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How to Become a Medical Assistant

Are you trying to figure out how to become a medical assistant? It can be tough when you aren’t quite sure where to look. Luckily for you, becoming a certified medical assistant is a very straightforward and easy process, as long as you are committed.

Certified medical assistants are extremely important to our healthcare industry, and they perform quite a few vital tasks. Keep reading to find out exactly what they do and how you can become a certified medical assistant.

What Is a Certified Medical Assistant?

A certified medical assistant is a person who has been awarded certification in medical assisting by a professional organization, like the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). You can become a medical assistant without being certified, but being certified helps get you jobs.

Certified medical assistants are the people who work in clinical settings and help doctors by performing a wide range of duties that others do not have time to complete. Certified medical assistants are responsible for administrative duties and some patient care.

What Does a Certified Medical Assistant Do?

Certified medical assistants perform many tasks that help tremendously in keeping a hospital running smoothly. They basically take over all of the tasks that do not require a nursing or doctoral degree and that nurses and doctors do not have time to do. This includes all of the following.

Schedule Appointments

Obviously, before people visit a doctor they need to make appointments. Since doctors have so much going on in their day, certified medical assistants answer phone calls and schedule appointments for them.

Assist Physicians with Basic Procedures

As a certified medical assistant, you will learn how to perform very basic procedures including taking vitals, drawing blood, and preparing lab samples. You may also be asked to change the dressing on a wound and to educate patients about their diagnosis and/or medication.

Handle Paperwork

Somebody has to handle all of the paperwork for any job, and certified medical assistants get to do so in clinical settings. They are responsible for everything from maintaining medical records to processing insurance claims.

Essential Certified Medical Assistant Skills

Organization and Cleanliness

Certified medical assistants work with a lot of people and important documents, so being able to stay organized is extremely important. Paperwork must be kept organized and easy to understand, and you must practice good hygiene to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria.

Administrative Abilities

Since certified medical assistants are responsible for so many administrative tasks, they need to have the ability to successfully complete these tasks. Everything from paperwork to scheduling to acting as a receptionist falls on the shoulders of medical assistants, and knowing how to complete these tasks is crucial.

Knowledge of Basic Medical Procedures

Medical assistants will often help doctors perform basic medical procedures, and this is definitely something to know prior to the job rather than learning on the spot. Being able to say you know how to draw blood, clean and bandage wounds, and take vitals will be huge in helping you score a job.

Certified Medical Assistant Salaries and Job Outlook

Certified medical assistants earn between $25,800 and $48,700 per year. Your salary will vary based on where you are hired and how much experience you have under your belt. Luckily, most medical assistants use the job as a way to get into the field, so most employers do not expect you to have much experience.

The average pay in the United States for a certified medical assistant is around $34,800 per year. While this is not the highest annual salary you can earn, it is a decent salary for a job that is designed to simply help you get a foot in the door of the medical field.

Due to the aging baby boomer population, certified medical assistants are needed now more than ever. It is common knowledge that people require more medical assistance as they age and the massive baby boomer population is reaching that age. This means a lot of new and frequent patients.

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics is predicting a 23 percent growth in certified medical assistant positions by 2028. Compared to the average growth of five percent for most other occupations, this growth is very high, which means there will be countless job positions to fill.

While all medical assistants will have a good chance of finding jobs, that chance is even higher when they are certified and familiar with electronic health records. These are not requirements for finding a job, but having both of those on your resume will blow away any competition.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Medical Assistant? 

Becoming a certified medical assistant is a career that you can get into relatively quickly. Including both the training courses and time spent studying for the exam, it takes most people anywhere from nine months to three years.

The training program you must complete will take the most time. Depending on what program you enroll in and where it is offered, you will be able to complete it in as little as nine months or as long as two years. There may be an option for accelerated programs if you are interested in getting it done faster.

After the training program, many people spend a few months to a year preparing for the exam. However, this time is not necessary, and some take the exam as soon as they complete the training program. This is up to your personal preferences.

How to Become a Certified Medical Assistant: A Step by Step Guide

In order to become a certified medical assistant, you will need to meet a few requirements. Follow the below steps for the easiest path.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma or GED

This is the first step for pretty much every career. Earning your high school diploma or a GED is required to enter any college program. For certified medical assistants, it is a good idea to take any courses in high school that relate to your career goals, like anatomy and finance.

If possible, it is also recommended that high school students try to volunteer or even get an internship in a clinical setting to start gaining job experience. No program or job is going to deny you if you do not have this on your resume, but it definitely helps increase your chances.

Step 2: Complete a Medical Assistant Program

Medical assistant programs are offered through many different schools, but you need to be sure the one you enroll in is approved. If your program has not been approved by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES), you will not be eligible to take the exam.

Most accredited programs are associate degrees and will cover studies in human anatomy, medical terminology, first aid, lab techniques, computer competency, and insurance processing. Students will also likely complete a practicum to test their abilities to use their education in the real world.

Step 3: Take (and Pass) Certified Medical Assistant Exam

To become certified, you must take and pass the certified medical assistant exam. The most common exam to take is through the American Association for Medical Assistants (AAMA), but there are other versions available through the CAAHEP and the ABHES.

The exam you will take consists of 200 multiple-choice questions. You are given up to three chances to pass the exam, but nearly 62 percent of candidates pass on their first try. As long as you study hard, you should have no trouble passing.

Step 4: Maintain AAMA Certification

To maintain your AAMA certification, you will need to retake the exam or take 60 continuing education units every five years. While this may not seem important now, it is something you will want to keep in mind so you can stay sharp and prepared throughout your career.

Should You Become a Certified Medical Assistant?

Whether you are planning to be a certified medical assistant for life or just long enough to make it further in your medical career, this is a great career choice. The work is satisfying, as you are able to help not only patients but doctors as well.


Do certified nursing assistants or certified medical assistants get paid more?
Medical assistants get paid more than nursing assistants because they work directly with doctors while nursing assistants work more with nurses.
Is a certified medical assistant a nurse?
No, medical assistants are not nurses. While they do help perform similar tasks to what nurses do, they do not have nearly enough training to be considered a nurse. Nurses are also entrusted with a lot more work that is much more difficult.
Can you go from a certified medical assistant to a registered nurse?
Yes, you can. There are many certified medical assistant to registered nurse programs available, many of them accelerated due to their background in the medical field.
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