Whether they’re answering phones and greeting patients at the front desk of a large physician-led practice, completing billing and insurance processing in the back office of a rural clinic, or collecting and preparing laboratory tests in a major hospital or ambulatory center in the heart of Providence, Rhode Island’s medical assistants are relied upon to keep things organized and running smoothly.
If you’ve got your sights set on becoming a medical assistant in Rhode Island, you’re in luck: Projections reveal that this healthcare support profession will experience impressive job growth in the coming years, thanks to leading providers like the Providence Women & Infants Hospital, which comes in as the largest obstetrical facility in the state, the second largest in New England, and the eleventh largest stand-alone facility in the nation.
According to projections from the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, the number of medical assistants will grow by 3% between 2019 and 2021. That’s a lot of new jobs in an industry that will inevitably grow year over year.
If you have aspirations of lending your talents to this profession, you’ll need to make sure you have the qualifications the state’s healthcare employers are looking for:
Step 1. Complete an Accredited Medical Assisting Program
The completion of a formal medical assisting 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) provides the foundation you’ll need to become a competent, entry-level medical assistant and ensures your eligibility for national certification.
Both the CAAHEP and the ABHES accredit certificate, diploma, and associate degree programs, and all accredited programs come complete with a similar course of education and practical training in medical assisting.
However, you’ll find that certificate and diploma programs provide a faster route to practice, as they take just 10-12 months to complete. Associate degree programs, on the other hand, take about 2 years to complete because they also include a general education core.
Despite this longer course of study, the associate degree has become the degree of choice in the field. Employers prefer candidates with an associate’s degree because of the excellent foundation in everything from written and verbal communications to the social sciences the general education core provides. And medical assistants prefer this degree because it provides a route to the state clinical laboratory technician license (See Step 3) and often results in better/more varied professional opportunities and higher wages.
For medical assistants with the goal of advancing their education at some point, the Associate of Science (AS) is the ideal degree because most or all of the courses of an AS easily transfer to bachelor’s degrees in healthcare-related areas, such as healthcare administration and public health.
Step 2. Earn a National Credential
Once you’ve completed an accredited medical assisting program, you’ll earn eligibility to sit for a national certification examination through one of the many national designations in the profession.
Many employers now require medical assistants with one or more national certifications, and certification is a great way to position yourself as a leader in your field and stand out from the competition when it comes time to land a job or earn a promotion.
The most popular national certification is the Certified Medical Assistant credential through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). The completion of an accredited medical assisting program will earn you eligibility to take the Certified Medical Assistant Exam, which tests your knowledge in three areas:
- General subjects
- Administrative subjects
- Clinical subjects
Once you receive approval from the AAMA, you’ll take the CMA exam at a Prometric testing center near you. In Rhode Island, there are testing centers located in:
While the CMA is the most popular certification, there are a number of national certifications available:
- American Medical Technologists: Registered Medical Assistant
- National Center for Competency Testing: The National Certified Medical Assistant
- National Healthcareer 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. Consider Earning a Clinical Laboratory Technician License Through the Rhode Island Department of Health
You can enhance your resume and your job prospects by earning a clinical laboratory technician license through the Rhode Island Department of Health.
To become a licensed clinical laboratory technician, you’ll need to complete ONE of the following:
- An associate’s degree or 60 semester credits from a clinical laboratory or equivalent academic program
- A high school diploma and at least one year in an approved technician training program
- An official military medical lab course of at least 50 weeks in length (and hold the title of Medical Laboratory Specialist in the military)
With additional experience or training, you may also become a licensed clinical histologic technician, which requires completing one of the following:
- At least 60 semester credits or an associate’s degree that includes:
- 12 semester credits of biology and chemistry
- Histologic technique program or one year of histologic training conducted under the supervision of an experienced histopathologist
- A high school diploma or its equivalent and two years of full-time experience working under the supervision of an experienced histological professional in a licensed clinical lab
To become licensed in either of these clinical technician positions, you must complete an application for licensure with the Rhode Island Board of Clinical Laboratory Science.
Step 4. Explore Your Career Options and Land Your First Medical Assistant Job
Once you’ve earned the education and certification that positions you among the state’s most qualified medical assistants, you can start your job search by looking into opportunities available through some of the largest healthcare employers, such as:
- Miriam Hospital in Providence
- Newport Hospital
- Rhode Island Hospital in Providence
- Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence
- Westerly Hospital
- Women and Infants Hospital of Rhode Island in Providence
- Saint Joseph Health Services of Rhode Island in Providence
- Kent County Memorial Hospital in Warwick
- Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island in Pawtucket
- South County Hospital Health Care System in Wakefield
- Landmark Medical Center in Woonsocket
Membership in a professional association is the best way to find continuing education opportunities, network and connect with your colleagues, and stay up-to-date on the latest happenings in the profession. Although Rhode Island does not have its own state chapter of the American Association of Medical Assistants, the AAMA recommends joining the national AAMA association. If you would like information on joining the AAMA or starting a Rhode Island chapter of the AAMA, contact the AAMA Membership Department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2019 job growth projections from the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training 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.