Thanks to a booming healthcare sector led by industry giants like Charlottesville’s UVA Health, which is home to a 612-bed hospital, Level I trauma center, nationally recognized cancer and heart centers, and many primary and specialty clinics throughout Central Virginia, job growth in Virginia’s medical assisting field is among the highest in the nation.
According to projections from the Virginia Workforce Connection, the number of medical assistants will grow by 4.5% in the short period between 2019 and 2021. An average of 1,950 annual openings here (resulting from retirements, natural job turnover, and new job growth) mean they’ll be plenty of room for you to get your feet wet in this exciting profession once you’ve got the education and national certification today’s top healthcare employers demand.
Here are the steps to take to position yourself among the ranks of Virginia’s most qualified medical assistants:
|Complete an Accredited Program in Medical Assisting|
|Become Nationally Certified in Medical Assisting|
|Find a Job in Medical Assisting in Virginia|
Any medical practitioner licensed or certified by the Virginia Board of Medicine may delegate activities to a medical assistant if:
- The activities or functions are non-discretionary, i.e., they do not fall under the purview of another licensed occupation
- The activities do not require professional judgment
- The activities are of the type that are usually delegated to medical assistants
Medical assistants are also authorized to administer controlled substances to patients if they have been properly trained to do this, provided that the administration of such does not involve:
- Intravenous methods
- Intrathecal methods – methods involving administration of controlled substances directly to areas around the brain or spinal cord
- Epidural methods
Step 1. Complete an Accredited Program in Medical Assisting
You won’t find any formal state licensing requirements for medical assistants in Virginia, but you can be sure today’s top healthcare employers won’t settle for anything less than the most qualified.
With this in mind, there’s no better first step to becoming a medical assistant than by completing a formal 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).
CAAHEP or ABHES accreditation is your guarantee that the medical assisting program you complete includes the necessary education and practical training you’ll need to serve as a competent, entry-level medical assistant. Accreditation also ensures your eligibility for national certification. Fortunately, there are many medical assistant schools throughout Virginia offering accredited programs at the certificate, diploma, and associate degree levels.
Just some of the cities where you’ll find accredited programs include:
- Virginia Beach
Regardless of whether you complete an accredited certificate, diploma, or associate degree program, you can expect a similar course of education and practical training in medical assisting. Courses within these programs focus on topics such as:
- Medical terminology and anatomy
- Medical terminology and physiology
- CPR/First Aid
- Ethics and law in the medical office
- Medical insurance billing and coding
- Medical assisting and pharmacology
- Medical assisting computer software programs
- Managing an electronic health record
- Medical assistant field internship or practicum
Certificate and diploma programs provide the quickest, most direct route to practice, as they take just 10-12 months to complete. Associate degrees, on the other hand, take about 2 years to complete because they also include a general education core – a group of courses covering English, communications, mathematics, and more.
Medical assistants who’ve completed an associate’s degree often bring sharper analytical and written/verbal communication skills to the job because of the addition of these core courses. As a result, many top Virginia employers now prefer candidates with this level of education. For medical assistants, an associate’s often results in better/more varied job opportunities, including opportunities for advancement, and higher wages.
If you have your sights set on advancing your education to the bachelor’s level at some point, an Associate of Science (AS) in Medical Assisting will get you where you want to be in a fraction of the time, as most or all of the courses in an AS transfer to bachelor’s degrees in healthcare-related areas like healthcare administration, public health, nursing, and health informatics.
Step 2. Become Nationally Certified in Medical Assisting
In a profession that’s largely unregulated, national certification has become a staple because it allows medical assistants to display an advanced level of knowledge in their field while demonstrating a commitment to their profession and to continued education. National certification is also a great way to set yourself apart from the competition when it comes to land a job or ask for a promotion.
The three most widely pursued credentials in the profession include:
- Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). To earn a CMA, you must pass the Certified Medical Assistant Exam, which consists of 200 multiple-choice questions covering three basic subjects:
- Medical assisting clinical subjects
- Medical assisting administrative subjects
- Medical assisting general subjects
- Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) through the American Medical Technologists (AMT). Earn the CMA and you’ll be eligible for the RMA credential.
- Nationally Registered Certified Medical Assistant (NRCMA) through the National Association of Health Professionals (NAHP). To earn this credential, you must pass the NRCMA exam.
Regardless of the national credential you choose, you must maintain it through continuing education and renewal:
- CMA – You must renew the CMA every five years and fulfill one of the following:
- Earn 60 re-certification points with at least 30 of these being AAMA-approved
- Retake the CMA Exam
- RMA – You must pay a $50 annual renewal fee and complete 30 points from the Certification Continuing Program (CCP) every three years.
- NRCMA – You maintain a valid and current CPR card, pay a yearly membership fee to the NAHP, and complete at least two A Class Continuing Education Units (CEUs) annually.
Step 3. Find a Job in Medical Assisting in Virginia
You’ll always have access to the latest job opportunities, continuing education opportunities, and networking events by becoming a member of a professional association like the Virginia Society of Medical Assistants (VSMA).
Once you’ve perfected your resume, it’s time to find a job you’ll love. You can start your job search by checking out the latest job opportunities available through the Commonwealth’s largest health systems, such as:
- Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center, Portsmouth
- Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, Roanoke
- Centra Lynchburg General Hospital, Lynchburg
- Chippenham Hospital, Richmond
- Inova Fairfax Hospital, Falls Church
- Saint Mary’s Hospital, Richmond
- Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, Norfolk
- University Hospital, Charlottesville
2019 job growth projections from the Virginia Workforce Connection 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.