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Medical Assisting

Medical Assisting

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:

  • Geriatrics
  • Nutrition
  • Pediatrics

Certain specialties involve additional education or certifications, while others require on-the-job 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.

Allied Health Professions Credential from National Healthcareer Association

American Association of Medical Assistants

Explore Health Careers: Medical Assistant

Medical Assistants: Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012

National Certified Medical Assistant Exam from National Center for Competency Testing

Medical Assistant Credential from American Medical Technologists

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3 Programs in
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  • Helping students prepare for careers in healthcare since 1967.
  • All health programs include an externship, clinical rotation and/or fieldwork practice, for student experience.
  • Institutional accreditation provided by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS).
  • Provides programs in medical billing, massage therapy, veterinary assisting, dental assisting, and more. 
  • 10 campuses across Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, and Washington.
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  • Helping students prepare for careers in healthcare since 1967.
  • All health programs include an externship, clinical rotation and/or fieldwork practice, for student experience.
  • Institutional accreditation provided by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS).
  • Provides programs in medical billing, massage therapy, veterinary assisting, dental assisting, and more. 
  • 10 campuses across Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, and Washington.
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  • Good for Working Adults
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  • Ranked among the 2015 top 40 Regional Universities in the South by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Designated a 2015 Military Friendly School by Victory Media.
  • Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), with specific programmatic accreditation.
  • 14 campuses across Florida, with online options as well as off-site campuses in Shanghai, China and San Marcos, Nicaragua.
  • Founded in 1977, with a current student population of approximately 13,000.
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  • Ranked among the 2015 top 40 Regional Universities in the South by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Designated a 2015 Military Friendly School by Victory Media.
  • Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), with specific programmatic accreditation.
  • 14 campuses across Florida, with online options as well as off-site campuses in Shanghai, China and San Marcos, Nicaragua.
  • Founded in 1977, with a current student population of approximately 13,000.
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  • Good for Working Adults
  • Accredited
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  • Financial Aid
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3 Programs in
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  • Family-owned and operated since opening in 1977.
  • Many programs require externships, allowing students to gain real-world experience.
  • Approved A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) since 1984.
  • Offers 22 accelerated, career-focused program options including business administration, medical assisting, and more.
  • 12 campuses across California, with an online division as well.
  • Regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), with programmatic accreditation from several organizations, including the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
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  • Family-owned and operated since opening in 1977.
  • Many programs require externships, allowing students to gain real-world experience.
  • Approved A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) since 1984.
  • Offers 22 accelerated, career-focused program options including business administration, medical assisting, and more.
  • 12 campuses across California, with an online division as well.
  • Regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), with programmatic accreditation from several organizations, including the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
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  • Most program place students in externship opportunities for real-world experience.
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  • 5 locations in Santa Barbara, Bakersfield, Rancho Mirage, Santa Maria, and Ventura, with online options as well.
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  • A member of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) Century Club, for maintaining more than 100 years of ACICS accreditation.
  • Several scholarships opportunities are available for qualifying students.
  • Most program place students in externship opportunities for real-world experience.
  • Offers program options for international students, as well as several English as a Second Language courses.
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  • Through an agreement with the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, its Yellow Ribbon Program provides tuition contributions to eligible students at a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Offers career-focused, degree programs to over 70,000 students at over 140 ITT Technical Institutes in 38 states.
  • Classes are offered year-round, typically in the daytime and evening. Online courses can be accessed anywhere, 24 hours a day. 
  • Nationally accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools. 
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  • Through an agreement with the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, its Yellow Ribbon Program provides tuition contributions to eligible students at a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Offers career-focused, degree programs to over 70,000 students at over 140 ITT Technical Institutes in 38 states.
  • Classes are offered year-round, typically in the daytime and evening. Online courses can be accessed anywhere, 24 hours a day. 
  • Nationally accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools. 
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  • A Los Angeles-based private college offering programs in medical sciences, legal studies, and graphic design since 1985.
  • Has weekend programs, including certified  veterinary technology, nurse assistant, and hemodialysis technician.
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  • 3 campuses in Southern California.
  • Accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).
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  • Has weekend programs, including certified  veterinary technology, nurse assistant, and hemodialysis technician.
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