How to Become a Medical Assistant

Illustrated image of medical assistant holding up xrays to a doctor

With the growth of the healthcare industry and the constant demand for clinical professionals on the rise, the prospects of becoming a medical assistant are looking pretty good! In other words, pursuing a career as a medical assistant is a wise move!

In fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for medical assistants is projected to grow by 23% by 2028.

The great thing about this profession is that you can work within the healthcare industry without committing to extensive medical studies while also having the opportunity to advance in other clinical occupations should you wish to.

So, if your passion lies in providing exceptional customer service and patient care, this might just be the ideal career path for you. If you want to learn how to become a medical assistant, read on!

Is it the Right Job for Me?

The most crucial step to take before settling on any career is deciding whether it’s the right fit for you.

To become a medical assistant, you need to be able to perform a mixture of administrative and clinical tasks. The former entails scheduling appointments, updating patient records, greeting patients, completing insurance forms and bookkeeping, among other tasks. As for the latter, it includes explaining medical procedures to patients, administrating medication, checking patient vitals and assisting physicians during minor surgeries.

Moreover, as a medical assistant, you not only need to possess a range of medical and technical knowledge but also several soft skills. After all, the human factor is an essential element in this profession. It’s crucial, then, that you’re an empathetic individual and an excellent communicator who can work with patients and physicians whatever the circumstances and perform their duties adequately, whether they be medical or administrative in nature.

What Qualifications Do I Need?

There are different paths you can take to become a medical assistant. For example, while most medical assistants have postsecondary education, such as a medical assistant certificate, you can also enter the field with a high school diploma and complete on-the-job training. To do this, it’s essential that you take classes related to the field while you’re still in school, such as biology, chemistry, business and IT.

Even though formal education isn’t required, it will make you considerably more employable. In other words, completing a medical assistance programme at a community college, vocational school or university could aid your job search down the road. So, while there might not be any specific educational requirements to become a medical assistant, employers may prefer to hire assistants who have received official training and a certificate from an accredited programme.

There are various MA programmes out there, too, most of which usually take nine months to a year to complete, leading to a certificate or diploma. Alternatively, there are two-year programmes available, such as the Associate of Applied Science degree in medical assistance. Completing an associate degree in MA will allow you to attain in-depth knowledge of the field. It will equip you with the necessary training to succeed as a medical assistant, while it’s an excellent pathway into a bachelor’s degree.

Within these programmes, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about human anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, as well as administration. In most cases, you may also receive hands-on experience as well as complete laboratory work.

What Skills Do I Need?

In order to succeed as a medical assistant, you’ll need to possess a varied set of skills. These include:

  • Analytical skills: Medical assistants are expected to be able to read medical charts and diagnoses. In many instances, they are also required to bill and code information for insurance purposes.
  • Attention to detail: Precision and attention to detail are detrimental to this profession. Indeed, a medical assistant needs to be extremely meticulous, especially when checking a patient’s vital signs and recording medical information.
  • Communication skills: Medical assistants need to communicate information to physicians and patients effectively. Part of their job entails scheduling patient appointments and answering phone calls but also giving patients medical instructions, both spoken and written. They must also be active listeners to record patient symptoms and articulate this information to other medical professionals.
  • Customer service skills: Patients are, at the end of the day, paying customers who expect to be treated with respect. One of the key responsibilities of medical assistants, then, is to welcome patients and perform excellent customer service at all times.
  • Interpersonal skills: A significant part of a medical assistant’s day involves interacting with patients who may be anxious or distressed. Having the ability to empathise with these patients and their family and treat them with the utmost sensitivity is a crucial skill for any medical professional.
  • Technical skills: From coding paper and electronic health records to using the right instruments to check a patient’s vital signs, medical assistants are expected to be familiar with a wide variety of tools and software to carry out their administrative tasks. Computer literacy is also crucial, as you will be responsible for updating patient records and scheduling appointments.
  • Medical skills: Medical assistants must be familiar with medical terminology, anatomy and basic medical procedures. In some instances, they may also be expected to have knowledge in CPR and first aid.
  • Manual dexterity: Having good motor control and hand-eye coordination is essential. It’s common for medical assistants to help physicians during minor procedures or even perform other tasks such as drawing blood themselves.

How Do I Land a Job?

There are plenty of opportunities out there for aspiring medical assistants. From private practices to hospitals, clinics and outpatient care centres, there’s a range of working environments that might be suited for you. However, before you get started, make sure you have the necessary credentials that are required by the country or state you want to work in. Once you’re ready, check different online job boards or go directly to the sites of the organisations you’re interested in.

If you lack the experience, you can still find opportunities that will allow you to train on the job. However, this might be more challenging, as employers prefer to hire experienced medical assistants.

In order to attain clinical experience, then, you could opt to complete an externship. Much like work shadowing, an externship will give you insight into a medical assistant’s daily tasks and responsibilities. Plus, you’ll be able to get some crucial hands-on experience in the field. Start by contacting local practices and clinics and enquire about any available externships.

Alternatively, you could also volunteer in any of these establishments. Although you will not be allowed to perform actual patient care and carry out medical tasks, you will have the chance to observe and get a feel of the role and how duties are carried out.

How Can I Advance My Career?

To advance your career as a medical assistant, you’ll need to complete additional qualifications and training. For example, a certified medical assistant can pursue an advanced certification that allows them to start intravenous lines and assist with emergencies.

You could also train to become a registered nurse, physician assistant or even a nurse practitioner. This will diversify your responsibilities and help you expand your medical knowledge.

To become a nurse, you’ll need to complete an accredited training programme and a licence certification. This will allow you to develop as a medical professional, gain in-depth medical knowledge and provide advanced patient care.

If you opt to train as a registered nurse, you could also specialise in a specific area such as oncology, radiology or cardiology. Consequently, continuing education could allow you to move into other occupations in the healthcare industry and expand your career prospects.

Working as a medical assistant can be a genuinely fulfilling role with diverse responsibilities. Should you choose to pursue this career, you’ll have the opportunity to gain invaluable experience in administrative and clinical procedures and have the chance to do meaningful work. So, if you have the passion and drive, it’s time to secure yourself a position within the ever-growing healthcare industry!

Are you a medical assistant? What advice would you give? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!