Whether they’re instructing patients about their medications or laboratory tests, helping physicians in the exam room, or handling the office’s billing and correspondence issues, Illinois’ medical assistants help support better-organized, more efficiently run medical practices through their patented blend of administrative and clinical training. That’s good news in a state where healthcare services continue to be a major contributor to the state’s GDP – hospitals alone contributed $95.3 billion to the economy in 2017. It all adds up to an upward trajectory in hiring for support staff like medical assistants.
With Chicago alone home to such massive health systems as Advocate Aurora Health, Northwestern Memorial HealthCare, and Rush, it’s no wonder that healthcare in Illinois serves as a major economic driver and one of the industries that will continue adding jobs in the years ahead
According to projections from the Illinois Department of Employment Security, the number of medical assistants will rise by 3.4% in the two-year period leading up to 2021. With about 3,050 openings here annually due to typical job turnover, retirements, and new job creation, chances are good that you’ll have your pick of opportunities once you earn the education and national certification to join the ranks of the state’s well-qualified medical assistants.
Here are the steps you’ll want to take to become a medical assistant in Illinois:
|Complete a Medical Assisting Education Program|
|Consider Pursuing National Certification|
|Find Job Opportunities in Medical Assisting|
In 2007, the Illinois legislature enacted a revised Nurse Practice Act that included several provisions that are of relevance to medical assistants. Of particular interest to medical assistants is the section that details the authority of physicians to delegate tasks to professionals other than registered nurses and licensed practical nurses. Similar language was again repeated in the Illinois Medical Practice Act and the Illinois Administrative Code (Section 1285.335, Physician Delegation of Authority).
What this essentially means is that medical assistants in Illinois can perform any variety of tasks, provided they are completed under the direct supervision of a physician.
Step 1. Complete a Medical Assisting Education Program
Most Illinois employers will agree that a formal medical assisting program is the best, first step to becoming job-ready. But before you choose a program, it’s important to understand the importance of accreditation.
Choosing a program that’s been accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) not only ensures that the program includes the education and practical training necessary to allow you to serve as a competent, entry-level medical assistant, but it also streamlines the path to meeting the eligibility requirements to take one of the national certification exams.
There are currently 16 programs accredited by CAAHEP and 8 programs accredited by ABHES in Illinois.
Accredited programs in medical assisting may be certificate, diploma, or certificate programs. All accredited programs provide a similar course of education in medical assisting, and all include some practical field experience before graduation.
However, while certificate and diploma programs usually take between 10-12 months to complete, an Associate of Science (AS) degree takes about 2 years because it includes a general education core. Choose an AS in Medical Assisting and you’ll likely enjoy broader professional opportunities and a higher wage, along with the option of transferring the credits toward a bachelor’s degree in any allied health-related field in the future.
Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degrees are even more common in the field. Designed to provide a very focused and practical course of training for career preparation, they’re different from AS degrees in only one way: the credits earned aren’t typically transferrable to a bachelor’s later on.
Many employers now require or prefer medical assistants with an associate’s degree since it produces a more well-rounded professional with better written and verbal communication skills.
Step 2. Consider Pursuing National Certification
One or more nationally recognized credentials in medical assisting can provide you with the competitive edge you’ll need to secure a job in Illinois. It’s also becoming increasingly common for employer insurance carriers to require medical assistants to hold one or more nationally recognized credentials.
The two most widely recognized credentials in the industry, both of which are achieved by meeting specific education and/or experience requirements and passing a certification examination, include:
- Certified Medical Assistant (CMA), American Association of Medical Assistants
- The Registered Medical Assistant (RMA), American Medical Technologists
But they’re not the only national credentials in the medical assisting field:
- National Center for Competency Testing: The National Certified Medical Assistant
- National Healthcare Association: Certified Clinical Medical Assistant
- The American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants: Podiatric Medical Assistant, Certified
- The Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel In Ophthalmology: Certified Ophthalmic Assistant
Step 3. Find Job Opportunities in Medical Assisting
It’s always a good idea to stay connected with your profession and remain up-to-date on the latest news in the medical assisting industry, and membership in a professional association like the Illinois Society of Medical Assistants is a great way to do so. Chapters of the Illinois Society of Medical Assistants include:
- Illinoi Valley
- Aux Plaines
- McLean County
- Mississippi Valley
- Northwest Cook
- Lincoln Land
- Southern Illinois
Once you’ve earned the right credentials and polished your resume, you can begin your job search by checking out the latest opportunities available through Illinois’ large healthcare systems, such as:
- Advocate Medical Group, Park Ridge
- Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood
- Northwest Medical Faculty Foundation, Chicago
- Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago
- Alexis Medical Center, Hoffman Estates
- University of Chicago Medical Center, Chicago
- Rush University Medical Center, Chicago
2019 job growth projections from the Illinois Department of Employment Security 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.