What Are Medical Assistants?
Medical assistants act as key members of healthcare teams in a variety of positions. Medical assistants may perform administrative duties in the front office or at the computer, or they may fill clinical roles in the exam room and even in the lab. A medical assistant can serve as a link between doctor and patient, relaying important information and helping to provide patient care. For more details, see our medical assistant career page.
Medical Assistant Program Information
Medical assistant programs are offered through vocational schools, junior colleges, and colleges and universities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov). Certain courses may be available online through hybrid programs, but programs generally require laboratory studies and hands-on practical experience.
Students enrolled in a medical assistant program usually take classes such as anatomy, physiology and medical terminology. Medical assisting programs also typically introduce students to medical equipment, which could range from basic items like blood pressure cuffs to more complex tools like X-ray machines. Additionally, some programs require students to learn more advanced procedures, such as how to give injections. Increasingly, training may cover technical topics such as software applications and regulations related to electronic health records.
Medical Assistant Program Types
Students still in high school can take classes such as biology, chemistry, and anatomy to help them prepare for medical assistant studies. Different types of training programs are available:
- Certificate/Diploma: Programs usually take one year to complete, depending on variables such as the course load. These programs can give students a basic introduction to the field, and can help prepare students for entry-level medical assisting jobs.
- Associate Degree: Programs are usually completed within two years, depending on factors such as the student's schedule. Gaining an associate degree offers the possibility of further advancing studies with a bachelor's degree. Associate-level studies may include general education courses to develop skills such as communication.
Though most states do not require medical assistants to obtain licensure, many employers prefer to hire those who have obtained formal training or professional credentials, according to BLS.gov. Certifications are available from groups such as the American Association of Medical Assistants, American Medical Technologists and National Healthcareer Association.
Medical Assistant Course Descriptions
Medical assistant schools usually offer both on-campus classroom instruction and hands-on study, sometimes supplemented through an internship. Students may also be able to opt for specialized programs within the realm of medical assisting. Common courses include the following:
- Insurance and Coding: This course helps students become familiar with processing insurance claims and medical insurance terminology.
- Medical Office Management: Students can learn the basic procedures involved with running a medical office. Coursework is likely to cover medical filing systems and software, patient privacy, records keeping and administrative procedures.
- Anatomy and Physiology: This course can introduce students to the components of the human body, covering topics such as the integumentary, skeletal, muscular, nervous and endocrine systems.
- Medical Laws and Ethics: Classes could examine basic legal terms, physician/patient relationships, professional liability and various ethical issues in medicine.
Medical Assistant Specialties
Medical assistants can choose to hone in on specialized roles, according to the National Center for Competency Testing, for example:
Certain specialties involve additional education or certifications, while others require practical training or related work experience.
Related Career Options For Medical Assistants
In addition to opportunities in the offices of professionals such as physicians, optometrists and chiropractors, medical assistants may find career options in other healthcare settings. Hospitals, group practices, clinics and other facilities rely on medical assistants to help with day-to-day operations and basic patient care. Medical assistants are flexible staff members with a diverse skill set, and responsibilities depend on factors such as the work setting and the size of an organization.
Qualifications for related healthcare occupations vary by state. With the required experience and education, medical assistants may also look into related careers such as these:
Links to Sources and Associations
Websites like these offer further information on medical assistant schools and requirements.