Wielding an impressive skillset that includes both administrative and clinical proficiencies, Colorado’s medical assistants are the trusted and reliable healthcare support professionals that keep medical offices and clinics running smoothly. Their work is important, particularly in a state like Colorado where demands for healthcare are greater than ever.
With Colorado’s population expected to surge from 5.6 million in 2017 to 8.7 million by 2050, largely due to people flocking here from other parts of the country, the number of healthcare support pros like medical assistants will grow as a result.
Driven by demand from the state’s massive healthcare systems like HCA Continental Division/HealthOne in Denver and UC Health in Aurora, the number of medical assistants in the state is projected to increase by 5.7% between 2019 and 2021 alone, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
With about 1,660 job openings here annually as a result of this increased demand, as well as retirements and natural turnover in the industry, you’re sure to find outstanding professional opportunities awaiting you once you’ve got the right blend of education and training on your resume.
Here’s what you’ll need to do to become part of Colorado’s thriving medical assisting profession:
|Complete an Educational Program in Medical Assisting|
|Pursue National Credentials|
|Explore the Medical Assisting Profession and Get a Job|
Colorado statute addresses physicians’ delegation of medical tasks to unlicensed individuals, such as medical assistants. This statute also covers the Board of Medical Examiners Rules regarding the delegation of tasks. Specifically, physicians in Colorado can delegate a wide variety of medical duties to unlicensed professionals like medical assistants, provided adequate supervision is given.
Step 1. Complete an Educational Program in Medical Assisting
Completing a formal program in medical assisting is the best, first step to landing a job in medical assisting.
In this field you have educational options, so you can get the training to become a medical assistant through a certificate, diploma, or associate degree program. It’s always best to choose a program that’s accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).
Accreditation in the field is like an insurance policy that guarantees that the program you choose includes everything you need to serve as a competent, entry-level medical assistant. It’s also often a requirement for national certification, so you’ll never go wrong with choosing a program that’s been ABHES- or CAAHEP-accredited.
There are currently 5 CAAHEP-accredited medical assistant programs and 3 ABHES-accredited programs in Colorado.
All accredited programs include a similar course of classroom and practical learning, although certificate and diploma programs in medical assisting generally take less time to complete than an associate’s degree (10-12 months vs. 2 years) because an associate’s degree includes a core of general education courses.
You may find that many of Colorado’s large healthcare employers prefer candidates with an associate’s degree and that higher wages often follow—two good reasons to spend the extra time and earn your associate’s degree.
If your career plans include earning your bachelor’s degree at some point, an Associate of Science (AS) degree is the degree you want, as most of the courses in these programs are transferrable to a four-year degree in areas like medical administration and nursing. 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.
Step 2. Pursue National Credentials
Given the lack of regulation and licensing in the medical assisting field, it’s quite common to find employers requiring or preferring candidates who have achieved a national credential. Plus, national certification displays a level of excellence and achievement in the field – a bonus for medical assistants looking to get a leg up on the competition and increase their earning power.
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.
Other respected general and specialty certification options include:
- National Healthcare Association: Certified Clinical Medical Assistant
- National Center for Competency Testing: The National Certified Medical Assistant
- The Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel In Ophthalmology: Certified Ophthalmic Assistant
- The American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants: Podiatric Medical Assistant, Certified
Eligibility between certifying bodies varies somewhat, although most recognize the completion of an accredited medical assistant program for eligibility. You’ll take and pass a certification exam to earn one of the above national credentials.
Step 3. Explore the Medical Assisting Profession and Get a Job
One of the best ways to really immerse yourself in the profession, connect with your colleagues, find continuing education opportunities to keep your national certification current, and participate in networking opportunities is through membership in a professional association, such as the Colorado Society of Medical Assistants.
Once you’ve become that ideal candidate through education and professional certification, you’ll find lots of great professional opportunities through some of Colorado’s largest medical groups and clinics, such as:
- Kaiser Permanente Medical Group, Littleton
- Medical Center of Aurora
- Denver Health Medical Center
- Rose Medical Center, Denver
- University of Colorado Hospital, Aurora
- St. Joseph Hospital, Denver
2019 job growth projections from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment 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.