According to a June 2012 publication by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, the need for healthcare support professionals, such as medical assistants, is expected to increase 26 percent between 2010 and 2020, one of the most dramatic growth projections of any sector. Between 2005 and 2010, the number of healthcare support jobs rose from 3.3 million to 3.6 million; by 2020, the number of healthcare support jobs is projected to reach 4.6 million.
With the exception of a few states, medical assistants in the United States are generally not state licensed or certified, with the exception of those authorized to administer IV fluids, draw blood or perform X-rays. However, employers maintain strict requirements with regard to education, experience and national certification. This means that for most individuals interested in entering the field of medical assisting, education through the completion of a certificate or associate degree program is a must.
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Complete a Medical Assistant Preparation Program
The vast majority of medical assisting programs, whether at the certificate or associate degree level, are accredited by the one of the following two accrediting bodies:
• Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
• Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
Educational programs in medical assisting are organized and offered through a number of settings, including postsecondary vocational-technical schools, online institutions, junior colleges, and traditional colleges and universities. Some medical assisting programs take as little as 10 months to complete, while associate degree programs (AS, AAS) typically take about 2 years to complete.
It is typical for a certificate, diploma, or degree program for medical assistants to culminate in an externship or practicum, and hands-on training is often an indispensible part of a comprehensive education.
Medical assistant programs train students to perform specific duties, including:
• Taking vital signs
• Assisting in minor surgical procedures
• Carrying out basic accounting/administrative procedures
• Charting and documenting
Typical courses found within a medical assistant training program include:
• Medical law and bioethics
• Medical terminology
• Diseases of the human body
• Medical coding and insurance
• Human anatomy and physiology
• Medical office management
An associate’s degree may be an ideal choice for students who have aspirations of earning more advanced degrees in everything from nursing to medical coding.
Learn About State Requirements
Some states require additional training and certification before medical assistants can perform specific jobs under the guidance of a physician. Information on training requirements is often detailed in a state’s administrative code. It is common to find specific language detailing practice requirements through state boards of nursing or medicine. It is also common for states to require registration of medical assistants, and in some cases a state-issued license is required.
For example, medical assistants in South Dakota must register with the Board of Medical and Osteopathic Examiners and maintain their registration by applying for renewal and paying a nominal registration fee on a biennial basis.
New Jersey, on the other hand, requires medical assistants who administer subcutaneous and intramuscular injections under the supervision of a physician to be graduates of an ABHES-accredited program and to possess national certification through the AAMA, NCCT, or AMT.
Along with all required training and education, medical assistants must become familiar with the practice and registration requirements specific to their state.
Consider National Certification
Although elective, a growing number of employers are realizing the value of hiring medical assistants who have achieved national certification in the profession. Medical assistants must typically meet specific eligibility requirements and take and pass a certification examination. These certifications signify that the holder has had formal training and often require continuing education to maintain the credential.
Although the CMA (Certified Medical Assistant) designation through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) is one of the most widely accepted credentials in the profession, there are a number of other certification options medical assistants may choose to pursue:
• Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA): The Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology
• Podiatric Medical Assistant, Certified (PMAC): The American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants
• The Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA): National Healthcare Association
• The National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA): National Center for Competency Testing (NCTT)
• The Registered Medical Assistant (RMA): American Medical Technologists (AMT)
Membership in these organizations may provide medical assistants with networking opportunities, as well as continuing education opportunities through professional programs, seminars, and meetings:
• American Association of Medical Assistants
• American Registry of Medical Assistants
• American Medical Technologists