want to complete an accredited medical assistant program and get certified. The tuition for a medical assistant program ranges from $1,200 to $4,200. Basically, you’ll probably spend about the tuition costs of one or two semesters.

How to Become a Registered Medical Assistant

To become a registered medical assistant (RMA), you’ll want to take the RMA exam. Before you can take the RMA exam you’ll have to graduate from an accredited medical assistant program first.

You want your medical assistant program to be accredited with either the CAAHEP or the ABHES. The great thing about the RMA certification though, is that it’s flexible and available for some candidates who didn’t complete an MA program.

You can become a registered medical assistant if you’ve graduated from a US military medical program or if you have working experience already as a medical assistant. This flexibility is why many medical assists like to get their RMA.

How to Become a Medical Assistant Online

Find an accredited medical assistant program near you that also offers online courses. Many of them do! The Ultimate Medical Academy is one of these schools. You can take all your classes and exams online so you can get trained as a medical assistant from home.

The great benefit of online medical assistant classes is that you can take the course no matter where you are. This way you can even take a medical assistant course from a college or university that is out of state without having to move away for just a year or two.

How to Become a Medical Examiner Assistant

A medical examiner is a public officer who performs autopsies, postmortems, and investigates the cause of someone’s death. A medical examiner assistant is someone who assists a medical examiner to perform autopsies and sometimes work with organs and tissues.

To become a medical examiner assistant you’ll first need to learn the requirements of your state or potential employer. Some places will require you to have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, like biology, chemistry, or forensic science.

Medical examiner assistants also need to get licensed by the state board and become certified with the American Board of Pathology.

Medical Assist Program

A medical assist program or medical assist school is any program or school course that teaches students all they need to know to work as medical assistants. Medical assist programs and schools must also be accredited by the CAAHEP or the ABHES so that graduates can become certified, registered, and licensed medical assistants.

How Much Does A Medical Assistant Make?

Medical assistants make a median salary of $34,800 a year. According to recent studies, a medical assistant’s salary is about average for most Americans, leaning on above average. Medical assistants can expect to make anything between $25,820 and $48,720 a year in annual salary.


US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Medical Assistants.”

American Association of Medical Assistants. “How To Become A Certified Medical Assistant.”

Medical Assistant Career Guide. “How to Become a Registered Medical Assistant (RMA).” “Medical Administrative Assistant: Learn How We Can Help You Succeed.”

Career Trend. “How to Become a Medical Examiner Assistant,” by Megan Torrance.

Smart Asset. “The Average Salary by Age in the U.S.,” by Amelia Josephson.


written by Kimber Severance, Check City Copywriter

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