How to Become a Medical Assistant in Pennsylvania

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Pennsylvania isn’t exactly a retirement destination, but it continues to land among the top states in the nation for the size of its senior population. That’s a fact that naturally translates into a greater demand for more complex healthcare services. And when there’s an increased demand in healthcare, job opportunities for medical assistants are sure to follow suit.

And sure enough, recent stats show a job market for medical assistants that’s on the rise. According to forecasts from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, the number of medical assistants here is expected to increase by 4.8% in just the few, short years between 2019 and 2021.

Through a combination of retirement, attrition, and new job growth, the profession will see about 3,780 job openings annually – that’s plenty of room for you to jump into the field with both feet once you’ve got the training it takes to present yourself as a qualified candidate.

Here’s what you’ll need to do to become a highly qualified medical assistant in Pennsylvania:

Understand Pennsylvania’s Laws Pertaining to Medical Assistants
Complete an Accredited Medical Assisting Program
Earn a National Credential in Medical Assisting
Land Your First Medical Assistant Job and Maintain Your Credentials

 


 

Step 1. Understand Pennsylvania’s Laws Pertaining to Medical Assistants

Pennsylvania does not explicitly regulate or license medical assistants. This means each employer determines the minimum employment qualifications for professionals in the field.

However, Pennsylvania law does specify conditions with regard to how physicians are allowed to delegate tasks to medical assistants or other healthcare technicians:

  • The delegated task must be within the realm of acceptable medical practice
  • The delegated task must not fall into the purview of another regulated occupation, such as midwife, physician assistant, or athletic trainer
  • The patient must not object to being treated by a medical assistant, and the nature of the treatment must be fully explained
  • No undue risk may be created by delegating tasks to the medical assistant
  • A supervising physician must assume full responsibility for the actions of the medical assistant
  • The supervising physician must know that the medical assistant has sufficient training, experience, and continuing competency to safely perform the delegated task

 


 

Step 2. Complete an Accredited Medical Assisting Program

The completion of a formal medical assisting program should be your first step on the road to becoming a medical assistant, as it provides the comprehensive foundation you’ll need to serve as a competent, entry-level medial assistant.

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) and you can be sure that it includes all the necessary education and training to prepare and qualify you for national certification.

To date, there are 14 CAAHEP-accredited programs and 7 ABHES-accredited programs in Pennsylvania.

Both the CAAHEP and the ABHES accredit diploma, certificate, and associate degree programs. You’ll find all three types of programs contain a similar course of study and practical training in medical assisting. However, while diploma and certificate programs take about 10-12 months to complete, associate degree programs take about 2 years to complete because they also include a general education core – a set of courses covering mathematics, the physical sciences, the social sciences, English, and more.

Despite this longer course of study, the associate’s degree has become one of the most popular programs for aspiring medical assistants because it often results in better/more varied job opportunities and higher wages. And it’s no secret that many Pennsylvania employers now require (or at least prefer) medical assistants to hold this degree.

The Associate of Science (AS) is also the ideal degree among medical assistants whose future goals include advancing their education to the bachelor’s level in the future because most or all of the courses in an AS easily transfer to a bachelor’s degree in a health-related field.

 


 

Step 3. Earn a National Credential in Medical Assisting

The Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) remains the most widely sought-after credential in medical assisting.

You’ll earn eligibility to take the Certified Medical Assistant Exam by completing an accredited medical assistant program.

After receiving approval, you’ll take the CMA exam at a Prometric testing center near you. In Pennsylvania, there are testing centers located in:

  • State College
  • Harrisburg
  • Clarks Summit
  • Lancaster
  • Allentown
  • King of Prussia
  • Philadelphia
  • Monroeville
  • Pittsburgh

The CMA exam tests your knowledge in the following areas:

  • General subjects
    • Psychology and communication
    • Professionalism
    • Medical law, regulatory guidelines and medical ethics
    • Quality assurance, risk management, and safety
    • Medical terminology
  • Administrative subjects
    • Medical reception and business practices
    • Establishing a patient’s medical record
    • Appointment scheduling and practice finances
  • Clinical subjects
    • Anatomy and physiology
    • Care and patient intake
    • Infection control
    • Pharmacology
    • Assisting with patient preparation
    • Nutrition, health, and emergency first aid
    • Processing and collecting specimens
    • Diagnostic testing

 


 

Step 4. Maintain and Improve Your Medical Assistant Credentials and Land a Job You’ll Love

You’ll need to maintain and renew the CMA credential every 5 years by either retaking the CMA Exam or earning 60 re-certification points as follows:

  • A minimum of 10 points relating to clinical duties
  • A minimum of 10 points relating to general duties
  • A minimum of 10 points relating to administrative duties
  • A minimum of 30 points from AAMA-approved continuing education units

Many medical assistants find that earning a bachelor’s degree in the field of medical assisting is a competitive way to maintain CMA requirements and demonstrate continuing proficiency. Advancing your education is the best way of demonstrating professional capabilities and a commitment to your field. This can also be a requirement for employment in many of Pennsylvania’s more competitive marketplaces.

Membership in a professional association like the Pennsylvania Society of Medical Assistants is the ideal way to:

  • Find professional education and development opportunities
  • Stay current on the latest legislative changes in the medical assisting field
  • Network and connect with your colleagues

The Pennsylvania Society of Medical Assistants maintains chapters in:

  • Allegheny County Chapter
  • Beaver County Chapter
  • Blair County Chapter
  • Cambria County Chapter
  • Erie County Chapter
  • Lehigh County Chapter

One of the best ways to land a top job in medical assisting is to check out the opportunities available through some of Pennsylvania’s largest health systems, such as:

  • UPMC Magee-Women’s Hospital, Pittsburgh
  • Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh
  • Crozer-Chester Medical Center, Upland
  • Einstein Medical Center, Philadelphia
  • Geisinger Medical Center, Danville
  • Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
  • Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Philadelphia

 

2019 job growth projections from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry 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.

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