Our nation’s capital occupies a footprint that’s pretty small, but with many of the world’s biggest healthcare providers concentrated in one place, opportunities for medical assistants here are anything but.
According to the D.C. Department of Employment Services, there were 2,080 medical assistants working throughout the District in 2019. But with a 5.3% increase expected over the next few years just to keep up with growing demand and nearly 300 annual openings as a result of both new jobs being created and normal turnover in the workforce, by the time you complete your training there will be many more MAs just like you joining their ranks.
If you’ve got the training to hit the ground running, the District is a place where you can expect a strong job market and good opportunities when the time comes for you to enter the field.
Here are the steps you’ll need to take to ensure you have the qualifications Washington D.C. employers are looking for:
|Complete Medical Assistant Education|
|Consider Earning National Certification|
|Pursue a Job and Maintain Your Medical Assistant Credential|
The District of Columbia does not license medical assistants; instead, hiring requirements are left to the discretion of employers. More often than not, these requirements include completing a formal education program in medical assisting and earning national certification.
Step 1. Complete a Medical Assistant Education Program
Graduating from a diploma, certificate or associate degree program in medical assisting that has been accredited by one of the two major accreditation bureaus will ensure you have the skills employers look for, and at the same time helps ensure you’re eligible to take exams for one of the national certifications most employers expect.
Any program that holds accreditation through one of these two agencies is what you’re after:
- Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
- Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
You’ll find a number of CAAHEP- and ABHES-accredited programs in both Maryland and Virginia. Accredited online programs are also widely available.
Medical assisting programs are designed as certificate/diploma, or associate degree programs. While all three feature a similar course of training and education in the key aspects of medical assisting, including supervised field experience, an associate’s programs will also include a core of general education courses and therefore take significantly more time to complete than certificate and diploma programs (about 2 years vs. 10-12 months).
You can be sure this is time well spent. An associate’s degree may land you better job opportunities and more attention from hiring committees if you’re going for a more competitive position. The general ed courses in an associate’s degree program are also helpful for upping your written and verbal communication skills – a bonus when working on the administrative side of medical assisting.
And if you complete an Associate of Science (AS) in Medical Assisting, you’ll be able to easily transfer the credits you earn to a bachelor’s degree in a similar field down the road. Medical assistants with an eye toward advancement frequently choose to go on to a bachelor’s degree in health science with a focus in medical assisting, or entirely new areas like medical administration, nursing, billing and coding or health informatics.
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 going for your bachelor’s later on.
The hands-on training and field experience you can expect to receive in any one of these programs ensure you’re ready for the job on day one. Some of the D.C. hospitals that often partner with local schools to give students access to that kind of field experience include:
- Children’s National Medical Center
- Washington Hospital Center
- George Washington University Medical Center
- Sibley Memorial Hospital
- Providence Hospital
- Howard University Hospital
Step 2. Consider Earning National Certification
Since most job postings for medical assistants call for national certification, MAs more often than not make the decision to earn their credentials through a well-recognized certification agency. National certification on your resume indicates that you’ve taken the extra step to advance your level of knowledge in the profession, and it’s a great way to distinguish yourself from the competition when it comes time to land a job in the field or advance to a higher position.
The Certified Medical Assistant (CMA), offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), is one of those credentials. To earn the credential you’ll need to complete formal training before going on to pass the CMA Certification/Recertification Exam, which is offered at Prometric testing centers in D.C., Bethesda, Falls Church, and Hyattsville.
But the CMA isn’t the only big name in national certification. The Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) certification through the American Medical Technologists (AMT) is just as widely recognized and has similar education and exam requirements.
Other respected certification options include:
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) through the National Health Career Association
- Nationally Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) through the National Center for Competency Testing
You will also find a few agencies that specialize in certifying MAs who work in certain specialty practices.
Step 3. Pursue a Job and Maintain Your Medical Assistant Credential
Membership in a professional organization is a great way to stay connected with all that’s happening in your field, and will serve as your source for the best continuing education opportunities to keep your national certification current.
The District of Columbia does not have its own local chapter of the American Association of Medical Assistants, so the AAMA recommends that CMAs participate as members of the national AAMA association instead. For information on starting a local District of Columbia chapter of the AAMA, contact the AAMA at email@example.com.
RMAs may choose membership in the DC/DC/MD State Society of the American Medical Technologists.
With your impressive credentials highlighted on your newly polished resume, it’s time to land a job in medical assisting you’ll love. The District’s large healthcare centers are often the best source of exciting job opportunities:
- National Integrated Health Associates
- Providence Hospital
- American College of Cardiology
- George Washington Medical Faculty Associates
- MedStar Physician Partners
- Doctors Community Hospital (Lanham, MD)
- S. Navy Clinical Care
- Defense Health Agency
- Sibley Memorial Hospital
- Washington Hospital Center
- Mary’s Center
- Georgetown University Hospital
Keeping Your Credentials Up to Date
Don’t forget that national certification requires maintenance for renewal, which usually comes in the form of continuing education.
The CMA is renewed every five years by completing at least 60 recertification points. Half of these points must come from AAMA-approved continuing education units (CEUs) or by retaking the certification examination.
The RMA is renewed annually by meeting the requirements of the AMT’s Certification Continuation Program (CCP). Options to fulfill these requirements include online courses, webinars, state society meetings, national meetings, writing and publishing articles, and other educational opportunities.
If you hold the CCMA credential, you must complete ten online continuing education credits for your biannual renewal. Approved CE providers are listed here.
If you hold the NCMA credential, you must complete online continuing education courses annually. These courses may include webinars, specialty courses, and documented courses from other providers.
2019 job growth projections from the D.C. Department of Employment Services 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.