How to Become a Medical Assistant in Washington

Bigger, better, more innovative healthcare systems resulting from years of acquisitions, mergers, joint ventures, and expansions now dot much of the landscape in Western Washington. Large physician groups, urgent care centers, specialty clinics, and more have popped up seemingly everywhere in the Greater Seattle Area, Bellevue and throughout the Eastside, providing residents here with more healthcare options than ever.  At the same time, it’s providing medical assistants with more professional opportunities than ever before.

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Medical Assistants have a wide variety of areas where they can work. The following is a list of places where you might be able to find employment as a Medical Assistant:

  • General Medical & Surgical Hospitals
  • Family Medicine Offices
  • Outpatient Care Centers
  • Urgent Care Centers
  • Public & Community Health Agencies 
  • Psychiatric & Substance Abuse Hospitals
  • Research Facilities 
  • Medical Insurance Companies

Medical assistants may work either on a full-time or part-time basis, depending on the location and hours of the specific facility.

Despite clinical staffing shortages, the healthcare industry is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after industries in Washington for highly qualified professionals. That’s because as more and more people sign up for high-deductible insurance plans, they expect to be able to see a doctor whenever they want – without requiring an appointment first. In other words, they want to walk in and get “same day” service.

This is why the demand for medical office staff will continue to grow exponentially in Washington state over the next decade. In fact, according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment opportunities within this industry are expected to increase by a whopping 28 per cent throughout the next ten years.

Several excellent employment opportunities are available for medical assistants in the state, too. And with good reason: medical assistants play a crucial role in keeping our healthcare system functioning smoothly. They handle billing, coding, filing, patient scheduling, front desk functions, and more while following standard procedures to ensure thorough patient examinations and optimal professional outcomes.

As expected, forecasts for job growth in the medical assisting profession in the coming years reflect this boom taking place in the construction of new medical facilities. According to projections from the Washington State Employment Security Department, the number of medical assistants here will grow by 4% in just the few, short years between 2019 and 2021. That amounts to about 610 new jobs as a result of growth alone, but a total of 2,020 annual job openings are expected in the field when you also factor in retirement and normal attrition.*

Here are the steps you’ll need to take to get that training and become a licensed medical assistant in Washington:

Learn About Medical Assistant Career Paths in Washington
Become a Qualified Medical Assistant
Apply for a Washington Medical Assistant License
Explore the Medical Assisting Job Market in Washington

The Washington State Department of Health has comprehensive regulations in place for medical assistants that include licensure and a defined scope of practice.

Washington law defines four different types of medical assistants, each with unique licensing requirements:

  • Medical Assistant – Certified
  • Medical Assistant – Registered
  • Medical Assistant – Hemodialysis Technician
  • Medical Assistant – Phlebotomist



Step 1. Learn About Medical Assistant Career Paths in Washington

The Washington State Department of Health’s licensing requirements for the four recognized medical assistant designations are:

Medical Assistant – Certified

To become a Medical Assistant–Certified in Washington, you must complete a recognized course of education and pass an examination.

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First, you’ll need to complete one of the following:

  • Graduate from a medical assisting training program that is accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES); OR
  • Graduate from a college or university that is accredited by a regional or national accrediting agency approved by the US Department of Education. This program must be comprised of at least 720 hours of medical assistant training, including at least 160 hours in a clinical externship; OR
  • Graduate from an apprentice program that is approved by the state; OR
  • Complete at least 720 hours of medical assistant college education; OR
  • Earn an equivalent amount of military training that is related to medical assisting

Then you’ll need to pass one of the following examinations through its respective national certifying agency:

If you meet the education requirements but have not yet taken an exam, you can also apply for a temporary interim certification that will allow you to practice as a medical assistant while you wait to take an exam.

Medical Assistant – Registered

To become a Medical Assistant–Registered, your employer must complete a Healthcare Practitioner Endorsement that clearly states the tasks delegated to you. You are only allowed to work for an employer who has agreed to fill out this form on your behalf.

Before your Medical Assistant–Registered license is issued, you must also complete seven hours of AIDS training and education.

Medical Assistant – Hemodialysis Technician

You must complete a specific course of education to become a Medical Assistant–Hemodialysis Technician in Washington.

You will need to meet one of the following requirements to receive a license in this area of expertise:

  • Complete a hemodialysis program that:
    • Is approved by your employer’s medical director and governing members
    • Is under the direction of a nurse
    • Is focused on kidney dialysis machines and equipment
    • Provides direct patient care including sensitivity training
  • Earn a national credential as a hemodialysis technician that includes the study of:
    • Principles of dialysis and fluid management
    • Caring for patients with kidney failure
    • Dialysis documentation and procedures
    • Laboratory testing procedures and critical alert values
    • Dialysis emergencies and other complications arising from dialysis
    • Safety and infection control
    • Dialysis medication use and side effects
  • Complete an equivalent training program or experience as part of the US military

You must also demonstrate basic math skills and provide proof of a current CPR certification and seven hours of AIDS training.

Medical Assistant – Phlebotomist

To become a licensed Medical Assistant–Phlebotomist, you must complete seven hours of AIDS training and meet one of the following education requirements:

  • Complete a college or university phlebotomy training program that is regionally accredited or accredited by an institution approved by the US Department of Education
  • Complete a phlebotomy training program that is approved by your employer
  • Have an equivalent training or education through the US military



Step 2. Become a Qualified Medical Assistant

Completing a certificate, diploma, or associate degree 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) ensures your eligibility to become a Medical Assistant – Certified.

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Regardless of whether you choose an accredited certificate, diploma, or associate degree program, you’ll complete a similar course of education and practical training in medical assisting, which includes an internship/field experience and courses covering topics like:

  • Medical assistant terminology
  • Medical assistant emergency procedures
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Medical assistant clinical and administrative procedures
  • Medical insurance billing and coding
  • Software applications and medical assistant computer operations

However, while a certificate or diploma takes about 10-12 months to complete, an associate’s degree takes about 2 years to complete because it also includes a general education core – a group of courses covering mathematics, the social sciences, the physical sciences, communications, and more.

The additional time it takes to complete an associate’s degree is time well spent since the general education courses and longer period of training means you’ll come out on the other side with some useful communication skills, not to mention an actual degree in the field. Some job postings specifically call for an associate’s degree since having a general education core creates a more well-rounded educational experience and is believed to contribute to improved written and verbal communication skills.



Step 3. Apply for a Washington Medical Assistant License

Once you have met the requirements for the type of medical assistant license you are applying for, you’ll apply through the Washington State Department of Health:

All medical assistant licenses in Washington expire every two years on your birthday. You can renew your medical assistant license online, through the mail, or in person at the Department of Health’s office located at:

Town Center 2
111 Israel Rd SE
Tumwater, WA 98501

As you develop your career as a medical assistant, you may also consider a bachelor’s degree in the medical sciences, which will add considerably to your clinical and administrative skillset.

If you have aspirations of continuing your education at the bachelor’s level at some point, you’ll benefit from completing an Associate of Science (AS) in Medical Assisting, as most or all of the courses of these programs easily transfer to bachelor’s degrees in healthcare-related fields like healthcare administration, nursing, healthcare informatics, and public health.



Step 4. Explore the Medical Assisting Job Market in Washington

Once you become a licensed medical assistant in Washington, you’ll benefit from joining a professional association like the Washington State Society of Medical Assistants (WSSMA), which is a great resource when it comes time to find continuing education opportunities, attend networking events, or learn about the latest employment opportunities.

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Here are some of Washington’s largest healthcare systems:

  • EvergreenHealth Kirkland, Kirkland
  • Harborview Medical Center, Seattle
  • Kadlec Regional Medical Center, Richland
  • Multicare Tacoma General Hospital, Tacoma
  • Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, Everett
  • Providence Saint Peter Hospital, Olympia
  • Saint Joseph Medical Center, Tacoma
  • Swedish First Hill Campus, Seattle
  • University of Washington Medical Center – Montlake, Seattle
  • Virginia Mason Hospital and Seattle Medical Center, Seattle


*2019 job growth projections from the Washington State Employment Security Department 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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