How to Become a Medical Assistant

Medical assistants assist in the collecting and maintenance of medical records and most of them work in physician's offices, though they can also work in hospitals, specialized medical clinics and for insurance companies, and this article explains the educational requirements and provides advice for starting a career as a medical assistant.

Education and Certification

In the past, some medical assistants were hired directly from high school or from administrative assistant programs, and were trained as medical assistants. Though this can still occur, there will probably be fewer of these positions available as medical records become more centralized, stored online in a national health record or insurance record bank, which means that records will have to be kept consistently across all medical offices.

There is no required degree or certification for becoming a medical assistant. However, laws and licensing can vary from state to state, so possessing a nationally recognized credential is important for mobility purposes. There are one to two year programs for medical assistants, medical insurance coders, medical record administration and medical administrative services. The programs will have similar courses in physiology, pharmacology, collecting patient data, transcription, ethics and standards for health record keeping. If you have graduated from a recognized program, it will be easier for you to seek work in another clinic or in a hospital setting, or outside of your current state of residence, should you decide to relocate for work.

Once you have a one- to two-year degree as a medical assistant, you can pursue national certification with the American Association of Medical Assistants for their CMA credential. To obtain this credential, you need to graduate from a recognized program and pass the association's certification examination. Once you have passed, you are also eligible to take additional professional development from the association, which can increase your employment options.

Tips for Becoming a Medical Assistant

If you are currently in high school or upgrading, you should try to do well in your biology and chemistry courses, since these courses will provide the basis for your studies in physiology and pharmacology. Doing well in these courses will help in your application to a medical assistant's program.

Try to take a book keeping or medical records course while you are waiting for your acceptance into a medical assistant's program. As a medical assistant, you will be responsible for billing and medical records, so it would be helpful to have some exposure to these areas before looking for work in this field. If you find employment part-time handling medical records, transcription, book keeping or coding medical records for insurance purposes, all of this work is applicable when you decide to look for your first position as a medical assistant, and this work can help you pay the bills while you are completing your medical assistant's program.

You can also look for work that is transferrable. For example, working as an administrative assistant who handles appointments, keeps a schedule, organizes and locates records, answers queries in person, on the phone or via email, provides you will transferrable skills that you can apply to a doctor's clinic or hospital, and you can highlight this experience in your resume when you are applying for work as a medical assistant. Experience working in a hospital or with an insurance company is also an asset when applying for a medical assistant's position.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and because of the influx of stimulus money into standardizing medical records for access by any health care facility or insurance biller, medical assistants are expected to be amongst the fastest growing positions.