How To Become a Medical Assistant
Are you looking for a career in health care? Are you interested in working with patients, doctors, nurses and other health care professionals? Medical assistants are high in demand, finding employment across the United States in a variety of settings. Medical assistants are hired to work in medical offices, hospitals, urgent care centers, insurance companies and more. Students interested in a medical assisting career
can be trained and ready for work in less than two years on average.
Current popularity is soaring to grasp the medical degree of a certified medical assistant. Not to mention, a large salary, plenty of employee benefits, job security, with room to grow. According to the BLS, or the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 180,000 jobs are making way for new medical assistants in the US between 2016-2026, with an average hourly wage of over $14/per hour, primarily based on experience and location of course. However, the average wage is accompanied by employment benefits such as health and dental insurance, vacation pay, retirement benefits, and more. Not everyone has the skillset to work in the medical field, but if you find yourself dedicated and service orientated, becoming a certified assistant might be just the job for you.
What is a Medical Assistant
Medical assistants are trained health care providers who work closely with patients, nurses and doctors providing assistance with medical care, procedures, patient education and other duties associated with running a medical office. Medical assistants perform duties such as obtaining vital signs, taking a patient’s medical history, assisting with procedures, giving injections, managing equipment and medical supplies. They also perform administrative tasks such as maintaining patient charts, medical billing, managing medical records and filing insurance claims.
Choosing a Medical Assisting Career
Individuals who have an eye for detail, are able to follow both written and verbal directions, possess good communication skills and the ability to learn technical skills, such as giving injections and assisting with medical procedures, should consider a career in medical assisting. There are different types of medical assistants including both administrative and clinical medical assistants. Clinical medical assistants typically work directly with patients and health care providers assisting with more hands-on care where administrative medical assistants provide assistance running the practice by handling and completing paperwork, performing medical billing and coding, obtaining insurance approvals, and other general operations of the medical office.
Medical Assistant Education Requirements
Although there are no formal education requirements for medical assistants in many states, most employers prefer to hire those who have successfully completed a medical assisting training program. Medical assisting courses and training is offered as a certificate or diploma program and as an associate degree. These training programs are offered through most community colleges, technical schools, vocational training centers and universities. Training programs vary from one to two years on average. High school students interested in pursuing a career in medical assisting should take biology, anatomy and chemistry classes in high school to help prepare for their medical education and career. Medical assisting training programs include both classroom and laboratory portions which provide the student with both the knowledge and skills required to be a successful medical assistant.
Salary of a Medical Assistant
It’s important when deciding whether or not to pursue a career of becoming a medical assistant to know if the cost of an education in the field is worth it. This factor can be incredibly delicate since it can decide whether or not you make it or break it career wise. In most high medical locations, housing can be expensive and without a high paycheck you may end up losing yourself in bills. Aside from that, you’ll find medical assistants earn a median salary of $34,000 and more experienced assistants earn roughly $45,000.
Medical Assistant Job Outlook
The BLS states that the demand in medical assistant is to grow about 29 percent from 2016 to 2026. Due to this high demand, healthcare occupations are to grow nearly 25 percent as well. The main reasons behind this job growth are increasing medical care availability to the general public, the growing age of baby boomers, and the rise of medical documentation requirements.
The Paths to Becoming a Medical Assistant
There are three main categories when entering the assisting medical field: hybrid programs, unofficial on-the-job training, and on campus training. Although you can become a medical assistant with only a GED or high school diploma on hand, employers look for more serious applicants with medical assistant certifications. The most popular places to search for accredited programs include the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).
Step 1. Training
Option 1. On Job Training and Education
By first becoming a medical assistant, you’ll experience an easier time applying to other medical related jobs since you’ll be able to add experience while making money. However, you may find that doctors are more likely to hire medical assistants with prior certifications and experience. You’ll find yourself in more job interviews by:
– Gaining a GED or high school diploma. This is the single-handedly most basic educational requirement for assistants. If you don’t have either one prior, you can easily obtain it by attending a GED prep class and passing the examination.
– Try to find a doctor willing to provide training. Most employers are more likely to hire medical assistants with extended experience, some may provide on-site training to the right applicants. When asking doctors for training, it’s important to stress your dedication and passion for working under their skill. In addition, if you are accepted, you will have better knowledge with hands-on training under the direction of trained doctors, nurses, and many other medical professionals.
Option 2. Formal Training With an Accredited Program
There are plenty of technical schools, colleges, and universities to choose from to get proper medical assistant training. The two main choices they offer is a basic diploma or certificate within 9-12 months of training or completing an associate’s degree in 18-24 months. In addition to an externship program, you will be taught via classroom and laboratory training. No matter which school you choose to attend, if you plan to become a Certified Medical Assistant post graduation, be sure to choose an ABHES or CAAHEP accredited program.
On-Campus Training Programs
A much more traditional approach includes on-campus programs which require you to regularly attend classes and laboratory sessions. It may be tougher for people without a flexible schedule due to set school schedules which cycle throughout the day, afternoon, and evening.
Among the advantages include access to assistance and campus resources as well as a much more highly structured learning environment. Not to mention, more opportunities to talk amongst other medical students and one-on-one time with instructors.
Unfortunately, if you lack a flexible schedule you may have a hard time keeping up with the schedule. Especially if the constant cycling of classes doesn’t accommodate you family or work life, you might lose excess money in commuting to and from classes.
Online Training Programs
Online training classes are the more popular learning environment since you can take them right at home in your pajamas. Although you will still be required to complete an externship before graduating, this may be a better choice for students currently fulfilling a full or part-time job while caring for their families.
By learning online you will have a wider range of access to online tech and resources, not to mention, you’ll have a more flexible schedule by being able to complete your studies from anywhere.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of structure in some online courses, you may find yourself discouraged and end up leaving the course before it is completed. In addition, if you need to work more one-on-one with a professor or schedule an externship you’ll need to head down to a physical setting.
Hybrid Training Programs
Hybrid training programs include popular online courses with included lab training on campus. This allows students more flexibility to work on classwork online while reducing their commute.
By adding flexibility to student’s work life, they can reduce their commuting cost and increase their access to online resources while still offering interaction with other students and teachers.
Combines flexibility and interaction with teachers and other students
Among the biggest disadvantages of hybrid training programs include the higher level of motivation and less flexibility of scheduling online programs to complete for graduation.
Step 2. Get Certified
Becoming certified may not be a requirement, but it is recommended to be considered for employment. By becoming a Certified Medical Assistant, or CMA, you’ll be offered higher pay with more job security. However, in order to be eligible to partake in the CMA exam, you have to first complete a medical assistant training program by an accredited school. The exam costs between $95 to $195 and is offered in January, June, and October every year.
Don’t forget to study up before the exam as well. Most exam prep programs are either free or offered at a low price to help you score well. The American Association of Medical Assistants also offers practice exams and study resources to give you extra help.
Step 3. Writing a Resume
Now that you have completed your training and gotten you certifications, it is time to create the perfect resume. Your cover letter and resume will be your first chance to make a professional first impression on your potential employer. Take your time to craft a resume that will make you look qualified, experienced, and desirable to your new employer.
When creating a resume and cover letter, brevity is key. Try to limit both documents to one page. Though they should be short, you also need to be sure that you are providing enough information about your qualifications. You should also try to use healthcare industry terminology when describing your skills and keywords that will make your resume stand out from the crowd.
When writing your cover letter, make sure you do a little bit of research before hand on your prospective employers. You should personalize your letter to fit the needs and values of the business. Though this will take more time, it will show to the employer that you really care about the job and increase your chances of getting hired.
Step 4. Finding a Job
Medical assisting is a growing field but finding your dream job will take a little bit of work. Finding and landing a job can be especially difficult if you do not have much experience. The key is to throw your net wide. Instead of applying to just general care and physician’s practices, check out different types of doctor’s offices too. Search for openings at chiropractors, pediatricians, podiatrists, and more. When you are just starting out, you may have more luck finding a job at a smaller, local office. From there, you can gain experience and work up to a medical assistant position at your ideal location.
If you studied at a school, it is a good idea to check out their job placement service to help you find a suitable position. You might also want to consider joining your local AAMA chapter. This will help you to network with other professionals in your field and make connections with potential employers. You should also use the internet to your advantage during your job search. Check job listing websites like Monster and Indeed periodically to look for new openings. It is also a good idea to keep your LinkedIn profile up to date so you can use the website to connect with professionals and search for jobs.
Landing the Job: The Interview
The first step to getting hired for your dream job is acing it at your interview. A successful interview can land you the job whereas, even if you are qualified, a bad interview may cost you dearly. With so much depending on the interview, it is vital to be prepared. Do a little bit of research on the practice before you apply and craft answers for some of the most common interview questions. Every interview will be different, but generally during interviews, you will be asked three different types of questions. These include questions about your skills, the medical practice, and personal questions.
These are a few of the types of questions you may be asked during a job interview:
- Where did you receive your training and certifications?
- What is your experience with medical software?
- Do you know how to do CPR?
- Have you ever been trained in HIPAA or OSHA regulations?
- Do you know how to operate medical equipment?
Medical Practice Questions
- Do you have past experience?
- Have you ever worked directly with patients?
- What types of procedures have you assisted with in the past?
- Why do you want to work at this practice?
- Can you handle working on multiple tasks at once?
- How well do you handle stress?
- Are you a good multitasker?
- Are you comfortable making tough decisions without guidance?
- Do you take initiative in the workplace?
- How would you deal with a difficult patient?
- If you did not get along with a coworker or patient, what would you do?
These are just a few of the types of questions you may be asked during an interview for a medical assistant job. Although the actual questions may vary, these questions will help to get you on the right path when preparing for your interview. You need to truly consider why you want to be a medical assistant, why you want to work at the office, and what skills make you uniquely qualified for the job. You should also try to come up with some real life examples of your experience, as they will probably come up.
After preparing for the interview questions, you should consider what you are going to wear to the interview. Presentation matters. After all, your appearance is the first impression you will make and you will want a professional one. Try to dress professionally and stylish, but still a little conservative. Also, be sure to make eye contact, stand up straight, and speak clearly.
Confidence can sometimes be difficult to muster up, but if you trying to appear confident can make all the difference in an interview. This will convince the interviewer that you really believe in the value of your skills and they should too. During the interview, try to read the cues from the interviewer to determine how familiar or professional you should be. Answer their questions professionally and succinctly. Additionally, asking questions during an interview show that you are truly interested in the company and the job.
You should finish the interview with a thank you and a handshake. You can say that you hope to hear back from them, but do not sound desperate for the job. If you come across as needy, you may look less professional.
Though it may seem overwhelming at first, becoming a medical assistant is a relatively easy process. Plus, all of the rewards of the business make the hardships worthwhile. If you foster your dedication and motivation to pursue a career as a medical assistant, you will not be disappointed. Soon, you will be working in one of the most promising fields in the medics.
The Other Aspects of Being a Successful Medical Assistant
Skills Needed by a Medical Assistant
There are a number of personality traits and skills a person must have in order to be a good medical assistant. As a medical assistant, you may be asked to complete a wide range of tasks. In order to do so in an effective manner, you must be well organized and able to multitask. You should also be comfortable working in a fast-paced environment where you will be faced with new challenges daily. Additionally, you should also be well-versed in medical terminology.
A good medical assistant will also be able to interact with patients effectively. Yes, good bedside manner is important, but it is not the only important thing. You must also be able to communicate effectively with patients and help them to understand the procedures they are going through. You also need to be a patient person.
Credentials for Medical Assistants
In addition to the CMA, which we discussed briefly above, there are a few other certifications you may want to consider getting. The Certified Clinical Medical Assistant or CCMA was created for those who are seeking to play roles in both the administrative and clinical sectors. The exam is comprised of 200 multiple choice questions.
The CMAA, or Certified Medical Administrative Assistant, exam was made for those who wish to take on a more administrative role. This exam is made of 100 multiple choice questions.
The National Certified Medical Assistant, or NCMA, exam is only available to current students, school graduates, and those who have more than two years of full-time experience in the field of medical assistance. This exam consists of 150 multiple choice questions.
The RMA, or Registered Medical Assistant, exam is made of 210 multiple choice questions. This certification is only available to people who have formal training in the field or have worked full-time for more than 5 years as a medical assistant.
The CMA exam is made up of 200 multiple choice questions about general knowledge, as well as clinical and administrative knowledge. All of these certifications are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.
Equipment and Resources for Medical Assistants
Depending on where you work, you may be asked to operate certain pieces of medical equipment. This may include:
- Blood pressure monitors
- X-ray machines
- Hemoglobin machines
- EKG machines
As a medical assistant, you will also need to know how to use certain types of computer software. This will include software for:
- Word processing
- Scheduling and calendar
- Patient and electronic record management