Clinical and front office support is serious business for Alabama’s medical assistants. With a skillset that allows them to easily move between administrative and clinical duties, these pros have what it takes to keep things running smoothly, whether they’re working in a large physician practice in Birmingham or a neighborhood clinic in Montgomery.
And there may be no better time to explore a career in medical assisting in Alabama than now. According to the Alabama Department of Labor, jobs in this profession are projected to increase an impressive 4.9% between 2019 and 2021 just to keep up with the recent population surges in the state’s largely urban counties, including Baldwin and Limestone.
With about 1,070 annual openings in Alabama – due to a combination of retiring medical assistants, normal turnover, and new job growth – chances are good you won’t have a hard time finding your share of opportunities once you enter the field.
But first you’ll need to make sure you’ve got what Alabama’s healthcare employers are looking for in a qualified medical assistant.
Here’s what you’ll need to do to earn a spot in Alabama’s growing medical assisting field:
|Complete an Accredited Program in Medical Assisting|
|Earn a Nationally Recognized Credential|
|Network through a Professional Association and Find a Job You Love|
Alabama does not restrict medical assistants from performing specific medical assisting tasks, provided they do so under the direct supervision of licensed physicians or other licensed healthcare practitioners. In other words, the job scope of a medical assistant in Alabama is limited only by what is assigned to them by a licensed healthcare provider.
This means your job as a medical assistant here could encompass everything from keeping things organized and running smoothly at the front end of the office to helping the physician by performing certain basic clinical tasks.
Given the broad scope of the job, it comes as little surprise that Alabama’s healthcare employers tend to gravitate towards medical assistants who have taken the time to acquire the skills that allow them to handle any and all types of administrative and clinical tasks. Translation: An accredited program in medical assisting is your ticket to the best professional opportunities in the field.
Step 1. Complete an Accredited Program in Medical Assisting
You can earn an entry-level education in medical assisting through a certificate or diploma program or associate’s degree. While all three programs will provide you with a comprehensive course of education and training, aspiring medical assistants and employers often prefer the associate’s degree option.
All three will give you everything you need to work as an entry-level medical assistant, and all three qualify you for national certification, but the Associate of Science degree is the ideal path if you want to set yourself apart from the competition, and if you have aspirations of continuing your education at the bachelor’s level at some point. Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degrees are also widely available, the only difference being that they are strictly designed to provide a very focused and practical course of training for career preparation so they don’t typically work as transfer degrees if you’re considering a bachelor’s later on. In a sea of medical assistant job candidates, it never hurts to have a leg up on the competition, and an associate’s degree delivers that edge.
While many certificate and diploma programs take just about a year or less to complete, an associate’s degree takes about two years, given that it includes a core of general education courses that’ll help you polish your communication and writing skills and position you for that bachelor’s degree down the road. All three types of programs come with a clinical component that provides you with the hands-on experiences you’ll need to easily transition into the workplace upon graduation.
Regardless of which type of medical assisting program you choose, it’s important to find one that’s recognized by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). An accredited program will prepare and/or qualify you to take a national certification examination.
To date, there are 5 ABHES-accredited programs and 5 CAAHEP-accredited programs in Alabama.
Step 2. Earn a Nationally Recognized Credential
A nationally recognized credential is the ideal way to show your advanced knowledge and expertise in the profession—and a great way to set yourself apart from the competition.
The two most widely recognized credentials for medical assistants are:
- The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA): Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)You’ll qualify to take the CMA examination by completing a CAAHEP- or ABHES-accredited program, all of which include the minimum practicum hours the AAMA requires. If you didn’t attend a program with one of these specialty accreditations, you can still qualify through a new pilot program by substantiating that the program you graduated from was pretty much equivalent to an accredited program and included at least 560 academic contact hours and 160 practicum hours. You can substitute your first 1,000 hours on the job if your program didn’t include a practicum.
- American Medical Technologist (AMT): Registered Medical Assistant (RMA)You’ll qualify to take the RMA exam by completing a medical assisting program that’s approved by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education. The program must consist of at least 720 program clock hours in medical assisting and must include a clinical externship of at least 160 hours within the past 4 years. You may also qualify by completing a formal medical services training program through the U.S. Armed Forces.
Pearson Vue Testing Centers offers the RMA examination. Schedule your examination as soon as you meet the requirements so you can select your preferred test time, date, and location.
Step 3. Network through a Professional Association and Find a Job You Love
Becoming a member of the Alabama Society of Medical Assistants, the Alabama Chapter of the AAMA or another professional association, is a great way to stay connected, find new job opportunities, locate continuing education programs necessary to keep your certification current, attend state conferences and to just generally keep up with the latest developments in the industry.
Alabama AAMA chapters include:
- Central Alabama
- North Alabama
- Northeast Alabama
- North Central Alabama
- Southeast Alabama
- Northeast Alabama
Once you’re ready to hit the ground running and land your first job, start your job search by checking out professional opportunities through some of Alabama’s largest medical groups, such as:
- Tanner Medical Group, Atlanta
- University of South Alabama Physician’s Group, Mobile
- Physician Network, Providence Hospital, Mobile
- Southview Medical Group, Birmingham
- Camellia Medical Group, Birmingham
- Providence Medical Group, West Mobile
2019 job growth projections from the Alabama Department of Labor are aggregated through the U.S. Department of Labor-Sponsored resource, Projections Central. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
All salary and employment data accessed July 2020.